Posted by: A Part of the Solution | April 19, 2011

Early Spring Foraging

I had a call yesterday from someone wanting to know what crops we have ready for market right now. Even for an early Spring season, this far north (zone 5, to be exact) there’s nothing ready at the end of the second week of April. However in a week to ten days, there may be lots coming out of the ground for those with an interest. But what could those crops be? After all, this farm only just got peas into the ground last week (and onion sets too–but that’s not really the point).

Happily, while we have two and half acres of vegetable garden plowed and plotted, if not planted, we also have about seventy-eight acres of woodland on our property. And what has the forested land to do with anything? Well, how about fiddlehead ferns, as a for instance? Or (and this is only if I can find them before my neighbors do) morel mushrooms? Or tender nettles, suitable for a cold tisane or a creamy vichyssoise-style soup? And there might, though I’ll have to do a thorough check, be wild asparagus growing in the meadow grasses edging our borders between field and forest.

Just think of it, four crops before anything we’ve planted is anywhere near ready to come out of the ground. It makes my heart go pitty-pat. The only trick is harvesting responsibly. The forest will give, and keep on giving, as long as we don’t over-harvest what’s available.

One in four of every possible fiddlehead is about right. They have a short season, only a few weeks. But then, this is true for most super-seasonal wild harvest plants. Morels have a shorter season than the fiddleheads do. Wild asparagus is about the same as the ferns. Nettles actually have a longer season, once they attain their characteristic ‘stinging’ fuzz, then they’re just best left alone. Up until then (and their tender tops stay tender a goodly while longer than their older leaves), they’re fair game. And they grow like the invasive, non-native weed that they are. I won’t have to be careful about over-harvesting them.

Fiddlehead fern tops have to be blanched before using them. They’re great in stir-fries. They’re nifty in any pasta sauce or salad where you might use asparagus. I make them a show piece by cooking them into quiches. But don’t forget to blanch them first (plunge into boiling water for 30 seconds before cooling them in ice water), as they’re otherwise very mildly toxic in their raw form.

Morels need no explanation. Their rich, musky flavor is almost the essence of springtime in the deep forest. And wild asparagus do everything domesticated asparagus does, only more delicately (no, really–and they grow wild in all the lower 48 states, so don’t just sit there, get out there and have a look). Nettles are still hip spring-time eats all over Europe. They have a nearly minty character, but with an earthier twist to it. And they’re just tasty where ever you want to use them–though theyneed to be cooked a little to prevent any of their famed stinging.

Wish me luck and a full bag when I come out of the woods next week. I’m so excited. And if you know how to find morels, get on out here and show me–quick before my neighborhood takes advantage of my ignorance.



  1. WHO HOOO!!! Today being my day off, I was going to candy violets. A yearly tradition, and necessary, as Zoe wants candied violets all over her birthday cake, which is coming up. (But dang, it was stormy & cloudy all day – it takes a little sun to open them properly!)

    • Our violets are a few days from being properly open–probably because it’s been raining and raining. But they won’t be safe from me once they get going.

      • Yup. Sounds like we’re on the same timetable. I think they would have been open yesterday had the weather cooperated.

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