Dandelion Root Fudge Brownies with Dark Chocolate Chips

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What does a children’s wildcrafted fairy picnic need? Well, wild rose and daisy cupcakes, elderflower marshmallows, and pink geranium popcorn of course. But you also need something to balance out all the airy floral flavors – like lets say, dense, dark, lush and fudgy, Dandelion Root Brownies. Why? Well, they’re totally theme appropriate for a start. The first brownie recipes were named after the elfin wee folk featured in popular books, stories, cartoons and verses at the turn of the century who were called – guess what – the brownies!

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And secondly, they will provide some necessary grounding energy, especially important when copious amounts of sugar are consumed. Plus they’re brimming with vitamins (A, C, D and B complex) and minerals (iron, zinc, calcium and potassium). And unlike vegetables and other ‘healthy’ foods there is no need to cajole little ones into eating them at all. At our picnic they were positively gobbled up and not one child cared a wit when I said they were good for them or made from roots that grew deep in the ground.

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So parents don’t fret –  no empty calories here —in fact it wouldn’t be a stretch to say these brownies are a veritable medicine. After all, dandelion root has been used medicinally in western, Chinese and Native America for centuries, and today research confirms that their detoxifying properties help cleanse the blood and our liver. High in inulin, it benefits the digestive track by supporting healthy bacteria, and promising new research is suggesting it may even lower cholesterol and contain cancer-killing properties.

If it sounds powerful – don’t worry, dandelion root is generally gentle and safe for all ages. That said there are some warnings it can interact with certain medications (like blood thinners) so research online or check with your doctor if concerned. So no guilt, indulge away in these sweet treats. I guarantee the kids – and you – are going to love them!

Dandelion Root Brownies with Dark Chocolate Chips (Makes approx. 24 Brownies)

Harvesting Dandelion Roots

  • Okay this part requires the most effort. You’ll need a sharp spade or even a shovel. Ideally the bigger the plant the better, look for big fat leaves, roots will be larger and easier to harvest.  Spring roots are said to be sweeter while summer and fall roots will have more medicinal properties (and are generally dug from plants into their second year of life).

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  • Dig deep into the ground around the plant, loosening the soil before pulling (or shoveling) out the root. You want to make sure you get most of the root which can extend six or seven inches into the ground. You’ll want about five or six big roots – enough to make about 3/4 of a cup of pureed root.

Prepping Your Dandelion Roots

  • Wash the dirt off, there will be clumps, and then break off any spindly shoots. Peel the roots (it doesn’t need to be perfect I left a few bits of dark skin here and there) wash again, and then toss into a pot of boiling water for a couple of minutes to tenderize – or not. I made one batch boiled and another not, and both turned out just fine. Then toss  your roots into a food processor. Whiz until you have a minced consistency – not too mushy. (see below)  Now you’re ready to start baking.

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Ingredients

  • 1 &1/2 cups organic cane (or brown) sugar
  • 1 & 1/2 cups unbleached organic flour
  • 2 & 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
  • 2 eggs
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped pecans (optional – I made one batch with and one without, both were yummy)
  • 1/2 cup chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup dandelion roots (processed)
  • 1/4 cup dandelion petals (just pull the petals of the flower heads)

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 13″X 9″ baking pan and dust with flour.
  • Melt chocolate and set aside to cool.
  • Beat eggs and vegetable oil until fluffy. Add sugar and beat well. Next mix in cooled melted chocolate.
  • In separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir in nuts. Fold dry ingredients and dandelion root and dandelion petals into chocolate mixture.

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  • Spread batter into prepared pan and bake for 22 to 25 minutes, or until toothpick stuck into center comes out slightly moist. Cool completely.

Feast!

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Recipe: Mason Jar Grand Fir Pots de Creme

Creamy, fragrant Grand Fir Custard

Creamy, fragrant Grand Fir Custard

Grand fir (Abies grandis) has more Vitamin C (among other things) than you can shake a stick at AND it smells like oranges and Christmas. Combine that with farm fresh eggs, heavy cream and sugar and you have yourself heaven by the spoonful. We experimented with this recipe at our first Urban Wild Foods Walk and by the sounds of diligent jar scraping, we’ve decided this one’s a keeper and will definitely make regular appearances at future walks. Thank goodness, grand fir’s a glorious evergreen!

I prefer to use the tips of older boughs, rather than the new growth of spring. Spring tips have their own wonderful flavour, but it’s more citrusy, lacking that delightful fir taste of older needles. Note, I say older—not old. You want needles that are a glossy, forest green and bend without snapping. Do be kind to the trees you’re harvesting from. Don’t take tips from saplings and try to clip from more than one tree if you can.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup fresh grand fir tips (~3 inch long tips, tightly packed)
  • 4 farm fresh egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup organic cane sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Instructions

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Bruise the grand fir tips a bit to release some of the oils. I just crunch them up in my hands until I can smell Christmas.

In a small saucepan, bring the cream, milk, grand fir and orange zest just to a boil over medium heat. Turn off heat; let steep, tightly covered for at least an hour up to overnight. I made mine at 8 PM and left it covered the fridge until the following afternoon for a strong grand fir flavour.

In a medium bowl, whisk together egg yolks, sugar, remaining orange zest and salt. Reheat infused cream over medium heat; slowly whisk into yolk mixture. Strain through a fine sieve into a bowl to extract as much liquid. Compost the grand fir.

Put jars in a baking pan that’s deep enough to accommodate your jars and enough hot water to cover the custard fill line.

Pour the mixture through a fine strainer again directly into the jars, making sure the jars aren’t touching one another. I used my canning funnel and a tea strainer and it worked like a charm.

Pour hot (not boiling) water into the pan until it reaches halfway up the sides of the jars. And try really, really, really hard to avoid splashing water into your custards. I’ve never had it happen to me (touch wood), but I suspect they’d be ruined. I add the hot water from my kettle once the baking pan is already on the rack in the oven as I learned pretty quickly that I’m not great with sloshing, scalding water.

Bake until the custard is set, 30 to 35 minutes. Mine took closer to 40 minutes, but my oven is…not great. They should still be a bit wobbly in the centres.

Carefully remove baking pan from oven and using canning tongs, remove the mason jars and leave them to cool on a wire rack for 30 mins. Cover the custards with plastic wrap or a clean towel and chill in the refrigerator until custards are firm, at least 2 hours and up to 2 days.

Just before you serve them, garnish with your best snippets of grand fir and maybe even some orange zest. Lovely, loveliness.

Eating Wild: Community Supported Foraging

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 Most of us equate food security with supporting community gardens and urban farms. But there is a vast cornucopia of nourishing free food already growing abundantly in our parks, neighborhoods and backyards—right now. Food that could be meaningfully and significantly supplementing the dietary needs of community residents and families—vitally enhancing food security.

That’s why we want to encourage Victoria’s mayor and city council to consider adding a new initiative, Eating Wild: Community Supported Foraging to Section 8 of the draft Strategic Plan to “Enhance and Steward Public Spaces, Green Spaces and Food Systems”.

The Eating: Wild Community Supported Initiative  (EWSCI) is composed of a coalition of wild food educators, First Nation indigenous food experts, wild food artisans, and chefs, ethnobotanists, ecologists and environmentalists, food security organizations and wild food enthusiasts. The EWSCI has two prongs, a) developing resources for wild food community education and b) forming partnerships between foragers, community groups promoting food security and local government, parks and urban farms.

Our mission is to give wild foods a place at our tables and a place of their own in our emerging local food systems, the “agri-hood” of community gardens, urban farms, boulevard gardens and food forests, that enable community residents and families in their local environments to feed and nourish themselves.

The Eating Wild CSF Initiative seeks to:

  • Support wild food education and community educational events in tandem with local community centers and city parks, to teach residents not only how to safely identify, sustainably harvest wild foods, but to how to prepare, preserve and cook them as well.  This would be accomplished through Wild Food Walks, Wild Food Community Kitchens, Wild Food Dinners, Wild Food Festivals etc. Community Wild Food Guides and Maps could also be developed.
  • Set aside protected spaces in City parks for community food foraging. Currently foraging is not permitted in city parks. The Eating Wild CSF Initiative requests that community foraging pilot projects be set up in local parks and public green spaces.  These areas will be chosen in consultation with city naturalists to minimally impact endangered plants and bio-systems such as Garry Oak ecosystems.  We will also seek to form pilot partnerships with local urban farms, to organize events in which foragers could help farmers cut costs by weeding their fields.
  • Promote the health of wild plants and green spaces by reducing the expensive use of herbicides in our local parks for invasive plant control. We encourage foragers to form partnerships with parks to keep invasive plants under control by harvesting them instead-like this garlic mustard “Pest to Pesto Festival” – and many others popping up across North America.

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Why Wild Foods?

1) Vital Food Supplement

Today more than ever, as the nutrient levels of our food supply plummet and food prices skyrocket—we need wild foods. Through industrial agriculture we have not only stripped our cultivated fruit and vegetables of important nutrients to satisfy our taste for sweeter and starchier foods, our soils have become so over-farmed that they are depleted of the critical nutrients we need to thrive. However, wild foods—brimming with vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, phytonutrients and antioxidants in such short supply in our conventional diet—are the world’s most nutritionally potent superfoods.

Far from a recent food ‘trend’, wild foods once constituted a kind of “medicinal cuisine” enjoyed by our ancestors around the world. Even after agriculture was well-established, wild foods continued to be consumed for centuries for their health-promoting properties. As herbalists have long known, many wild foods are so chock full of healing nutrition they are a veritable medicine. And many will tell you that it is no coincidence that modern diseases have run rampant as wild foods disappear from our diet.

Wild foods are the originators of all fruits, grains and vegetables, and as author of The Green Pharmacy, James Duke, PhD, reminds us, wild foods are the “plants that our ancestors ate—that humans evolved to eat”. By eating wild, we are eating unadulterated, seasonal, nutritionally balanced foods in their original form—as nature intended. And as wild food forager Sunny Savage in her popular TedX Talk urges – consuming just one wild plant a day can go a long way in improving our health.

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 2) Part of New Localized Food Systems

“Foraging skills, coupled with access to land- local parks, community gardens, back yards or vast wilderness- equals food sovereignty.” Dina Falconi Foraging and Feasting.

And yes, there is more than enough to go around. Most “wild foods” are not rare endangered indigenous species, but rather invasive plants(i.e. dandelions, plantain, garlic mustard, hawthorn berries, blackberries) that were introduced here by the early settlers as food. But today the city spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to eliminate (often with herbicides) these nutrient-rich foods from our lawns, gardens, parks and green spaces. Of course, wild foods will never feed populations en masse, but they have been historically used—and can be again—as a vital food supplement to enrich all of our diets.

Wild foods grow everywhere in our urban and suburban neighborhoods yet they remain a mostly untapped resource. Scottish forager Mark Williams  calls these plants “superabundant”. Meaning, “if everybody within walking distance gathered enough for their personal consumption each year, under 1% of a species would actually be harvested.” Add to this bounty, the fruit produced by tree’s on city streets and boulevards, and feral fruit trees in parks, especially those that were once farmland like the fields surrounding Beaver Lake Park.

Cities like Los Angeles and Seattle are currently considering ways in which ways to allow food harvesting on public land. Some Seattle parks not only tolerate foraging, they actually teach foraging classes. In California, The Berkley Food Institute has launched Forage Berkley which maps the availability of wild and feral edible plants in urban neighborhoods and provides community education – and they confirm that “there are mountains of wild edible plants in urban food deserts in the Bay Area.”

These initiatives are part of a shift in cities which are preparing for climate changes and rising fuel prices, leading many local food security activists to look to foraging to increase the resilience of their food supply

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3) Bring Us Into Harmony with Nature

As foragers, our relationship within nature- our complete interdependence- becomes crystal clear…With this comes the rewarding responsibility of caretaking the land and the plants that feed us.”Dina Falconi Foraging and Feasting.

Foraging promotes community health and well-being through more than just nutrition. Countless studies show that spending time in nature reduces blood pressure, anxiety and stress levels. And as David Suzuki points out (see here) – “with more than 80 per cent of Canadians now living in urban settings, many of us lack a meaningful, regular connection with the natural environment that sustains us. Getting in touch with the outdoors has another great benefit: those who know and love nature work harder to protect it.”

Foraging means learning to harvest what nature gives us in time, it teaches us to observe the cycles of the seasons, the changing foliage, the flora and fauna. We begin to gain a deeper ecological understanding of our local environment – and we believe this motivates us to become better stewards of nature  – especially the nature that lies just outside our front door.

And as Melissa Poe, an environmental anthropologist  states “the more people understand about how the ecosystems work, the more respectful they will be of our parks.” Poe’s research demonstrates that educated foragers help protect urban land, they “enjoy greater connection with their local environment, and as a part of the gathering process, share and maintain significant local environmental knowledge.”

This element (the connections between nature and people) is among the most deeply significant motivations for people to engage in the practice of foraging…It’s an intimate connection. You can go out and you can appreciate [urban nature] and say “oh, my isn’t it pretty,” but when you interact on this level, when it becomes part of your pantry, when it’s part of what you eat, now you have a relationship. You’re not an outsider observer. It’s not this ‘other’ thing. It’s part of you and you are part of it.” (Seattle Forager)

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In Conclusion

That is why Gather is launching The Eating Wild: Community Supported Foraging Initiative because it paves a path towards a future, as Poe suggests, “in which foragers assert their rights to the natural resources that support their wild food and health practices”. We believe foraging supports a sustainable connection between people, land and food that nourishes us and brings us into “right relationship” with nature.  We envision a future in which wild plants are valued as an important community resource in localized food systems.

Gather is launching The Eating Wild: Community Supported Foraging Initiative because we believe foraging supports a sustainable connection between people, land and food that nourishes us and brings us into right relationship with nature.  We envision a future in which wild plants are valued as an important community resource in localized food systems. We teach Victoria residents not only to safely identify the many nourishing foods that grow in their neighbourhoods, city streets and backyards, but how to sustainably harvest, cook, prepare, preserve—and eat them as well. Reviving health-promoting wild food culinary traditions (as well as creating delicious new ones!) Gather explores the local terroir, season by season.

Gather wants to bring wild food education to each neighborhood in the Greater Victoria area. So please join us! If you are interested in participating in the EWCFI please contact us and let us know. We also ask that you consider emailing a link of this post to City Councillors before March 31st, urging the City support to the Eating Wild: Community Supported Foraging Initiative (councillors@victoria.ca.) Or email a link of this post to Ben Isitt bisitt@victoria.ca  and Jeremy Loveday jloveday@victoria.ca directly. Thank-you!

The Abundance of Wildfood Cuisine!

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I’ve been busy in my kitchen preparing for a series of wild food walks and tasting buffets that Gather will be hosting next year in local neighborhoods.  Guided by recipes from old world culinary traditions, pioneer foods and foraging blogs, I’ve brought back a plethora of foraged edibles for experimentation. So far this fall I’ve made Acorn flour, Wild Buckwheat muffins, Nettle seed sea salt, Cat’s Ear capers, Hawthorn and Nootka Rose Turkish delight, Hawthorn ketchup, mounds of Dandelion pesto, wild green chips and Kim chi, a slew of forest teas, and medicinal honey bombs. And all this gathered a stones throw (or short bike ride) from my back door – for free!

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The sheer abundance of wild food is truly amazing. What I prepared only scratches the surface of what grows freely available all around us. Two years ago I took an amazing journey with ethnobotanist Abe Lloyd through the autumn and spring edibles of Southern Vancouver Island. I had already been foraging a while but Abe shifted my perception of the forests and fields forever. Nature wasn’t dotted here and there with a few a wild foods amongst the poisonous ones – it was a garden of edible delight. Nearly everything the eye could see was food – not the other way around. It was no wonder, as Abe pointed out, that the Coast Salish enjoyed such a well fed, prosperous and leisurely lifestyle until we came around.

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I love eating wild food grown on the land I actually inhabit, the land I walk, work, and sleep on, the land of which I am actually a part. Food doesn’t need to come from a farm far away or at the supermarket shipped to us by thousands of anonymous miles. It makes sense to trust the nutritional wisdom of the landscape to give us the sustenance we need season to season.

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After all, our local flora are veritable powerhouses of the vitamins, enzymes, antioxidants, bioflavonoids and minerals in such supply in our industrialized modern diet, putting many so-called super greens like Kale, to shame. So why pay for super-foods that come from far-flung corners of the globe when the nutrient packed wild plants, tree’s berries, mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest are right here under our nose?

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Granted, a wild food palate can take time to develop. Our domesticated tongues are accustomed to bland modified berries and vegetables bred to take bitter flavours out. But is it a coincidence that in our gut troubled society, a little dose of bitter could go a long way in helping calm our tummies and aid digestion? Perhaps we should take a cue from the old European custom of sipping ‘digestives’ made from bitter or aromatic wild herbs after a generous meal?

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Consuming wild edibles may seem a hipster phenomenon but it was once part of culinary traditions across the old world.  For hundreds of years each spring country cooks from Britain, Germany, Italy to Greece waited for the appearance of the first wild greens like dandelion, chickweed, miner’s lettuce, wild mustard and nettles. Served up in fresh salads or cooked up into delicious pies and sautéed dishes, they were eaten to cleanse and revitalize the body after heavy starchy diets of winter.

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Today Greek Grannies continue to forage the hills for spring greens known as Horta (the over 80 different green plants and herbs found in a patch of grass) but the rest of us have clearly lost touch with the food underfoot. The vast majority of these ‘super-greens’ grow by the ton in suburban neighborhoods but are either ignored, pulled out, or sprayed with herbicides that accumulate in our ecosystems and regional bio-sphere.

So at Gather we’re women with a mission – to return wild edibles to their rightful place of respect.That’s why, beginning this spring Gather will be out there inviting community residents to discover the wild foods that grow outside their front door. Our Urban Wild Food Walks will identify local edible plants, leaves, berries and mushrooms and learn safe and sustainable methods of harvest. Then, (the best part!) we’ll explore a little wild food cuisine with a tasting menu featuring the sweet and savory seasonal flavors of the local landscape.

Last fall we held a test run (see here) generously hosted by the local restaurant Part and Parcel. We explored the urban wilds and city streets of the Quadra/Hillside neighborhood and then enjoyed a buffet of wild crafted goodies including botanical jellies and wild berry jams dandelion pesto and wild green chips. I even made Acorn cake. And it went great!

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So this spring we’re planning to move ahead with a regular program of Urban Wild Food Walks beginning in March and running through to October -so stay tuned for details. Meanwhile I’ll be in the fields and in the kitchen, preparing and testing, getting my recipes right. We’ll see you in the spring!