Physalis – Ground Cherries

During some recent field work north of Toronto I stumbled across the strangest looking plant in a fairly wild section of public lands.  The bright orange colour of the fruiting bodies drew me in immediately and forced an impromptu googling session.  I was familiar with ground cherries but never any this vibrant.

Here is what I found:

Physalis alkekengi (bladder cherry, Chinese lantern,[2] Japanese-lantern,[3] strawberry groundcherry,[4] or winter cherry It is easily identifiable by the large, bright orange to red papery covering over its fruit, which resembles paper lanterns. It grows naturally in the region covering southern Europe to south Asia and Japan. It is a herbaceous perennial plant growing to 40–60 cm tall, with spirally arranged leaves 6–12 cm long and 4–9 cm broad. The flowers are white, with a five-lobed corolla 10–15 mm across, with an inflated basal calyx which matures into the papery orange fruit covering, 4–5 cm long and broad.

Peterson’s field guide reports these to be edible when ripe but offers a warning that unripe berries and the leaves are poisonous. 

Although the specific species I found is a non native plant, some species are native to the Americas such as the Smooth ground-cherry (Physalis virginiana Mill. var. subglabrata (Mackenz. and Bush) U.T. Waterfall) and clammy ground-cherry (Physalis heterophylla Nees).

Here are a couple shots of my find

Cheers from the wild,

Albert

Maple Syrup Season – Tapping a Crimson King

Winter is on its last legs here in South Eastern Ontario and the foraging season is steadily approaching.  Unfortunately there isn’t  ton to do outdoors if your a hunter or fisherman and many regard this transition time as down time from their busy outdoors schedules.  For me, it just means I have more time to contemplate the numerous projects id like to tackle.

One of those projects happens to be tapping trees to make maple syrup.  I’ve always wanted to make my own syrup, but without land with mature trees it can be a tall order.  About the only opportunity I have for tapping is a giant Norway Maple in my front yard., but I was never sure  you could even tap these trees.  Well the curiosity built and after a quick google I learned you can in fact tap these purple behemoths.  And according to some, the sap is actually quite good.

So I borrowed a couple taps and proceeded to tap old purple.  Fortunately for me, the Crimson King does just fine for syrup production, albeit a bit slower than a sugar maple.  Not to mention the sap tastes great!

DSC_0261 (ii) DSC_0263(ii)

(The sap immediately began to flow as soon as I inserted the tap).

Now all that is left is to collect enough to make it worth boiling into syrup!

Cheers from my front yard,

Albert

Chicken of the Woods – Laetiporus Sulphureus

Perhaps one of the most easily recognized edible mushrooms is the chicken of the woods.  The fruiting bodies of this mushroom are bright yellow to orange and usually stand out from the brown or grey stumps they are usually found on.  They are found mostly on decaying hardwoods but have been known to grown on conifers as well.   Fruiting bodies grow in large broadly attached clusters, and can grow up to 30cm across.

DSC_0104(ii)

Chicken of the woods is a great value mushroom for those not familiar with foraging.  These mushrooms are easy to spot, are relatively common, and grow in 3 of the 4 seasons.  As if that wasn’t enough they are often found in large quantities providing a bounty to the forager.

CAUTION, mushroom foraging can be extremely dangerous.  Do not eat any wild mushrooms unless you can identify them 100%.

DSC_0009(ii)

(these particular mushrooms were found very close to Kingston on a local trail)

These little beauties have been described as having a lemoney chicken taste and are great in soups, fried with butter or deep fried.  Stick to the softer younger fruiting bodies and avoid the woody base.  With flavours like this, I can’t wait to add them to a nice mushroom risotto!

Cheers from the wild,

Albert

 

 

Duck Opener 2015 – Kingston

Duck season has arrived in Southern Ontario.  So just like many other crazed, sleep deprived hunters, Dave and I got up well before dawn to head out on the water to take part in the tradition.  This time around we had decided to try a new spot on the banks of the Rideau System.  Granted, Heading to a new spot on opening day is gamble, but we felt it was less so seeing as how we had done a fairly extensive online scouting and Dave had made a quick trip days before.  The spot look good.  Really, good.  There seemed to be shallow water around with a good section of weedlines and cattails for blinds.  Lots of open water nearby and good views for spotting incoming ducks.  Overall we liked our chances.

We arrived just as dawn was beginning to chase the night away only to be immediately dismayed with a number of other trucks and trailers parked at our access point.  Gamble made and lost…Apparently we weren’t the only ones who had noticed how good the spot looked.

DSC_0048

But we aren’t ones to give up easy so we loaded the canoe with our decoys and gear and headed out to find a useable spot.  We noticed lots of activity in the areas we planned to hunt so we were forced to settle on a secondary location located in a small shallow bay facing south.   Duck hunting always seems to be filed with such a promise of action and today was no different, so regardless of the large number of hunters out there, our hopes remained high as we set up our decoys   Taking a page out of some recent articles I read, we also threw in a goose decoy just for confidence.  You never know when a lone honker will stop to see what’s going on with your spread.

Then we waited. And waited. And waited some more.  Bangs were going off all around us like the fourth of July but there just didn’t seem to be any birds near us that were in range.  I started to wonder if the folks around us were getting  little too liberal with judging weather or not a shot was makeable.  I can’t really blame them though, I seem to think I can shoot farther on opening day too…..

DSC_0075 DSC_0072

After tiring of the lack of useable action and hearing about 300$ worth of shells being shot around us we decided to take a walk around the property and do some scouting for future trips. We knew lots of birds were flying around and with the amount of shooting going on there had to be birds at lower elevations in and around more alluring locations.  As fate would have it, our luck changed and we stumbled upon a weedier section and even got a shot off at a fleeing duck we had stirred up.

We definitely took some lessons away from the hunt with regards to location and have a better idea how to position next time.

As a consolation prize, we came across a wide variety of animals that kept us amused during the lulls.  At one point I was seriously considering taking up squirrel hunting!

DSC_0079

DSC_0091

Possibly the best part of the trip was the forgeables we had stumbled upon.  Our blind was practically over grown with wild grapes and chokecherry bushes.  Not only are these fruits useful, they make great cover against wary waterfowl eyes.

The biggest surprise was the apples though.  There seemed to be trees upon trees covered in the delicious treat.  We picked and ate several while we hiked around the property and took a bunch back for apple sauce and jelly.

Apple tree DSC_0085 apples 1

 

Overall the day was enjoyable even if we weren’t bringing birds back with us. Often its just getting out that the most enjoyable part of it all.

Cheers from the blind

Albert

 

Leek and Potato Soup

I’d hazard a guess that almost every leek hunter in the province has a favourite Leek and Potato soup.  Like peas and carrots, spaghetti and meat balls, the ingredients go so well together, it would almost be a crime to not make at least one batch during leek season each year.

So here is my recipe, made from some fresh potatoes and same day harvested leeks.  Its not fancy, its not haute cuisine, its just stick to your ribs good.  Just the thing to chase the chill out of your bones form the brisk spring walk required to pick them.

 

Potatoe and Leek Soup

For those who love good food pics:

DSC_4499 DSC_4506 DSC_4508 DSC_4511

Cheers from my Kitchen

Albert

Leek Season 2015 has begun in Southern Ont.

Normally Leek season is well underway by the end of April here in Southern Ontario.  This year though, we have had unseasonably cold temperatures and lots of late snows.  This can put the start of leak season in question.  In an effort to try and determine at what stage the leeks were at, I decided to take a trip to a friends farm in search of these pungent edibles.  Ever curious, my young daughter decided she wanted to come along with Da Da to see what all the fuss was about.  Armed with her favourite hat and a garden trowel we took the drive out to the farm and set out to explore.

2015 leeks

Our first foray into the woods found a large patch of trout lilies.  Although not what we were looking for, trout lilies are considered edible by some, albeit slightly emetic if consumed in large quantities.

DSC_4500

We picked a few bunches for a small salad.

DSC_4501

Our trip continued to a different section of woods.  One that contained hardwood trees and southern exposure.  Sure enough, these characteristics, coupled with soft, dark, and rich loamy soil makes for an almost sure bet for finding Leeks.

DSC_4512

Of course Lorelei had to take a turn at digging.

DSC_4505

Then she got tired and decided to take a break on a nearby rock to watch Dada pick a few more.

DSC_4514

As a reminder, foragers should only harvest a few stalks from each cluster to preserve the colony for  future harvests.  These plants take a while to replenish so they are very susceptible to overharvesting.  Be conservative now to ensure a life time of picking in the future.

Lots of other interesting spring plant life to see including spring beauties and mushroom life.

DSC_4510DSC_4516

So for all those wondering what is up with the Leeks this year, they are out but its still early. Some have yet to reach their full size.  Give it another week or two and things will really be underway.

Cheers from the Wild,

Albert

Deer Goulasch

There are lots of reasons to take up hunting, fishing and foraging, but for me, the ultimate goal is culinary.  Nothing is more organic, wholesome, local, and arguably more healthy than a foraged meal.  Its certainly hard to appreciate a meal more than the one you have created with ingredients you have personally harvested.

For those of you who have read my recent posts you know I recently harvested my very First Deer.  This was an exciting experience and I was eager to conduct my culinary experiments with the results.  Last Sunday offered some free time, so I was able to putter around in the kitchen to create my very first self harvested venison dish.

I chose to prepare the venison in a traditional Goulasch using a recipe that was passed down in my wife’s family from her Oma to her mother, and from her mother to her.  Goulasch was a traditional way to prepare game meats for many eastern European countries and for good reason;  Since this recipe is so flavourfull it makes it the perfect way to support the complex taste of wild game.

As many of you who have family recipes know, quantities are sometimes subject to interpretation and written directions are more of a frame work than a recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 – 2 lbs of venison (a flank steak was used here)
  • 1 x onions (white or red)
  • garlic
  • 3 to 4 tbl spoons sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon hot Hungarian paprika
  • half a small can of tomato paste
  •  pinch cayenne pepper
  • 3 to 4 bay leaves
  • 2 cups of beef or venison stock and water
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons of caraway
  • salt and pepper to taste

DSC_1757

The recipe begins with lightly frying the onions and garlic in oil or butter and then adding and browning the venison.  Following that add half a can of tomato paste, 2 to 3 table spoons of sweet paprika, 1 teaspoon of hot Hungarian paprika (optional) 3 to 4 bay leaves, 1 to 2 teaspoons of caraway, a pinch of cayenne pepper and a pinch each of salt and pepper.

Add 1 to 2 cups of beef stock and water.  I usually use 1 table spoon of concentrated beef stock mixed into 2 cups of water.  Stir the ingredients and let simmer.  Don’t worry too much about not having the exact amount of spice.  Goulasch is forgiving and you can always add more later as it cooks.

DSC_1749

Let the mixture simmer for at least and hour, always keeping an eye on the liquid levels.  Add more water if necessary and stock if you find the taste isn’t where it needs to be.  After about a half an hour I take a taste test and play with the spicing and stock levels if required.  ***Be careful here, trying to bolster the seasoning immediately following the additional of more water can lead to over seasoning.  Remember, the goulasch will cook down and loose a lot of its volume which in turn can lead to overwhelminglyy concentrated flavours.***

Once the spicing is right, Its just a matter of cooking until the meat is tender.  Sometimes this takes 45 minutes, sometimes over an hour. Really it all depends on your cut of meat.

But what do you eat it with you ask? Well goulasch can be served with anything from rice to egg noodles.  However, in my family, tradition requires that European Goulasch be served with some form of potato accompaniment.  And if you ask my father,  the only side dish you should serve Is german potato dumplings (called Knödel).

These beauties are simple creatures consisting of 2/3rds cooked and mashed potatoes, 1 3rd part flour, 1 egg and salt to taste.  Basically you take all of these ingredients, mix them together and knead until you create a doughy mass.  You can add more flour while you knead to get a stiffer consistency but I prefer them a littler looser.  the looser they are the less “heavy” the meal will be.

DSC_1769

Once mixed, create a log of dough about 1″ thick (shown above) slice into bars or shape into balls and drop into boiling water.  I usually wait about 5 minutes after these have floated to the top of the boiling water before removing.

Afterwards, remove from the water, smother in Goulasch goodness, and enjoy the contrast of the simply flavoured dumpling with the spicy complexity of the Goulasch.

DSC_1778

Seeing as how this was my first deer, I couldn’t resist the urge to quickly season and pan fry up a small chunk while preparing the main dish.  Venison flavour can vary quite a bit depending on how it was harvested, the gender, its age, and what it ate throughout its life.  Since its so variable I feel tasting the meat cooked in its simplest form is a vital step to assessing the inherent taste of your meat and properly selecting recipes for it accordingly.  Tasting can prevent you from serving gamey atrocities to you family or guests, and from  possibly turning people away from venison for good.

Many people already have misconceptions that deer tastes bad or gamey. Likely caused by eating poorly prepared meat or even meat that wasn’t properly harvested.  I feel its our job as hunters and cooks to make sure the meat is harvested and prepared appropriately; Hopefully converting others into venison lovers along the way.

DSC_1755

So what up with pan searing?  Pan searing venison is very simple.  Start with a better cut of meat like a backstrap or tenderloin (other steak cuts are fine as well as long as they are on the tender side). Clean the fat from the cut of meat, season the meat with salt, pepper ( I add a touch of Montreal steak spice), and place in a oiled pan that has been heated to medium high heat.  Pan searing should take no longer than a minute or two to complete to a nice medium rare cooking.  I cook until the meat takes on a bit of firmness while still having an over all soft feel.  The softer the feel, the more rare the meat.  Check out this nifty trick to estimate meat cookings:     http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/the_finger_test_to_check_the_doneness_of_meat/

Above all else, avoid well done venison as it will become tough when overcooked, not to mention loose its true taste.  Besides, the goal is to cook it so you can actually taste the meat, not char it into oblivion.

DSC_1767

The result? A tender, delicious and succulent morsel of wild goodness.  I can honestly say, this tasted better than 95% of beef cuts I have tasted.  Over all, the experience was a success.  and I mean a success right from the hunting, to the cooking, all the way to the eating.  This was the kind of successful experience I hope everyone gets to experience at least once in their lives.

Cheers from my kitchen,

Al