Sunday, May 11, 2008

Wildcrafting Violets


I decided to give morel hunting one more try. Six-year-old Toren and I set out on Friday, and covered lots of land. We did not find any morels, and so decided to concentrate on violets instead. After a successful dish on Thursday (sauteed violet leaves with crisped bacon) and sprinkling violet flowers on our fresh asparagus (see the steaming platter above) I was excited to see what else I could do.
Collecting wild violets.


Out came my 1971 edition Stalking the Healthful Herbs by Euell Gibbons, aquired years ago at a library book sale. I was in high school in the '70's, passionate about Music (Deep Purple, Jackson Browne, Grand Funk, Earth Wind & Fire, Jethro Tull, John Denver and Joni Mitchell), trips to Berkeley, and hanging out with my friends. Not much else penetrated my pointed little head at the time. Euell Givens was in a commercial for Grape Nuts Cereal. Standing in front of a pine tree, he claimed happily "many parts are edible!" We'd laugh and laugh - imagine even thinking of eating a pine tree!

Years later I came across a book by John McPhee called A Roomful of Hovings. In it, Givens was one of five people profiled. His initial forays into wildcrafting came about to keep from starving as a child. Finding that he had a knack and great interest, he researched and found not only voluminous nutritional information about wild plants but many, many ways to use them, too. I was humbled, chastened, and a bit embarassed by my youthful callousness.

Fast forward years later. I now find myself living in rural Missouri. Every spring everyone gets all hepped up about morels. Until now I'd never even tasted one, and felt intimidated about going out to look. But I've been hunting three times now, and while I haven't found many mushrooms, I've become much more comfortable with the idea of wildcrafting. Here's a passage from Healthful Herb that I especially like:

"Meditating on the first specimen of a plant that is new to me opens my eyes and sharpens my awareness until other plants of the same species become visible, standing out from the green background in an abundance that was always there, but which I was unprepared to see until I had gazed deeply at a single specimen. When I collect such plants, take them into my kitchen, and transform them with my own hands into some fragrant or savory seasoning, a delicious dish, or a benign remedy, it has a totally different meaning from using a commercial product. A remedy in which both nature and I have entered deeply does something for my soul as well as for my body."

There is something very lovely about being in the sun-dappled woods, searching for food while having the luxury of a full belly. Surrounded by dozens of different plants and trees, it seems to be a wonderland waiting to be discovered.
Toren and I collected about two cups of violet blossoms (which is perfectly ok, since according to Euell they reproduce underground and not through seed dispersal). We came home and made Violet Jelly. It is a stunningly beautiful color.
Here's the recipe (from Stalking the Healthful Herbs):
  1. Fill any size glass jar with violet blossoms, cover with boiling water, put a lid on the jar, and let the blossoms infuse for 24 hours (we used 2 cups of blossoms and one quart of boiling water).
  2. Next day, open the jar and strain the blue infusion, discarding the spent violets.
  3. In a non-reactive pan, add the juice of 1 lemon (approx. 2 Tb.) and 1 package of commercial powdered pectin to each 2 cups of the infusion.
  4. Bring this just to a boil.
  5. Add 4 cups sugar. Bring back to a boil and boil hard for 1 minute, then pour into glasses or jars and seal.

Notes:

  1. Use a bigger pan than you think you will need - it gets a bit foamy.We probably could have used more blossoms - I don't know if the jelly would have been more purple or not.
  2. Euell's recipe says nothing about sterilizing jars or lids, or canning. So I boiled the canning jars the same way I do when canning vegetables, and added the lids for a few minutes. All of the jars sealed, but I think I'll keep them in the fridge just in case.

In other news, Kurt and crew have begun to work on the stairs for the Mercantile. It is very exciting!

Risers and landing.