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Eating Violets

Wild Food Forager, Paul Tappenden, recommends a delicacy of foraged violets, with tips for how they can be prepared…

While I was walking around the neighborhood with our pups, I noticed some small patches of violets that were starting to flower. I’ve been seeing the leaves for a couple of weeks, but now that the snow has melted, the flowers are announcing their presence. Almost time to start gathering!

The leaves and flowers of Violets are both edible. They can be used in a number of culinary ways, either raw or cooked. The flowers make a colorful addition to salads or sprinkled over almost any dish before serving. I once chopped some up and added them to home made ice-cream.

A popular thing to do with the flowers is to candy them. For this, I will lightly whisk an egg white, stir in some confectioner’s sugar, then carefully dip each flower into the mixture, lying them each out on a parchment lined baking tray. I leave them in a very low oven or dehydrator until they crystallize, then use them to garnish and decorate cakes and deserts. It is very fiddly work and quite time consuming, but it makes a colorful presentation, and they taste great.

Another use I highly recommend is to gather a small jarful of violet flowers and to top it up with a mild vinegar. After a few days, the vinegar turns purple and takes on the flavor of the violets (as well as some of their nutritional goodness, which includes Vitamins A and C, and the anti-oxident and anti-inflammatory, Rutin.). Your friends will all wonder where you got such interesting and tasty vinegar.

I often use the leaves in salads, although I use them sparingly as they tend to be somewhat mucilaginous.  However, this property also makes them ideal for calming an upset stomach.

The Persistent Forager

WILD FOOD FORAGER PAUL TAPPENDEN REMINDS US THAT THERE IS ALWAYS SOMETHING TO FORAGE, NO MATTER THE SEASON…

For us foraging types, February is a very challenging month. It is about now that I am usually climbing the walls, counting the days until spring. Once the snows cover the ground, whatever greens are left disappear from view, so we are pretty much left with what the trees have to offer. With few other options to distract me, I use the winter to brush up on my tree identification and to explore possible uses.

Pines are very versatile. They provide us with their needles for making teas and resin (for myriads of uses). The inner bark can be prepared and eaten (although I have yet to try it). The bark is also useful for making baskets. Other conifers can be used in similar ways.

The inner bark of Black Birch makes a delicious wintergreen flavored tea, or it can be fun to chew on a twig while walking in the woods. Sassafras root bark has a similar flavor and was originally used in making root beer (hence the name). Ardent herbalists and woodland dwellers use this season to gather some of the medicinal polypores such as Chaga, that inhabit the trunks of dying White Birch trees.

Just recently, a friend introduced me to Hickory syrup. She arrived at my house with a bag filled with chunks of loose bark that she had gathered from a Shagbark Hickory tree. We put it in the oven for about half an hour to give it a slightly smoky flavor. Then we put the bark into a large pan with several cups of water and two cups of organic sugar and simmered it until it had reduced down to a rich, brown syrup. I dipped a fingertip in and sampled our creation. It was delicious. Every bit as tasty as maple syrup (but way cheaper).

Speaking of maple syrup, before this month is out, we may also be tapping the Sugar Maples and other likely candidates (such as Birches) for making syrups and sugars, or just for drinking (a pleasure that everyone should experience at least once).

So, as you can see, for the persistent forager, the season never really ends.

Wild Foods Diet

Whenever I do wild edibles presentations, I am inevitably asked how much of my diet consists of foraged foods. Of course, that greatly depends on the time of year. However, whether or not I create entire wild foods feasts or  merely graze from nature whilst out walking the dogs, I try to make sure that I include at least one wild ingredient in anything I prepare. Last weekend was a pretty typical example, and even though this is a sparse time of year for harvesting from nature, I still managed to find plenty of ingredients.

Pennsylvania bittercress

Pennsylvania bittercress

For breakfast on Saturday, I made a batch of scrambled eggs with chopped bittercress. In the afternoon, since the weather was lousy, I decided to stay home and do some baking. My wife suggested that I make apple turnovers. As usual, I used acorn flour to give them that unique nutty taste. They were so good, I didn’t expect them to last very long.


A friend stopped by while I was making them and watch me work as we chatted. He was fascinated by the acorn flour and asked whether I ever used it for making pancakes. That got me thinking – great idea for tomorrows’s breakfast.

Apple turnovers

Apple turnovers

My wife is a beef lover and had managed to acquire a couple of juicy shell steaks, which she prepared for dinner along with baked potatoes. My contribution to the meal was a salad made from Shepherd’s Purse, Chickweed and Lambsquarters, with a little sprinkle of Autumn Olive. Even though wild food is not my wife’s choice of cuisine, she is always game to try anything I make, and found the salad to be pretty tasty (particularly the Shepherd’s Purse). For dessert, we reheated a couple of apple turnovers and served them up with some fresh cream (yum!).

The next morning I cooked up a batch of acorn pancakes with raisins and Autumn Olive. They were light and fluffy and a little nutty tasting. Excellent with real maple syrup.

Acorn pancakes

Acorn pancakes

In order to keep my apple turnovers fresh I had put them into a tin with a tight fitting lid, and then left them out on the back porch (as there wasn’t room in our fridge). The following day, I decided to have one with my lunch and went out to get the tin. However, the lid was missing and the tin was empty. The darned squirrels had eaten every one, leaving not a crumb. When I told my wife, she laughed and said “Serves you right. You stole all their acorns, now they’ve taken them back from you!” I guess she has a point.