Saturday, April 22, 2017

Licorice Fern Liqueur

As I wrote in a recent issue of Seattle Magazine, now is the time to seek out one of the Pacific Northwest's most striking ferns for your summertime mixology needs—before it retires for the year. The licorice fern is a beauty that lives in colonies in mixed lower-elevation forests, often well up in the tree canopy.

I typically see it adorning mossy big-leaf maples, where its roots, known as rhizomes, form an interconnected latticework beneath the moss. It will also colonize suitably moss-covered alders, madrones, and even glacial erratics, those big boulders left over from the last Ice Age that sometimes squat unaccountably in the middle of the woods. The key is finding some within reach.

Licorice ferns in abundance will form green waves undulating through the forest until the heat of summer causes the waves to collapse and the individual ferns to whither away. With winter rains they come back to life: just add water.

The flavor of the root is licorice-like, yes, and also spicy like fresh ginger. Infused in water or vodka, it makes a slightly picante syrup or liqueur that will remind you of the mesmerizing glades of spring licorice fern as you sip a thirst-quenching summer cocktail.

1. Peel and chop a few finger-length pieces of licorice fern root.

2. Cover chopped roots in a half-pint canning jar with vodka (for a liqueur) or water (for a syrup).

3. Refrigerate for two to three weeks, shaking every few days.

4. Strain and measure liquid. Make a simple syrup of equal parts water and sugar that is half the amount of reserved liquid. For example, with my 2/3 cup of fern-infused liquid I made a syrup with 1/3 cup water and 1/3 cup sugar. To make the syrup, boil the water and whisk in sugar until fully dissolved. Allow syrup to cool, then add to reserved liquid.

Licorice fern liqueur can jazz up a refreshing glass of soda water, improve a cheap prosecco, or comfortably join the other esoteric mixers at your cocktail bar.


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

This Must Be the Place

I had the pleasure of sitting down recently with Eric Parkinson, of This Must Be the Place, a podcast that seeks to reveal "the unique physical, cultural, and emotional layers of places."

We talked about foraging in the deep emerald forests of the Pacific Northwest, the tenets of slow food, and the myriad charms of nature in its many guises, among other topics.

Eric is a curious and penetrating interviewer determined to get at the heart of both our individual and collective sense of place. You can listen to our conversation here.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Spring Foraging Classes

I've partnered once again with both Bainbridge Island Parks & Rec and The Field Trip Society in Seattle to offer a variety of spring foraging trips, from short wild edible ID walks in a Seattle park to all-day shellfish extravaganzas.

Below are the classes and dates (plus one special dinner). Check back for additional classes.

Spring Foraged Dinner, March 19, La Medusa, Seattle

Wild Edible Hike, March 24, Issaquah, WA

Shellfish Foraging & Cooking, March 30, Dosewallips State Park, WA

Wild Edible Hike, April 20, Issaquah, WA

Shellfish Foraging & Cooking, April 28, Dosewallips State Park, WA

After-Work Wild Edible Walk, May 2, Seattle, WA

Shellfish Foraging & Cooking, May 13, Dosewallips State Park, WA

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Candy Cap Custard

This winter, mushroom hunters in California are crying Hallelujah! Unless they happen to live below Oroville Dam...

The Golden State hasn't seen rain like this in several years, and the fungi have responded in kind. But with so many storms rolling in off the Pacific, the mushroom patches have also taken a beating, so timing is still everything.

I was able to thread the needle earlier this winter, sneaking into Santa Cruz for a week of sunshine right after a major pummeling that washed out roads near where I was staying in the hills. The weather turned again just as I was leaving.

My destination was the Santa Cruz Fungus Fair, one of the great myco events on the West Coast, but I also managed to get into nearby woods to pick a year-plus supply of candy caps.

I've written about candy caps before. It's a complex of species in the milk cap genus, Lactarius. Candy caps are noteworthy for smelling intensely of maple syrup once dried, effectively putting mushrooms on the dessert menu. The two species of candy cap I encountered on this trip were L. rubidus and L. rufulus. The latter grows with oaks and is quite mild, but the former—if dehydrated at a low temperature (I think we set our dryer to 95 degrees)—is wonderfully fragrant. We found hundreds of them growing among a stand of old Monterrey pines.

Though candy cap cookies are my usual go-to recipe, the first thing I made when I got home with my bounty was an egg custard, adapting a very simple recipe that I typically make with huckleberries. The candy caps gave this creamy and satisfying dessert a pungent aroma of maple syrup, which paired well with the huckleberries on top.

1 small handful dried candy caps
1 cup evaporated milk
1 cup water
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup huckleberries
fresh nutmeg or cinnamon, grated to taste

1. Pulverize dried candy caps to dust in a spice grinder or food processor. Pass through wire mesh sieve to remove any large pieces. Cover mushroom dust with 1 cup warm water and set aside for 20 minutes.

2. Pre-heat over to 325 degrees. Combine milk and mushroom water in a small saucepan and bring to boil. Remove from heat.

3. Mix egg yolks, sugar, salt, and vanilla together in a bowl.

4. Slowly whisk in hot milk-water mixture until frothy. Pour into 4 ramekins.

5. Place ramekins in an oven-proof dish or tray filled with warm water. Bake for 40 minutes. Carefully place a small handful of huckleberries atop each custard and bake another 10 minutes. Test one for doneness with a knife tip; if it comes away clean, the custard is done. Sprinkle with fresh nutmeg or cinnamon. Serve hot or cold.