Category Archives: putting up

Rose Hip Jelly

I’ve never seen as many wild rose hips as I saw in the upper Skeena watershed of British Columbia this fall. I was there to fish for steelhead and I suppose I might have earned a few raised eyebrows if I’d put down my rod and spent the rest of the trip picking hips, but when opportunity knocked I made sure to fill a bag. The banks of the Kispiox River in particular were covered with the bright red globes. No doubt Mister Griz was picking his own share.

A rose hip is the seed pod of the rose, and nearly as attractive as the flower it replaces. It’s famously loaded with vitamin C. Last year I made rose hip syrup. This year, jelly.

My first morning in steelhead camp I awoke to a shiny white veneer covering the ground. Rose hips gleamed in the sun. This is the best time to harvest your hips—after a hard frost. The hips endured a long drive back to Seattle and a month in the freezer, but this didn’t seem to matter.

Back home I did a little research before realizing that, as with most jellies and jams, a recipe is merely a guideline. Add and subtract according to your own taste. If I’d had another lemon I would have squeezed in more lemon juice. I used less sugar than many recipes because I like the tanginess of the hips. I chose jelly for the warm, diaphanous color, because it was easiest, and I was short on time, but a marmalade-like jam would be a good choice too.

If I had not have been so focused on the giant wild steelhead finning around in the river beside me, I might have picked a more reasonable amount of rose hips to preserve, certainly no less less than 8 cups. As it turned out, I came home with a scant 6 cups. Consider doubling the amounts below for best use of your time.

6 cups rose hips
4 cups water
2 1/2 cups sugar
1/2 packet pectin
1/3 cup lemon juice (1 lemon)
3 to 4 8-oz canning jars

1. Wash and stem the rose hips, then cover with water (4 cups in this case) in a stainless steel pot and simmer for an hour or so until the hips are soft and easily mashed with a potato masher.

2. Strain the liquid. A jelly bag is ideal, but a combination of strainers and cheese cloth will get the job done. I used a food mill for the first pass and then lined a fine mesh strainer with a double layer of cheese cloth. After the liquid passed through I balled up the remaining mash and squeezed out the juice. The point is to extract as much juice and as little pulp as possible. This yielded 2 cups of juice.

3.  Return juice to pot. Add lemon juice and pectin and bring to a boil. Add sugar and continue to boil for a minute or so while stirring. Remove from heat, skim off any foam, and immediately ladle into sterilized jars.

4. Secure lids and process jars in hot bath for 10 minutes.

Oregon-grape Preserves

The state flower of Oregon looks like holly and grows throughout much of Cascadia. Anyone who spends time in the woods from Northern California up through British Columbia is familiar with its prickly green leaves, bright yellow blooms, and the tart berries that form in clusters in summer. It’s not exactly trail food. Pick a few berries on a hike and you’ll experience a lip-puckering flavor that gives new meaning to the term sour grapes. But tame it with sugar and you’ve got a whole realm of culinary possibilities.

Oregon-grape is not a true grape. Though its dark blue berries hang in grape-like clusters, that’s where the comparison ends. Members of the family Berberidaceae, the various species of Oregon-grape are also known for their medicinal qualities. The two species commonly encountered in the forests of the Pacific Northwest are the tall Oregon-grape (Mahonia aquifolium) and low Oregon-grape (Mahonia nervosa). Some botanists consider them part of the Berberis genus, which includes a variety of species commonly called barberries and which are renowned for containing berberine, a compound with cancer-fighting and anti-depressant properties, among other medicinal benefits.

To make Oregon-grape preserves wear gloves and harvest a good quantity of the berries. I picked five pounds or so from a patch behind my daughter’s pre-K, right in the center of Seattle. Use containers and utensils that won’t stain. Wash the berries and remove any large stems or other leafy debris. Put the berries in a pot and add just enough water so that the berries are barely covered. Boil for 15 minutes until soft, then run through a food-mill in batches. The food-mill should separate the juice and pulp from the skins and seeds.

Now you have a choice: You can further strain the juice from the pulp by using cheese cloth or a fine mesh strainer, or you can leave the pulp in to make a preserve more aptly called a spread. Next measure your juice. I had a scant 5 cups. In general you’ll want to add an equivalent amount of sugar, give or take depending on your taste. Try mixing in other fruits or berries, too, or even ginger. Bring your juice to a boil and stir in the optional lemon juice and pectin. I used about half of a 1.75 oz package. Next add the sugar, not all at once but slowly, tasting as you go until reaching your preferred balance between tart and sweet. Bring to a boil again, stirring thoroughly, and cook for a few minutes, then remove from heat and immediately ladle into sterilized jars. Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.

My measurements:

5 cups Oregon-grape juice and pulp
4 1/2 cups sugar
juice of 1 lemon (optional)
1 oz pectin

Yield: 3 1/2 pints

While Oregon-grape preserves look and taste a lot like your standard grape jelly, the flavor is more complex and full-bodied, with a sweetness that will please children and a tart edge suitable to a grown-up palate. I think it makes a terrific PB&J yet a dollop is equally at home on a fancy cheese plate.

Dandelion Jelly

After reading Ava Chin’s Urban Forager column in the New York Times the other day I was inspired to make Dandelion Jelly.

This has been in the back of my mind for a while but I always seem to have some other use for the hard-won yellow petals: bread or muffins or wine. And it’s not like one just has flowers to burn (despite what my neighbors think about my “lawn”). Harvesting the petals is definitely not in the same league as plucking a few leaves for a salad or buds for an omelet. It’s a commitment. Luckily I went a little overboard during my wine-making foray, collecting a cool eight cups of petals rather than the six cups the recipe called for—giving me exactly the two cups needed for Ms. Chin’s recipe.

Always the pranksters, the dandelions weren’t done with me yet. My unruly petals refused to submit placidly to the domestic arts. On the first go-round the jelly didn’t want to set, resulting in a syrup instead. The next day I poured all the syrup back into the pot and added 4 more teaspoons of pectin. This did the trick, though I lost a significant quantity cooking down the syrup and even then I wasn’t convinced it would set. But after returning from Olympia that night (which is like a trip in the Wayback Machine to the Seattle of 20 years ago, pre-tech boom, pre-Starbucks, pre-WTO but definitely not pre-grungewear or pre-dive bar…I liked it) I discovered that my measly 3/4 of a pint had set most gracefully.

The flavor is really quite wonderful. It’s kind of like a gelified honey. (Did I make up that word? Apparently not.) After enjoying—no, gobbling down—my first taste of gelified honey aka dandelion jelly on an organic wheat English muffin, I felt like one of those drunken bumblebees you see in the dandelion fields. There was nothing to do but flop down and take a mid-morning nap.

Here’s the recipe, with the caveat that your mileage may vary. Don’t forget: pectin is your friend when it comes to Dandelion Jelly.

2 cups dandelion petals
2 cups water
1 cup sugar
2 tsp lemon juice
2-4 tsp pectin*

* Maybe more, maybe less. This jelly operates on principles beyond our ken.

1. Bring 2 cups water to boil and add dandelions. Boil 10 minutes over medium heat.
2. Strain dandelions and return liquid to pot.
3. Add sugar, lemon, and pectin, then bring to boil again before reducing heat to a simmer. Stir with wooden spoon until syrupy. This may take little time or lots of time, depending.
4. Pour into sterilized jars, seal, and process in hot water bath for 10 minutes.

Yields about a pint.

Nettle Pesto Pops

I found a frozen packet of nettles from last year’s harvest in the freezer the other day. With all the fresh nettles we’ve been eating lately this seemed like an opportune time to see how a year-old hunk of frozen nettles tasted in comparison. I’m happy to report my dinner companions up the street didn’t blink. Not for a second did they wonder whether my potluck contribution of Cream of Stinging Nettle Soup wasn’t made from nettles picked that day (and I didn’t tell—shhhh). The day-glo green color and signature flavor would have fooled me too.

Score another point for free, nutritious food.

Speaking of frozen nettles, I wouldn’t have been able to make a soup with fresh nettles anyway because all of my harvest has gone into pesto production. There’s a reason for this. She’s four going on fourteen, cute as a button when she’s not terrorizing her parents or building elaborate homes for ponies and princesses out of the furniture, and she loves her daddy’s nettle pesto.

I’ve already posted a recipe for Stinging Nettle Pesto, but here’s more info/photos about putting up your pesto. Use a Ziploc with a corner cut off to fill each cavity of the tray, then put in the freezer for several hours. Once frozen the pesto cubes can be easily removed from the tray and stored in freezer bags, ready for use throughout the year.

Whenever Ruby wants her pesto fix, I simply grab a pesto pop from the freezer, heat it up in the microwave, and toss with a bowl of cooked pasta. A single cube is enough to coat a few servings of pasta.

If you want to make a large batch of nettle pesto just remember to harvest enough nettles. A grocery bag packed with freshly harvested stinging nettles yields about two ice trays of pesto plus a small tub.

Few meals are healthier or easier to make.

Truffling with Jack

As I lay me down here at home, cold-turkey off the meds, there’s not much to report in the way of foraging. Luckily I have my wild food stash and a few things to mention that didn’t get mentioned in the fall.

A few months ago while in Portland for some book events I made a side-trip an hour southwest to the Willamette Valley in search of a coveted wild edible to bring back home. It’s the sort of edible that inspires otherwise circumspect men to spend stupid sums of money and otherwise intelligent women to sleep with stupid men. At least in Europe that’s the case, where the truffle has enjoyed a long, colorful history as a pricey luxury item and sought-after aphrodisiac.

Truffles are subterranean fungi, many of which emit pungent scents to attract the animals that will dig them up, eat them, and subsequently spread their reproductive spores. Whether or not these aromas are ever scientifically proven to heighten arousal we can be sure that truffles will continue to fetch top dollar for their culinary uses. The white “Alba” truffles of Italy and black “Perigord” truffles of France have been the choice of royalty for centuries. Here in North America, specifically in the low-elevation Douglas-fir forests of the Pacific Northwest, we have our own edible truffles that don’t require a fancy coat-of-arms or family escutcheon to possess. While not as renowned as their European counterparts, American truffles can stir the same primal passions when used correctly.

And there’s the rub. The fact is, most American diners—most American chefs, one could argue—don’t know what a good truffle tastes like, or worse (in the case of the chefs), they aren’t scrupulous enough to know when to not serve the expensive fungus mocking them in the walk-in. In this country unripe truffles are routinely bought and sold and then passed up the food-chain until they reach restaurant patrons who scratch their heads wondering what all the fuss is about. I’ve been served a very unspectacular Perigord black truffle by one of Seattle’s finest restaurants, with the flourish of a waiter brandishing his mandoline at table. The theatric gesture didn’t change the fact that the truffle wasn’t ripe.

American truffles seem to suffer even more from ill-use, perhaps because they’re cheaper and easier to obtain. A small group of local truffle boosters has been trying to change this, but until the public is more educated—from commercial forager to diner—our home-grown truffles will continue to be viewed as vastly inferior to their European cousins. Which is too bad, because good, ripe truffles from both continents can elevate a meal from excellent to sublime.

As I drove southwest from Portland, I thought about my last meal of truffles. It had been just a few days earlier in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood, where a friend took me to his favorite trattoria. We ordered plates of linguini with cream sauce. The waiter appeared with a scale and a large white Alba truffle, which he weighed first, then shaved onto our pasta, then weighed again. Like cocaine, truffles are priced by the gram. Fortunately this truffle that had traveled thousands of miles was in top form and our meal, so simple in appearance, was superb. The smell of the truffles rose up in the steam of the dish. Each bite seemed to offer the possibility of a secret revealed. We took in these ineffable pleasures and washed them down with woodsy Piedmontese Barbera…

Autumn colors in neat geometric patterns across the Dundee Hills snapped me out of my reverie. I wasn’t in Italy, nor San Francisco. Here in the Willamette Valley the crush of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay had finished and the leaves were turning pretty shades of yellow and orange. In the town of Dayton I pulled into the historic Joel Palmer House to meet my guide.

Jack Czarnecki, former owner of the Joel Palmer House (his son is now the chef-owner), is about the closest thing this country has to a truffle expert, and he’s using his expertise to produce truffle oil. Like the proverbial lightning in a bottle, truffle oil is a way to capture the fleeting flavors of truffles and use them year-round; unlike lightning in a bottle, it can really be done. But it should be noted that Jack’s all-natural truffle oils are a far cry from the chemical concoctions devised in scientific labs by most of the other so-called truffle oil manufacturers.

A few words about truffle oil. As wild foods, in particular fungi, continue to land on plates served by high-end restaurants across the land, there’s been a commensurate increase in the use of truffle oil. Truffle oil is the sort of fancy ingredient that can spruce up a menu and lend extra gravitas to an establishment looking for culinary plaudits. Which would you pay more for? Wild Mushroom Ravioli or Ravioli of Porcini and Chevre drizzled with Truffle Oil… But what is truffle oil? According to Daniel Patterson in his now-infamous New York Times rant, most truffle oils are a fraud—molecular creations that don’t actually have a shred of truffle in their recipes.

You see, the truffle’s complex aroma has been sequenced out by chemists so that it’s now just a series of numbers and letters, an equation. Even the French and Italian oils are guilty of the deception, and though some will include shavings or pieces of truffle in the bottom of the bottle for an implied authenticity, the actual flavor has been created in a test tube.

Jack hasn’t taken the short cut. His truffle oils are the real deal. And for this reason, he needs to forage an enormous quantity of truffles each season. I was only too glad to help. With his friend Tony joining us, we set out for the truffle ballpark—in this case, a managed stand of young Douglas firs on private property where Jack has worked out a barter arrangement that is typical between truffle hunters and landowners. To the untrained eye the forest looked like a rather uninviting monocrop. To the experienced truffler, it looked like the strike zone: young, single-aged conifers grew in rows for easy walking and a thick carpet of duff covered the ground underfoot. Using garden rakes, we gently raked back the layer of duff to expose little white tubers up to the size of golf-balls: Oregon winter white truffles, Tuber oregonense.

It was still a couple weeks early and most of the truffles didn’t yet have their typically pungent smell. We collected them just the same. Jack explained that it was possible to ripen the truffles if done with patience and an understanding of the truffle’s life-cycle.

I came home with a couple pounds of white truffles. Following Jack’s instructions, I washed the dirt off each truffle with a quick blast of tap water and then used a toothbrush to clean the exterior. This took some time. Then I swaddled the truffles in paper towels, layering them in Tupperware and sealing the lid before popping into the fridge. The idea is to keep them cool and dry so they can ripen just as they would in the ground. The truffles sweat so you need to change the damp towels every couple days.

Most of a truffle’s flavor and aroma comes in the form of gases emitted by the truffle which can then be absorbed in fats. This is why you never cook truffles at high temperature; the fragile gases get cooked out. The best way to serve truffles is to shave them thinly over hot food on the plate, not in the pan, and allow the flavors to soak in. Scrambled eggs, melted butter, and cream sauces are the perfect vehicles.

Unfortunately most of my individual truffles never ripened as much as they would have in the ground. My ripest specimens got thinly sliced into dishes such as homemade Tagliatelle with Alfredo Sauce to which they added a noticeable hint of truffle, though not as much as I would have preferred. But I had another card up my sleeve: I made a couple pounds of truffled butter, a better choice for my slow-ripening truffles. I sealed sticks of organic sweet cream butter into Tupperware with a few ounces of truffles per stick and left them in the fridge for a few weeks. By the end the truffles were decomposing, but over the course of those weeks they emitted enough of their fabled gases to flavor the butter. (Oh, and by the way, if you ever see truffled butter that’s shot through with pieces of ground-up truffle, know that this is either a misconception on the maker’s part or a gimmick. It’s all about the gases.) The truffled butter is wonderful melted over pasta or simply spread on toast.

This was my first experience digging white truffles. In general I’d say they’re stronger than black truffles. Black truffles have a distinctly different flavor (fruitier, less garlicky) and are supposedly harder to find, though I’ve had some luck foraging them in recent years. Both whites and blacks can make a special accompaniment to a meal when properly ripe, and whether or not our local truffles deserve comparison with European varieties is besides the point. Truffles are a treat wherever they are handled with skill.

Spiced Up Take-Out

Chinese take-out. It’s one of the great pleasures in life, especially if the take-out is good and cheap. I’ve got a favorite Szechuan joint not too far from home. It sits nearly anonymously on the edge of the International District in an uninspiring little strip mall called “Asian Plaza.” The restaurant’s name is equally original: Szechuan Cuisine. Before it was remodeled it didn’t even have a recognizable name, just a bunch of faded Chinese characters strewn haphazardly above the door.

Those faded characters seemed like a good omen to a bunch of us wandering around looking for lunch one day more than a decade ago. By our third or fourth trip we were calling it The House, as in: “Should we pay a visit to The House today?” There was no denying it was the go-to lunch spot for a bunch of us who worked together, our house lunch establishment. You could order 25 pot-stickers for $3.50. Prices have gone up since then. Now you get 20 pot-stickers for $4.95.

The House is known for its Hot Pot but usually we order more obvious stuff like Ants on a Tree or Twice Cooked Pork. I’m a sucker for the salty-sweet nothings of the General Tso-ish Manadarin Spicy Chicken, and the Garlic Beef makes other versions seem pedestrian at best.

Rather than get bogged down in the kitchen this Halloween Eve, Marty and I wanted to watch some scary movies with the kids and eat popcorn and candy. The House to the rescue! But this time I had a little home-made treat to spruce up our plates of take-out: Szechuan Pickled Fungi & Vegetables.

The fungi were cauliflower mushrooms (Sparassis radicata) picked near the Columbia River Gorge a few weeks ago. While driving from a book reading in Hood River to the Wordstock Lit Fest in Portland I stopped off in the hills above the Gorge to go for a hike. The trail contoured across a steep pitch shaded by old-growth fir and hemlock. Horses had been on it recently. I didn’t expect to see much in the way of mushrooms along this rather dry section of trail, but a mile or so in I came across my first cauliflower mushrooms of the year, a pair of recently emerged specimens of average size, each one weighing a few pounds.

Cauliflowers are delicious mushrooms and they can be huge. A few years ago someone brought a 50-pound cauliflower to the Puget Sound Mycological Society’s annual exhibit. The mushroom boasts a nutty flavor and firm texture that doesn’t soften with cooking like so many other species. Even after braising in a stew for an hour they remain al dente, which is a good way to describe the texture since this mushroom resembles nothing so much as a bowl full of cooked egg noodles. Its wavy protrusions and deep clefts are expert at trapping duff and forest debris, making the cauliflower one of the more difficult mushrooms to clean. Worms like them too. The trick, as with so many tasty mushrooms, is to find them before the worms do—or else cut away the infestations as best as possible.

Szechuan Pickled Fungi & Vegetables

Szechuan peppercorns are the key ingredient. Not really pepper, the spice is actually the husk of a type of berry widespread through Asia. When consumed, it gives the mouth and lips a numb tingling feeling that works well with other hot spices commonly found in Szechuan foods.

1 lb cauliflower mushroom, boiled for a few minutes and cut into pieces
1 lb Napa cabbage, pulled apart and cut into 2-inch squares
1/2 lb diakon radish, sliced into 1/4-inch thick half-moons or matchsticks
2 carrots, sliced on an angle into 1/4-inch thick ovals
6-8 hot peppers cut in half and de-seeded
1/4 cup sliced ginger
2 tbsp Szechuan peppercorns
2 tbsp vodka
6-8 cups water, boiled and cooled
3 tbsp salt

Mix the brine and Szechuan peppercorns in a large tupperware or other non-reactive container. Stir in vodka; this is strictly for sanitary reasons. Add vegetables, fungi, and spices, making sure they are immersed completely in the brine. Cover and store at room temperature for 3-5 days. After the initial pickling, the contents can be refrigerated for 2 weeks.

Freezer Burn, or: A Few Good Apps

If you want to get serious about foraged foods, a big ol’ freezer is pretty much indispensable. Mine is packed with crabs, clams, nettles, mushrooms, berries, smoked salmon, shad, assorted heads, various stocks, and so on. Such a freezer full of foraged foods comes in handy for a party. Never mind that Marty tried her best to sabotage the whole affair by leaving the freezer door open for 18 hours a few days before. Most of the packages were still frozen, if sweating on the outside, and the clearly defrosted stuff got whipped into shape for the party, including stinging nettle pesto, Columbia river shad, and porcini mushrooms.

Look, Mom, no bones!

The shad in particular was a thing of genius. Several of the vacuum-sealed packages were flimsy, the once frozen shad now thawed and bendy. There was no way those things were going back into the deep freeze. As anyone who’s ever processed these largest members of the herring family knows, shad are bony critters fit for deboning by the same jailbirds who punch out New Hampshire’s “Live Free or Die” license plates.

Normally I have most of my Columbia River shad catch smoked and canned at Tony’s, but I always keep a few fillets on hand to smoke myself or bake in the Low-Country style. This time I wanted a croquette I could serve at the party with a spicy New Orleans remoulade. I baked the shad for 30 minutes, spent 15 minutes picking as many bones as I could, and then buzzed the pile o’ fish in the Cuisinart. To this pulverized mass of shad I added sauteed onions and red pepper, Worstcester sauce, lemon juice, an egg, some flour, cayenne pepper, and a bunch of fresh herbs from the garden, including tarragon, basil, chives, and parsley. I added more of the herbs than you might think; the more the better, in fact. Shad is a rich, strong-tasting fish, and the fresh herbs help to brighten the flavor and temper it at the same time. Hank Shaw has posted a similar recipe here, minus the sauteed veggies and lemon.

Once made, you can refrigerate the shad for a few days until party time. It has a consistency similar to well-mixed tuna fish salad. Or you can plow ahead and make the croquettes ahead of time and then freeze. I took the latter path, forming little hockey pucks of about the same diameter as a fifty-cent piece. These I dredged generously in panko and placed on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper. Into the freezer they went for a couple hours until solid enough to be removed to zip-lock bags. An hour before the party I arranged them once again on a cookie sheet to defrost and fried in oil minutes before the guests arrived. The fried shad croquettes were then topped with the red remoulade (although an aioli would be good too).

Porcini Crostini

I took this one from John Sundstrom, the chef/owner of Lark restaurant in Seattle. The prep is really quite simple: chopped porcini mushrooms roasted in olive oil with fresh thyme and rosemary. It’s a little depressing to see all that beautiful fresh porcini lose half its volume by the time it comes out of the oven, but that’s the nature of this fungal beast. Thinly sliced baguette is lightly toasted, rubbed with garlic, covered with a blanket of good ricotta, and topped with the porcini (and a generous sprinkling of salt).

Slow-roasted Tomatoes with Nettle Pesto Garnish

The last canape escaped the intrusions of paparazzi. Tomatoes were cored, chopped, and placed in a glass dish with olive oil to slowly roast overnight in a 225-degree oven. These got spooned on squares of baked polenta and dabbed with stinging nettle pesto.

Next time Marty better conspire to leave the freezer door open a little longer, ’cause we gotta clean out that sucker once and for all this winter.

Putting Up Porcini

If you want to pick mountain porcini, you best keep your ear to the wall. No one casually gives up their patches of porcini. It’s hard enough to predict where and when the buggers will fruit as it is.

Here in the Cascades we get two, possibly three distinct fruitings of porcini: the spring variety, which is now officially known as Boletus rex-veris; and the summer/fall varieties, which might be distinct from each other but get lumped in together as a single species with the famous porcini of Italy, Boletus edulis. All varieties are deserving of their nickname “king bolete.” With their firm flesh and nutty flavor, they might be my favorite wild mushrooms of all.

A couple weeks ago while picking huckleberries I got a tip from some hikers that a lot of mushrooms were fruiting to the south. The next day I hopped in the car and made an educated guess about where to go. Mountain porcini like high elevations, and they’re picky about tree composition. True firs and spruce are the ticket. After a three-mile hike I started to see them—first some blown-out flags in the sunny areas and then fetching number one buttons emerging out of the duff in more shaded spots.

When picking porcini, always make sure to field dress them right away. I trim the end to check for worm holes, then cut the mushroom in half. Often a pristine looking bolete will show signs of bugs once you slice it open, but the infestations will just as often be local to a small area of the cap or stem that can be trimmed away. Whatever you do, don’t simply put a porcino in your basket to trim later at home. I’ve learned the hard way that a basketful of beautiful buttons can be a worm-ridden mess by the time you get home if you don’t deal with the bugs immediately.

By the end of the day I had nearly 10 pounds of mostly perfect porcini buttons (having thrown away twice that amount as too far gone). What a dilemma! I had more porcini than I could use. Some I cooked, some I gave away, and the rest got pickled.

Pia’s Pickled Porcini

My friend Cora, who stars in the morel hunting chapter of Fat of the Land the book, passed this recipe along to me from his father’s cousin, who lives in Cortemiglia, Italy. She gathers 20 to 50 pounds of porcini annually, so putting up some is a must.

2 cups white vinegar
2 oz water
2 tsp salt
extra light olive oil
1/2 tsp peppercorns per jar

Clean and quarter porcini buttons. Bring vinegar, water, and salt to boil. Cook porcini in batches, no more than 3 minutes per batch. Drain on paper towels and set aside to dry for at least 8 hours. Pack sterilized jars with porcini and peppercorns, then fill with extra light olive oil (use safflower oil if keeping more than 6 months).

Pickled Sea Beans

A couple weekends ago I attended an oyster fest on Samish Bay complete with sea kayaks, local beer, midnight skinny-dip, and a bluegrass band that retired fireside to play late-night requests. Good times. In addition to being fed ridiculous quantities of fresh oysters, clams, Dungeness crab, and salmon, the beach boasted a patch of sea beans stretching for hundreds of yards. The property owner, who runs ACME seafood, told me to have at it. We packed my daughter’s sand pail the next morning before driving home.

Sea beans (Salicornia sp.) are known by many names: beach asparagus, glasswort, pickleweed, samphire. They’re a succulent, salt-tolerant plant that grows along beaches, marshes, and mangroves around the world. In my region we find sea beans near the high tide mark along sandy or pebbly beaches. Fresh, they make a crunchy snack while clamming, and retain that pleasing crunch even after cooking. The flavor, if it can be called that, is subtle, a salty taste of the sea with a hint of wild green. I like sauteed sea beans mostly for the texture, the bright color, and the salt, as in an oyster succotash.

Sea beans also make an excellent garnish. Pickling them means you can have sea beans whenever inspiration strikes. I looked around for pickling recipes, of which there are few, and settled on two styles: Far East and Southwest.

Spicy Pickled Sea Beans

For the Southwest I adapted a fairly standard pickling recipe for spicy green beans:

4 handfuls sea beans
4 red chiles
6 garlic cloves
pinch peppercorns per jar
pinch coriander seeds per jar
pinch mustard seeds per jar
4 sprigs fresh dill
1 1/4 cup water
1 1/4 cup white wine vinegar

1. Sterilize jars and lids in boiling water.

2. When jars are cool enough to handle, add pinches of coriander, mustard, and peppercorns. Pack half full with sea beans. Insert chiles, garlic cloves, and dill around outside edges. Finish packing with sea beans.

3. Bring water and vinegar to a boil. Ladle over the sea beans leaving about 1/2-inch head space. Wipe jar edge clean and screw on sterilized lids.

4. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove and allow to cool completely at room temperature. Check lids for proper seal. Store for at least one month before using to allow flavors to develop.

Yields 2 pints.

Asian Pickled Sea Beans

For the Far East I used Matt Wright’s recipe.

sea beans
rice vinegar
1 tbsp sugar per cup of vinegar
3 1-inch slices ginger per jar
1 star anise per jar

Figure on using at least 1 cup of vinegar for 2 half-pint jars. Oh, and rice vinegar and rice wine vinegar are essentially the same thing, in case you were wondering.

1. Sterilize jars and lids in boiling water.

2. When jars are cool enough to handle, pack with sea beans. Insert ginger slices around edges and a single star anise at top.

3. Bring rice vinegar and sugar to a boil. Ladle over the sea beans leaving about 1/2-inch head space. Wipe jar edge clean and screw on sterilized lids.

4. Process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Remove and allow to cool completely at room temperature. Check lids for proper seal. Store for at least a few days before using to allow flavors to develop.

Word of warning: If you don’t own a dedicated canner with a rack (i.e. you use a big ‘ol pot instead, like me) be very careful with your jars to avoid breakage. I discovered this the hard way. Because the contents of the jars—the sea beans—are packed cold, your jars can experience a terrible fate called thermal shock and pop their bottoms off. Not pleasant. Keep the jars in the hot sterilization water until ready, pack them, don’t overscrew the lids (you know what I mean), then place carefully in the pot before bringing to a boil. In restaurant/software speak, this is called a “soft launch.”

And don’t forget to use any leftover sea beans post-pickling. They make a salty garnish, or you can saute them in butter and garlic with a drizzle of lemon juice for a side dish. To leech out some of the salt, try blanching and shocking in two changes of water.

Porcini Every Day

Eating fresh porcini is a treat, but you can experience the earthy goodness of bolete mushrooms throughout the year by drying some of your catch. If you’ve ever paid for a 1 oz package of dried porcini at the market then you know drying your own makes economical sense too.

For us West Coasters, spring porcini makes a case for drying because it’s abundant and it’s often wormy. Rather than tossing the wormy ones, I slice up those that aren’t too badly infested and cut away the parts riddled with holes. Any worms I miss will usually exit once they realize the gig’s up, and those that don’t, being mostly water, evaporate into nothingness during the drying process. Besides, most of my dried porcini gets pulverized in a blender for use in stocks and sauces, so I’m not too concerned about a few pinpricks of worm dust; we eat more insects in our salads.

Drying Porcini, Step by Step

1. Slice mushrooms into 1/4 inch thickness. Discard badly wormed out bits.

2. Arrange in a single layer on screen. I use an old window screen scavenged just for this purpose. Prop up the screen at the corners with books if necessary to increase airflow underneath.

3. Place screen and mushrooms in a sunny room or outside and blast them with a portable fan. Depending on your climate, this may take a few days. Alternatively, you can place on a pan in an oven on low heat and leave the door open for air circulation; I’ve never tried this technique but others claim it works. A food dehydrator is another option.

4. Very important. Make sure every last mushroom slice is thoroughly dried. Some pieces will snap in half; others will be bendy but if you rip in two the inside shouldn’t be at all moist. A single undried piece can spoil an entire batch with mold. On the other hand, don’t overdry or you’ll leach out the good flavor oils.

5. Store dried porcini carefully. My main foe is the indestructible kitchen moth, so I keep my porcini in glass mason jars with rubber-gasket lids that lock down.

Like a fine wine, the longer you age your porcini, the more the earthy essence will be concentrated. Now you’ve got a taste of the woods to enjoy year-round. Reconstitute a handful of pieces for a pasta sauce, or pulverize and add to your favorite beef stock for an extra boost. I use dried porcini in any number of dishes, from Oxtail Gnocchi to Braised Chicken to Chanterelle Soup.

Speaking of bolete worms, this time around I noticed an interesting phenomenon. I used six books to prop up two screens side by side. One of the books, Bill Buford’s Heat appropriately enough, has a bright yellow dust jacket. The worms that crawled out of the mushrooms during the drying process all migrated to this colorful cover where they made their last stand in the sun. None of the other books exhibited evidence of worms. In fact, I’ve never actually seen worms escaping off their host mushrooms before, it’s just something I assumed happened under the cover of darkness. It’s as if they all made a break for the yellow book, thinking it salvation. Is this because the gills of old boletes are yellow? I have no idea, but I’ll be using Heat again.