Foraging in Minnesota: Ostrich Ferns

Read More Foraging fiddleheads

The Ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) seems to be gaining in popularity among foragers, if mentions in social media are any indication. Posts about “fiddleheads” are becoming more and more common this time of year. Also apparent in the social media soup is how much confusion there is when it comes to knowing which species are edible and how they are identified. 

Some people- a proportional few- are vocal in their opinion that the Ostrich fern is not the only edible fern in Minnesota. While that may be true for sometimes complicated reasons, I will not subscribe to that school of thought. Allow me to explain why. 

Ostrich fern fiddleheadFirst, M. struthiopteris is the most easily identifiable fern we have. Targeting only Ostrich ferns is the best way to know what you’re eating. They emerge from the ground in a firm clump, with heads of fairly substantial size. Others, like the Sensitive fern, emerge with small wispy ends that develop with little unfurling. Also, Ostrich ferns have thick stems with a deep U-shaped groove which is immediately apparent on leaf stems as well as on the spore-bearing stalks. This is as much of a slam-dunk identifying feature as you’re going to find in the foraging world- either it’s there or it’s not, and there’s no mistaking it. 

The second reason I will not promote eating anything other than the Ostrich fern is because misidentification will almost certainly lead people to eat ferns which contain carcinogens. Some may say that certain ferns don’t contain those cancer-causing chemicals (or lower levels, anyway) at the fiddlehead stage, which makes them “safe” to eat. However, the vast majority of ferns are not considered safe to eat, and a misidentification negates this stipulation completely. And since identifying an Ostrich fern (again, comparatively easy) has proven beyond the skill set of many foragers, I am wholly unwilling to advocate for trying to identify anything else. Simply put, it’s just safer to find Ostrich ferns or go home empty handed. 

The HarvestOstrich fern Minnesota

Edible ferns are notorious for having a short season. This is both true and not true. When a fern emerges and starts to unfurl, it does so quickly and the window for harvest is short. However, I have found that here in the Twin Cities area, different areas offer harvest at different times. This became apparent to me once when I was out picking morels. 

I came upon a large area of Ostrich ferns and began to pick some. The ones in the shade were much farther along than the ones in the sun, some of which hadn’t yet emerged from the ground. It seemed paradoxical, but the pattern was undeniable. This observation, although anecdotal, has played out consistently in the years since, and I know if I miss harvesting fiddleheads in “my early spot” (fully shaded), I’ll still have a chance out in the sun. 

I have found that the heads that have barely emerged are compact and hold together nicely through the cooking process and are much more pleasant in the mouth than a bunch of floppy stems with leafy, unfurling tops. This is why I like to catch them early. Also, I do my best to remove the brown papery material in the field by blowing sharply on them before putting them in my bag. The vast majority of cleaning work is done, therefore, before they arrive in my kitchen. 

In the KitchenForaging fiddlehead ferns

As with most foraged goods, fiddlehead ferns are usually cooked in some manner or another. Almost always, this begins with blanching. Add cleaned fiddleheads to a pot of salty boiling water, boil for two minutes, then remove and cool them quickly with cold water. 

When I’m cooking, fiddleheads are almost always sautéed. Once I’ve blanched and dried them as much as possible, I simply sauté them in my cast iron pan with olive oil and minced garlic. I love when this is part of a meal with fresh, fried catfish- truly a springtime meal at our house. 

Once blanched, your fiddleheads could be eaten plain. If cooled completely, they might do well as part of a salad. At least once, I put them into a pasta primavera with morels and other vegetables. This year, I decided to finally try Hank Shaw’s recipe for pickled fiddleheads. At this time, they are not quite done, so I can’t comment on the final product. Other ways of preparation are out there, but just as with mushrooms, one thing is always true: don’t overcook them. 

 

If you’re interested in learning about more foraged foods, please visit my What to Forage page.

 

What to Fix: Recipes for Ramps

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Ramps are special, and the season is short. For some foragers, it’s the taste of Spring, and they wouldn’t miss it. I’m not that fervent, but I do like them nonetheless. This year, I made a point to branch out and do more than scrambled eggs with ramps. Now, I’m no chef, so don’t expect any groundbreaking ideas or recipes here. My perspective is that of an avid forager and great fan of trying new things.

One of my principles when cooking with foraged foods is not to overwhelm a foraged ingredient with flavors that obscure its inherent nature. I mean, what’s the point if you can’t taste it? So, my “recipes” are usually fairly minimal. They are also often not precise, because I’m the kind of guy who does things by feel and instinct in the kitchen. For that, I offer my apologies to the people who are going to wish I’d measured my ingredients! I don’t like to make recipes too wordy, so it will help to read each all the way through before commencing.

Note: Traditional ramp cooking usually includes—even requires—the bulbs. Because ramps are being harvested at unsustainable levels (and also because I want my own ramp patch to keep growing) I normally don’t use the bulbs. However, I will sometimes note how to use both bulbs and leaves in some cases where I have experience doing so.

 

Quiche du Ramps

This turned out to be unexpectedly good the first time, which caused me to repeat it two days later. The ramp leaves seemed to migrate toward the top, but the whole dish was infused with rampy essence.

-7 eggs

-Diced ham, maybe 1 cup

-About ¼ cup of cream

-12 to 15 ramp leaves, chopped

-3/4 cup of shredded cheese

-Butter

-Salt and white pepper (optional)

Scramble eggs in mixing bowl with cream. In a small frying pan, melt a few tablespoons of butter. Toss the chopped ramp leaves in and sauté just long enough to make them wilt (if using bulbs too, sauté chopped bulbs a minute or so before adding the leaves). Scoop them carefully from the pan and add to eggs. Add ham also and mix it up, adding a little salt and pepper, if desired. Pour the melted butter from frying pan into a glass 8×8 baking dish to coat bottom and sides. Add eggs and bake at 350 degrees, until a butter knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

 

ramp recipesRamp Pesto

For the pesto itself, I will not offer the recipe, instead this link to Hank Shaw’s recipe. I made it this year for the first time and it was a huge hit at our house. We had a pesto blowout meal, with some served over vermicelli and the rest on crostini. Anyone can boil noodles, so I won’t tell you how to do that.

As for the crostini, once you make the pesto, all you need is a baguette. Cut baguette into slices ½ to ¾ inches thick. Brush both sides lightly with olive oil and put on a baking sheet. Bake in the oven at 375 degrees for about 7 minutes per side, or until desired browning is achieved. Remove from oven and top with pesto when cool enough to be handled.

Hank’s recipe made enough for about 18 of these pieces. It could be more or less, depending on how thick you apply it. This would be a great addition to a larger meal, perhaps featuring fish or game or more foraged goods.

 

Mashed Potatoes with Rampsramp recipes for ramps

I’ve somehow gotten in the habit of putting things in mashed potatoes, one of my favorites being Hen of the Woods mushrooms when they’re in season. Ramps and potatoes seemed like a good fit to me. I mean, garlic mashed potatoes have been a thing for a long time, right?

-Yellow potatoes

-Butter

-Cream/milk

-Ramp leaves

-Salt and Pepper

Boil and prepare mashed potatoes as you normally would. For me, this includes a generous portion of butter to sweeten them, as well as milk to loosen them. I had cream on hand the day I tried these, which was tasty. Sour cream would also have been welcome.

As for the ramps, you’re probably looking at 20-30 ramp leaves depending on the volume of potatoes. (About 20 leaves for 4 big potatoes, for instance. Scale up and down as needed or desired) Chop ramp leaves and wilt in butter (as outlined above in Quiche du Ramps). Stir ramps into potatoes enough to blend. Salt and pepper at will.

 

ramp recipesNaan Pizza with Ramps

Naan bread is usually at our Aldi, and we use it to make pizza. White sauce seemed right for this, and I found an easy recipe on the web. I would have used morels if they were in season, but we were a little early yet.

-Ramp leaves

-Butter

-White sauce

-Naan bread

-Cheese

-Mushrooms

Spread a layer of white sauce across naan, add sauteed mushrooms and uncooked chopped ramp leaves. Top with cheese and bake in 425-degree oven until cheese starts to brown.

Shredded parmesan was used in this iteration, but mozzarella or other italian cheeses would have worked. I topped with enough ramps to nearly cover the surface of the pizza, which I thought was more than necessary. Taste tests indicated I could have used twice as many. Seriously, go nuts. 

 

Creamy Ramp SoupRamp recipes

This was a throw-together effort based on a couple soup recipes. The mushrooms were a nice addition; obviously foraged mushrooms would be ideal. I used half a package of baby portobellas, but could easily have doubled that.

40 ramp leaves, chopped

4 yellow potatoes, peeled and diced

1 quart of chicken broth

2 cups of half & half

4 ounces of baby portobellas, sliced

Butter (3 Tbsp)

Flour

Salt (a couple tsp)

Pepper (a few dashes)

Melt butter in pot and saute mushrooms. Remove mushrooms and add potatoes to pot for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Mix in ramp leaves. When ramps have visibly wilted, stir in a couple tablespoons of flour, making sure no flour is left dry. Follow immediately with broth. Simmer until potatoes are soft, then stir in mushrooms and half & half. Add salt and pepper to taste, and heat until warmed through.

 

 

If you’re interested in learning about more foraged foods, please visit my What to Forage page.

 

 

 

Foraging in Minnesota: Ramps

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Once again, I blame social media. For what, you ask? For the ridiculous fame that ramps seem to be “enjoying” nowadays. Of course, people have known about ramps for a long time, even holding spring festivals for them in parts of the eastern U.S. where they used to grow prolifically. I say “used to” because it is well known that wild ramp populations are hurting. Because of that, they really don’t need any extra harvest pressure. Every foraging group I subscribe to on Facebook, however, is currently experiencing Ramp Mania.

Ramps (Allium tricoccum and Allium burdickii) are native to roughly the eastern half of the Lower 48 and Canada. Members of the onion family, they are one of the first plants to emerge in the spring. They prefer rich soil and shade, forming colonies in hardwood forests. Once established, they spread both by seed and vegetatively, sometimes over several acres.

Occasionally called “wild leeks,” they grow a bulb of modest size, with two or three rather wide leaves showing above the soil (three leaves generally indicate older specimens). They enjoy early-season sun exposure before the trees leaf out, then bloom and set seed. By the heat of the summer, the leaves will have withered away. A. tricoccum resembles Lily of the Valley or tulips, and shows a reddish stem near the soil. A. burdickii has narrower leaves with no reddish tint, and is much less common. 

Ramps For The Future

Ramps are slow to grow and mature from seed- it is often said it takes 7 years. For that reason, one rule of thumb out there says you should only harvest 1 in 7 ramps. Others say 1 in 10, which I find to be more reasonable. 1 in 7 suggests establishing a state of equilibrium (“don’t take more than can be replaced”). 1 in 10 allows for some expansion of any given patch of ramps. Of course, this all goes down the toilet when more than one person comes along and takes any more than 1 in 20.

Their slow regeneration process is probably the main reason why ramps are in shorter and shorter supply. They are Species of Special Concern in three states, classified as Commercially Exploited in Tennessee, and endangered in New York. As far as Minnesota goes, I have rarely encountered ramps growing on any public lands, which suggests a general overharvest. I have not extensively explored parts of the state I suspect have greater concentrations of ramps, but that really doesn’t matter because rules for public land usage rarely allow that kind of harvesting

I am lucky to have access to my own little patch of ramps on a small plot of private land. I first discovered them about six years ago, right around Mother’s Day (which is about when they begin to disappear into the expanding greenery). I will dig whole plants out of the ground on occasion, but usually will only cut some leaves. In the last six years or so, my ramps have become much more numerous, and I credit my conservative harvesting style for that.

In the Kitchencooking with ramps

As with most foraged food, I prefer to showcase the inherent flavor of ramps. Most of the time, that flavor is described as “a combination of onion and garlic.” That makes sense because they’re all related. To me, though, they’re much more oniony than garlicky.

Anyway, I like to use ramps in dishes that will allow the taster to appreciate them. That means pairing/including them with other flavors that won’t overpower. In our house, that means lots of eggs. The most common use will be in a simple scrambled egg preparation:

-Scramble eggs in a bowl

-Melt butter in frying pan

-Add a handful of chopped ramp leaves and cook only until wilted, less than 1 minute

-Add eggs and scramble as usual

-Remove to plate and top with shredded cheese if desired

By extension, ramps would work well in omelets or other egg dishes; we also enjoyed a great ramp and ham quiche on Easter morning this year. The great thing is, you don’t need too many at a time with eggs: maybe four ramp leaves per person for scrambled eggs, and a dozen or more in a quiche. 

There are lots of recipes out there for ramps, and a person could really substitute them for onions anywhere within reason. I just wouldn’t use ramps and onions in the same recipe, because there’s little chance you’ll be able to taste the ramps themselves.

 

 

If you’re interested in learning about more foraged foods, please visit my What to Forage page.

 

 

 

 

Stay Well, Stay Sane

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It’s been about three days since all the closures started, and one day since Minnesota declared a state of emergency. Everyone in my household is already feeling cooped up and anxious about how we will spend the next days and weeks. And we’ve already told the kids they’re going to have limited time with friends for a while. So, if we’re going to spend less time in public, avoid movie theaters and restaurants, and otherwise practice hermit life, what can we do? Continue reading “Stay Well, Stay Sane”

The Season for Outdoor Savings

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It seems every year I tell myself I’m going to get new hiking boots. And ice fishing boots. And snow bibs. And winter clothing layers. And a new backpacking stove. I’m sure I’ll get around to all those, but most of my procrastination has to do with finding the right items at the right prices. Well, now is the time of year when prices get slashed and I need to be on top of my shopping game. You should too, especially if you need any type of outdoor clothing.  Continue reading “The Season for Outdoor Savings”

Ways to Extend Your Ice Fishing Season

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Well, the walleye and northern pike seasons ended yesterday here in Minnesota. This always leaves me feeling a little adrift with respect to the remainder of my ice fishing season. Most of my energy is spent chasing those toothy predators; nothing else quite measures up.

But I love ice fishing. I’d rather make use of the time left than hang my head and stuff my gear back up in the top of the garage again.   Continue reading “Ways to Extend Your Ice Fishing Season”

Trip Report: The Jumbo Perch of Devils Lake

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I don’t keep a bucket list. If I did, one of the items on it going into 2020 would have been ice fishing Devils Lake. When that opportunity recently landed in my lap, I couldn’t resist. It was a “Communicator Camp,” arranged by the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW), where Devils Lake Tourism and Clam Outdoors hosted several media professionals like myself. 

We assembled the first night, and were given a warm welcome (and the game plan) by Devils Lake Tourism’s Suzie Kenner and Tanner Cherney. Two members of the Clam Outdoors Ice Team– Thayne Jensen and Tony Mariotti- also gave us an overview of all the equipment we’d be using. Everything sounded so good until the conversation turned to the weather.  Continue reading “Trip Report: The Jumbo Perch of Devils Lake”

Tullibees and Happy Kids on Mille Lacs Lake

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Nobody smiles at 4:40 am. Nobody at my house, anyway. But Friday morning, I woke my kids up that early, knowing they would be smiling a lot that day- eventually. They had the day off from school, and we had a big day planned at Mille Lacs Lake. 

Our little Ford Escape slinked down the resort ramp between rumbling trucks and wheelhouses, onto the white expanse. It was a few minutes before sunrise, though we wouldn’t see the sun that day due to thick cloud cover. Winds were moderate and temperatures were expected to rise about ten degrees to near 30 by day’s end. It wasn’t a picture-perfect day, but it could have been worse.  Continue reading “Tullibees and Happy Kids on Mille Lacs Lake”

New Year, New Adventures

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I’m not a new-year’s-resolution kind of person. Rare are the times I am moved to state such aspirations formally, and rarer yet are the years when they survive to see the next changing of the calendar. Still, I will frequently look back on the past 12 months as that milestone approaches each year. My reflections have been more rewarding than usual this time around.  Continue reading “New Year, New Adventures”

Do Something New: Harvest Your Own Christmas Tree

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Normally, I wouldn’t be thinking about our Christmas tree in October. In fact, we’ve had a hand-me-down artificial tree for about the last 15 years, so it wouldn’t occur to me at all. But some relatives were telling us they’d be at the cabin this year for Christmas, and I suggested they get a permit to take their tree from the woods for the occasion. So in the interest of encouraging others into the outdoors, I snooped around for information from Minnesota DNR and the Forest Service, and emailed them some web links. 

What I found actually surprised me. As far as I could tell, the permit for harvesting a tree from Minnesota’s state forest lands would cost $25. That was a higher price than I expected. However, the permit for a tree from Chippewa National Forest costs only $5. 

Yes, FIVE DOLLARS.  Continue reading “Do Something New: Harvest Your Own Christmas Tree”

Product Review: Irish Setter VaprTrek Boot

It all started in 2014. A great pair of leather boots had given up the ghost and I needed something new. Another pair of leather boots seemed a good idea, but with all the walking I do in the bird hunting season, I didn’t want anything too heavy. One boot caught my attention, marketed as light in weight and tough as nails. I’d never owned anything in kangaroo leather before, so who was I to doubt their claims? 

Well, I should have. Astonishingly, I wore those boots out in just one October. The leather in the toes completely disintegrated, and the waterproof layer underneath could clearly be seen. I regret to this day I didn’t take pictures, but I was livid as I packed up the box. I just wanted them out of my sight. Ever since then, I’ve been in search of a boot that could stand up to the way I hunt.  Continue reading “Product Review: Irish Setter VaprTrek Boot”

Do Something New: Quarter and Pack Out a Deer

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I’ve long dreamed of hunting in the mountains, spending days climbing, glassing, and stalking. This kind of trip has always seemed quite accessible to me, except for one aspect: getting the meat out of the woods. It would be impractical to expect to drag a deer back to the truck. Foolish, really, and out of the question with an elk. So that would mean quartering and packing the animal out. This is nothing to the hunter on horseback, or even one who is accustomed to doing it. Continue reading “Do Something New: Quarter and Pack Out a Deer”

NAGC’s Best Adventurer Food, 2019

Read More Nordhem Karlstad MN

Even when you’re on the road, everybody’s gotta eat. There are the hidden gems, and there are the inevitable sore disappointments. On my adventures, I’ve found my share of each. In the interest of rewarding the proprietors of first-rate eateries, I would like to share some of my favorites with you. Hopefully this will also serve to help you avoid some of the duds lurking out there. The map below is interactive, so click on the icons to obtain addresses, phone numbers, and websites. Have at it, and let me know what you think!

Continue reading “NAGC’s Best Adventurer Food, 2019”

NAGC News, 2019 Highlights

Tribute to a Vizsla

Grouse hunting VizslaRoy’s article entitled “For The Good Times” was included in the March/April issue of the magazine Pointing Dog Journal. It was the narrative of the final hunt with his longtime hunting buddy, Johann. 13-year-old Johann is still with us, but his hunting days are, sadly, in the past. That hunt last November seemed like a perfect time to pay tribute to this hard-working, bird-crazy, lovable family dog, and the folks at PDJ were gracious to let the bird dog community read it. Thanks go out to Jake Smith and Pointing Dog Journal.  

Video Venture

Never A Goose Chase is now also available in video form! YouTube has been hosting an NAGC channel since March. Currently, there are 2 videos up: one from Roy’s maple syrup making venture, and one from Roy’s solo trip to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in May. Nut foraging videos are currently in production, and a video log is in the works. Subscribe to NAGC’s YouTube home so you don’t miss videos as they come out. 

Awards for Never A Goose Chase

Roy recently became a member of the Association of Great Lakes Outdoor Writers (AGLOW), and attended the annual conference in La Crosse, Wisconsin, in September. It was a week rich in networking and story ideas, and he received Awards-In-Craft prizes for Never A Goose Chase content from the last year. The featured photo from “BWCA Entry Point 44: Ice-Out Lake Trout” won third place in the Photography division in the fishing category. That very blog post won second place in the Electronic Media/Blog division, fishing category. As if that wasn’t enough, Roy’s post “Do Something New: Spot & Stalk Duck Hunting” also won second place in the Electronic Media/Blog division, hunting category. He was pleased with his first showing, and that first AGLOW conference will not be his last.