Making the most of the foraging harvest

Well, the foraging season is behind us now and it’s safe to say this one was far from overwhelming. Each is different, of course, and not every fruit, nut, or fungus is going to give generous harvests in any one year, but this one seemed more universally disappointing. Most folks would be quick to blame the drought that defined the summer, myself included. 

But even one of Minnesota’s top botanists, Welby Smith, hesitates to put all the blame on lack of rainfall (it was awfully hot, too, remember). I called on him to help me understand why all the cherries and plums were in such a slump, as part of an assignment for Minnesota Conservation Volunteer. He said, “I usually think of a failure of this sort as a failure of pollination…..but I don’t think that was the case this year. So if there is a poor yield, which I have not kept track of, then drought is a good suspect.” So, if you’re inclined to believe an expert like Welby, as I am, the best we can say is “inconclusive.”

Whatever the cause, smart money is on a better foraging season next year. But that’s no consolation for those of us with less in the freezer than we’d like. 

The best we can do is make the most of what we have. In some cases that’s not much. Perhaps this is a year to get creative and/or branch out a little. 


I don’t know about you, but I thought this mushroom season was a real bummer. Maybe that’s because I didn’t expect much and didn’t put too much effort into it. Beginning with the morel season, the word on the street was that things were bad— and it never changed. 

If you do find yourself with some leftover dehydrated mushrooms, I have a couple ideas for you (these can also come in handy anytime you find only a few). 

Mushroom quesadillas are one volume-flexible way to use whatever you have on hand. A small amount of ‘shrooms might mean just one or two quesadillas, for example. Make what you want. 

All you really need is some tortillas and a good cheese. Just sauté your (rehydrated) mushrooms in butter, put them on a tortilla with the cheese, and then fold and brown it in your hot pan. I like to use cast iron for this. Also, do yourself a favor and use real lard in the pan for that last step. 

You might be saving some until spring, to use with ramps. If so, let me suggest you include them in a ramp quiche. All you’d need to do is sauté your (rehydrated) mushrooms decently before popping them in the quiche; you wouldn’t want them to release a bunch of extra water in the dish. 


If you’re like me, you didn’t end up with a lot of wild fruit this year. That’s okay; there’s still plenty we can make with it. And if you’re willing to mix things up a little, the options really open up. 

wild blueberry muffins

Blueberry muffins

Muffins might be in your future if you only have a few blueberries. There are tons of recipes online that call for 1 cup— and they’re easy. Those same muffin recipes can be used with juneberries substituted for blueberries. Their flavor is more subtle, but the end product is good. A person could also combine blueberries and juneberries in one batch if needed.

Remember that writing assignment I mentioned? Well, because of it we had various small amounts of cherries and plums we needed to use in September. *Note: “juices” of cherries were prepared in the same way outlined for chokecherries in this post. 

One of the better harvests was chokecherries, which went into a few different end products. After making the juice, we had some chokecherry lemonade and made chokecherry syrup for our wild blueberry pancakes. Each of those required only a small amount of juice, yielding a bigger bang for the buck.

Chokecherry vinaigrette

This was another item we whipped up. I developed this recipe a few years ago, using other fruit vinaigrettes as models. Anyway, it doesn’t require much juice at all, and is a great touch on a summery salad of greens. It only takes a few ingredients:

-3 parts (3 Tablespoons) olive oil

-1 part (1T) white wine vinegar

-2 parts (2T) chokecherry juice

-approx. 3/4T sugar

-basil and/or oregano, if desired

Scale up to suit your needs. Depending on the container you’re using, shake or stir frequently between pourings. It separates readily. 

Since my daughter and I like to make jellies and jams (and my wife and son like to eat them), we made small batches with the remainder of the cherries and plums. The chokecherry juice and American plum pulp were by far the most volume. I wish we’d had more of the other ingredients, but things still turned out well.

Pin/Plum Jam

Created by combining approximately 3/4 cup plum pulp with 1/4 cup pin cherry juice. Then I mixed it with pectin and sugar as prescribed by the generalized directions on the Ball pectin container. We processed the jars and crossed our fingers. It was good enough to try again; I might go for a 50/50 ratio next time, to better balance the flavors.

Pan-Prunus Jam

This was the result of combining the rest of the plum pulp, chokecherry juice, pin cherry juice, pulp from 1 black cherry, and pulp from about 60 sand cherries. This was all simmered a little, received pectin and sugar, and processed according to normal procedures. Frankly, I didn’t expect much. But it really is one of the best things we’ve ever made. 

I know these two jam recipes are short on details and long on interpretation, but I mention them because it shows a couple things. First, you can make jam with as little as one cup of fruit pulp (and juice). It’s simply not necessary to have heaps of fruit to work with. 

Second, a small harvest can be an opportunity to experiment, and good results can be achieved. In fact, I consider these small batches to be building blocks which will inform the making of future preserves. 

It’s literally only the beginning. 


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