September is, according to a novel I read long ago, the month of winds and magic. It is also a fantastic month for foraging.
Here are some of the healthy, delicious (and free!) foods.ripening in Minnesota right now, where to find them, and some ideas what to do with them.
When looking for these and other foraged foods, if you have ANY doubts do a google image search beforehand to get a good idea of exactly what you're looking for. It's helpful to look at many different pictures of the plant you're searching for (including pictures of the leaves, stems, and bark). Use common sense safety precautions and be sure you harvest where it's legal to do so or get permission first.
While it can be a challenge the first time you harvest your own acorns or make your first wild jelly, it's also incredibly satisfying -- not to mention delicious.
This article is been updated from one originally written by my wife, Alicia Bayer for her Green Living Column and is used with her permission
Walnuts are infamous for the amount of work involved in harvest, but their taste makes them worth the labor for a lot of people. People have developed all sorts of ways to harvest them. One enthusiastic walnut harvester even told me he ran over them repeatedly with his car! Luckily, you don't really need to resort to such tactics. Here's detailed information on how to gather them, how to harvest the nut meats, and recipes for the nut meats are here and here.
Where to find walnuts: These trees are quite common in Southern Minnesota and surrounding states. Look for the telltale golf ball (plus) sized green walnuts on the ground to spot walnut trees. We gather bags of walnuts at the county park in Walnut Grove (coincidentally!) but the trees are plentiful all over. If there are walnut trees growing in your neighborhood, ask the homeowners if they mind your gathering some. Very few people harvest their own walnuts these days and most people appreciate the help picking up their yards.
Highbush cranberries are not actually cranberries, despite their name. These berries (also known as American cranberrybush) can be used in similar ways as cranberries, though. Highbush cranberries are fairly sour and bitter when raw but can be used nicely in cooked dishes like sauces and jellies.
Where to find highbush cranberries: The University of Minnesota extension office says:
Found in cool woods, thickets, and swampy moist areas, it grows from 3 to 10 feet high. Its flowers are white. The round to oblong yellow to dark red berries contain one flat seed and ripen in September. Many viburnums are planted as ornamentals in the landscape, including the native highbush cranberry and the European cranberrybush (V. opulus). These two species are difficult to distinguish; unfortunately, only the native plant, V. trilobum, bears fruit recommended for human use. The other is a good plant for wildlife. Because a planted shrub could easily be either of these two species, it’s best to gather fruit for jelly-making only from the wild, where plants will certainly be the native cranberrybush.
Acorns are a little-used food that make a nutritious and delicious flour. While acorns were a traditional food for Native Americans and a few other cultures around the world, they are hardly ever used by most modern Americans. This is a shame, because they have a lovely, almost buttery taste that adds a distinctive, delicious fall flavor to dishes like muffins, stuffings, breads and even cookies. Here's how to harvest acorns and make them into flour. To use the flour, try substituting about 1/4 of the regular flour in a recipe (such as a standard muffin, biscuit or even cookie recipe) with acorn flour. Even at this quantity, you'll be rewarded with a dish that has acorns' unique flavor. Be sure to keep acorn flour in an airtight container (such as a glass jar) in the refrigerator or freezer, since the high oil content means that it can go rancid fairly quickly in warm temperatures.
Where to find acorns: Acorns are the nuts of oak trees, which are prolific in Minnesota and much of the country. There are two standard types of oak trees -- white oaks and red oaks. While you can harvest and eat the acorns from either type, the acorns from the types do differ in the amount of bitter tannins that they contain, which leads to more work leaching the tannins when dealing with red oaks. Acorns from the Burr Oak are among the easiest to harvest since they contain few tannins and therefore need much less boiling and straining. They're also larger, making it less time consuming to harvest them. The caps can be somewhat harder to remove on the Burr Oak acorns, though.
Crab apples are great for all sorts of uses but our favorite way to use these little red beauties is in crab apple cider. Not only is this drink a gorgeous bright red and packed with nutrients, but it's absolutely delicious. You can also add crab apples to homemade applesauce recipes and use them in many other dishes.
Where to find crab apples: These trees are also plentiful around Minnesota and much of the country. In the Mankato area, Sibley Park is filled with crab apple trees that are not sprayed and are therefore organic. We have friends who gathered a lot of those crab apples last year to try crab apple cider and reported that they loved it. Many homes also have crab apple trees with owners who are happy to share their harvests if you ask.
Wild grapes are ripe for harvesting right now and make delicious grape juice, wine and grape jelly. While they are more sour than traditional grapes, they are packed with flavor and make great recipes. You can make a simple grape jelly by putting grapes in a heavy pan, heating until the grapes burst and release their juices, straining through several layers of cheesecloth or a jelly bag, and then boiling and mixing with sugar and Sure-Jell (follow the package instructions for quantities and specific instructions).
Where to find wild grapes: We recently spent some time in the Harmony area of Southeast Minnesota and found oodles of wild grapes growing in the area woods along the roads. Wildfoods says about where to find them:
All wild grapes are sun-loving and intolerant of shade. They are almost ubiquitous along roadsides, fencerows, forest edges, watercourses, and in young, open woods. Vacant urban lots are often full of them. They are also sometimes found in hardwood forests, growing up along with the trees after logging, fire, or a windfall since they cannot reproduce in the shade. In these forest are found the largest of grapevines; oftentimes loads of fruit are mockingly displayed sixty feet out of reach clinging to an oak or black cherry's upper limbs. Wild grapes are truly among the most abundant, prolific, and useful fruits on our continent.
Wild Plums are another fruit that can be harvested in September in Minnesota and many surrounding states. Wild plums can be used for jellies, sauces, pies and preserves, among other uses.
Where to find wild plums: The University of Minnesota extension office says:
This is a shrub or small tree growing from 3 to 20 feet high. It is found in thickets, along roadsides,pastures, riverbanks, and old farmsteads. The fruit has a sub-acid flavor, is round, red or yellow, and 1/2 inch to 1 inch in diameter.
Elderberries are not just great for cooking, they're also potent disease fighters. Our family relies on a simple homemade elderberry syrup to stave off the flu (and to greatly minimize its effects) every winter. While some care should be taken when harvesting elderberries (some varieties and some other parts of the plant are poisonous), they are a wonderful little fruit to forage. Check out the elderberries.com facebook page for all you could ever want to know about how to safely harvest elderberries.
Where to find elderberries: The University of Minnesota extension office says:
The common or American elderberry is a shrub growing from 4 to 12 feet tall. It is found in moist soils along roadsides, ditches, streams, and in fields. It has creamy clusters of tiny star-shaped flowers that become round, purplish-black berries in late summer and early fall.
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