Episode 5 of The Wild Harvest show is here, and, I think it’s arguably the best one yet, although I’m guilty of saying that about all of the ones we’ve shot so far. This episode is the longest we’ve done, as well as the most labor intensive. 3.5 days of Jesse and I shooting together, 3 full days of me scouting areas for ingredients. 3-4 days of editing with an additional person, and then some more time with voice over. That’s a lot of work to pack into what you see, but it’s worth it.
This episode has a lot of fun stuff in it, but, at it’s core, it was all about the mushrooms. As many of you know, wild mushrooms were what first drew me to wild food, and right now, the turn of August to September is arguably the best time to hunt them in Minnesota if you’re looking for variety. We knew sometime around now we’d be doing an episode when a good amount of mushrooms would be available, but, as with the others, I had to find them first, and I don’t care what season it is, or where you are, the only thing that’s guaranteed with mushrooms, is that nothing’s guaranteed.
Unlike morels for episode 2, (where I struck out and Jesse came through in the clutch), the mushrooms gods were pleased, and I ended up getting not only the hedgehogs, laccaria, and lobsters that I was pretty sure I could count on, but a mess of others too: non-bitter Tylopilus, a handful of trumpets, and, the crowning glory: a patch of 25-30 porcini buttons just emerging (they should be Boletus atkinsonii, nobilissimus, or whatever we’re calling them now, the oak lovers with the wrinkly cap, bulbous stem and deep reticulation). Jesse even spotted a lone-ranger shaggy mane on the trail back.
The icing on the cake though, were the trumpets. My friend Peter, who’s very active in the Mycological society, and well connected in the local shrooming community in general, reached out and asked if I’d be be interested in hitting his trumpet patch with him (the greatest black trumpet patch I’ve ever seen, or heard of). Even though we’d finished shooting the entire show already, and just needed to do some voice over, along with the mountain of editing that goes into each one from the team at Credo, I asked Jesse if he thought we could squeeze in a few extra trumpets.
We took half a day to drive up, find the patch and shoot the trumpets, and that half days work was only really used for the intro shot, the award winning capture of the black trumpet with the orange frog perched on top. Half a day, for a few seconds of footage out of a 15 minute episode. If you can’t tell, each one of these things is a labor of love, and there’s lots of other things like that sprinkled throughout.
Milkweed pods make up the vegetable portion of the episode, and they were forgiving since the areas of the farm they grow at get varying amount of light, and some of them get mowed. The light, and especially cutting them down meant that I knew we could have a solid 3 week window for them if we wanted. We fried them up like I did in my original post on them, but for the episode I fried them in bear fat, because it’s delicious, and even lighter on the palette than pork fat.
The fruit could have been an entire episode in itself. First we we’re going to make something with grapes, then I was worried about the grapes not being ripe enough, so I went out and started scouting for different fruit patches that would be prime when we could shoot, but hopefully not too far gone like the blackcaps were for the previous episode. Luckily, I was able to get the very tail end of the black currants, and the blackberries, even though they also quickly get preyed on by spotted wing drosophila (SWD). A week before we filmed the fruit in-situ, the blackberries were perfect. The week after, they were shot, the drupelets broken and infested with wiggling creatures. Damn you Drosophila!!
The dish itself was just supposed to be wild grap panna cotta garnished with blackberries and currants. But, the day after harvesting, I noticed some of the ugly and broken berries and currants that were supposed to be for garnishes, and thought to myself that the fruit would be good combined. From there, somehow that turned into making cider out of the berries since it’s also cider season at the farm, and I wanted to infuse the fruit with some aromatics to add complexity, since, in order for it to be panna cotta, I was going to use cream, cutting it with an equal proportion of the reduced fruit juice, which, if it wasn’t strong enough, could make a lackluster result.
After making it a few times to ensure it was ready (and especially un-mold perfectly when called upon), we went with it. It’s a fun dessert, and a bit of the juice settles on the bottom as the gelatin stiffens, giving it the touch of two-tone berry color on top. It’s flavor improves after a day of settling in the fridge. The best part, is that you can use all kinds of aromatics to make your own version, wherever you are. The possibilities are endless, but here’s a few ideas:
- Sweetfern nutlets or sweetgale fruits
- Wild ginger
- Cow parsnip seed
- Cedar cones
Cornmeal Milkweed Pods Fried in Bear Fat
- 4 oz young milkweed pods in the range of 1-2inches
- Finishing salt
- Buttermilk as needed for soaking the pods about 1 cup
- Rendered bear fat, or cooking oil as needed for sauteing/frying
- 1 cup fine cornmeal you can add up to 25% coarse cornmeal for extra crunch here if you like
- Good pinch of spices, like paprika or curry powder see note
- Dipping sauce(s) for serving such as hot sauce, or a mayonnaise or yogurt based dip like ranch, etc
- Mix the corn meal and spices.
- Blanch the pods in boiling water for 2 minutes, then remove, cool, and mix with the buttermilk. Allow the pods to sit for an hour or two (they can be fried right away if you have to) then remove the pods with a slotted spoon and toss with the cornmeal to coat.
- Tap off excess cornmeal, and transfer the pods to a hot, pan with a layer of bear fat and cook until golden, turning or tossing occasionally and adding extra oil as needed if the pan gets dry (you can also deep fry them).
- Let the milkweed pods cool on a paper towel to drain excess oil, sprinkle lightly with salt, and allow to cool a bit before eating since they’ll be very hot. Serve with hot sauce or your favorite dip on the side.
Milkweed pods are blanched here to ensure no one gets tummy rumbles, which can happen to some people if they're cooked from raw. This recipe is so simple that you don't need a recipe, but I'm including suggested proportions here as an example of what a conservative, modest serving looks like. Once you try some and find they agree with you (and more importantly, your family or others) you can eat slightly larger amounts if you like. Spices
A generous pinch (1/2-1 teaspoon) of spices are usually good for a cup of cornmeal. If you want to serve them with something minimalist, like hot sauce, season the cornmeal more heavily than if you're serving with a mayonnaise or yogurt based dip, since those flavors are stronger. Some people might like to add onion or garlic powder, but use a light hand with that stuff since it gets offensive fast. Here's a few options I like:
- A generous pinch of curry powder
- Paprika + cayenne
- Ground dried ramp leaves and black pepper
- Cumin and chili powder
Wild Mushroom Bruschetta
- 4 oz fresh wild mushrooms a big blend, cleaned and cut into roughly 1 inch pieces, or left whole if small.
- Kosher salt to taste
- 2 TBSP finely sliced leek, very tender white part only shallots or finely chopped onion are fine too
- 1 TBSP fresh chopped Italian parsley
- Pickled cucumbers, thinly sliced Not sweet, preferably these are sour fermented dills from your old chef, or just a family member
- 2 TBSP Flavorless vegetable oil
- 1 large slice of high quality bread about 1/2 inch thick
- 3 TBSP black trumpet butter see recipe (there's a few on this site that would work fine)
- Lightly oil the bread and grill over a wood fire.
- Heat the cooking oil in a pan, and add the mushrooms. Season the mushrooms to taste with salt. If the mushrooms are giving off a lot of water which can happen if you had to rinse them to remove grit, keep cooking until the water evaporates and the mushrooms start to brown.
- Add the finely sliced or diced leek or shallot.
- Add a knob of butter if the pan looks dry, cooking until the leek is tender and cooked, and the mushrooms are browning gently along the edges, and are fully cooked.
- Finally, double check the seasoning, adjust as needed then add the parsley and spread the bread with the black trumpet butter, spoon the mushrooms on top and eat like the fungus eating glutton you are.
Berry Cider Panna Cotta
- 4 oz fresh fruit especially berries and grapes (see note)
- 2 sheets gelatin or 2 teaspoons gelatin powder
- 90 grams 1/3 cup maple syrup
- Tiny pinch salt
- 1 cup water or apple cider
- 1 cup heavy cream
Aromatics (see note)
- 1 inch piece of cinnamon
- 3 cloves
- 1 inch piece of wild ginger or ½ inch piece of cultivated ginger
- 6 dried cow parsnip seeds
- 1 inch piece each orange zest
- 3-4 dried sweet gale fruit or sweetfern nutlets
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- A few spoons of maple syrup
- Fresh lemon juice
- Small handful of fresh berries per person I used blackberries and currants
- Signet marigold flowers optional
- In the pan you will simmer the berries, bring the maple syrup to a simmer and cook until reduced by half.
- Crush the spices roughly in a mortar and pestle. Add the berries, spices and water to the pan with the maple syrup and bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, mashing the fruit up occasionally with the back of a spoon.
- Add the gelatin and mix until dissolved (if you use powdered gelatin, add it to the berry juice after you strain it while still warm, then puree with the cream).
- Allow the mixture to cool naturally, then strain, pressing down to extract as much juice as possible. Measure the liquid you extract from the fruit, then reduce to exactly 8 oz (1 cup).
- Mix the cream and tepid fruit cider, then blend with an immersion blender or equivalent.
- Pour the mixture into custard dishes or ramekins and refrigerate, covered, until set, preferably overnight. Run a knife around the edge of the panna cottas to unmold them, sometimes I have to lever them a bit with an offset spatula to get air into the mold if they don’t want to release right away.
- Before serving, toss the berries with some maple syrup and lemon juice to taste, just enough to make a thin sauce while it macerates for, say, 30 minutes before you serve. Spoon the berries and a drizzle of juice over each panna cotta after you've unmolded them, garnish with a marigold flower, if using, and serve.