Sunday, October 20, 2013

Backyard Discoveries: Wood Sorrel & Black Haw

I love foraging.

One of the many reasons why I love foraging so much is the feeling of discovery!

You walk by the same bush or plant everyday...
then one day you find out it is edible and it actually tastes GREAT!

This year we have identified 2 new plants.
Wood Sorrel and Black Haw.

Wood Sorell

My little man Owen tried the Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella), loved the lemony taste, then became the local wood sorrel guy...picking lots and sharing it with everyone from family to classmates to bus drivers.

The other find was Black Haw.
This plant was a bit trickier.
I had to do lots of reading and waiting for the berries to ripen to be sure we had made a proper identification. 

Unripened Black Haw on tree

The tree itself doesn't look like much.
We found one with some berries on it close to Owen's Hobbit hole.
I put chicken wire around the base until we could figure out what it was exactly.

As the cooler weather came along, the greenish berries turned redish (as shown above)
After a while the berries would turn blackish blue.
If you didn't pick them soon enough (or the birds didn't get them), they would wither on the tree and fall (shown below).

After we had successfully identified this wee tree (the one by the Hobbit hole was only 3 feet tall),
we were struck by how many other Black Haw trees we had way in the back!
Some of those trees were over 12 feet tall!!!
Luckily for my husband (who is already tall, but not THAT tall), the tree trunk was thin and bendy enough he could pull down a branch and pick it from the ground.

The raw berries are not what I would call a "good trail nibble".
They have a skin and a seed, once you get rid of both, there is not a lot left.
The seed reminded me of a watermelon seed, long, oval, flat and brown.

"Wildman" Steve Brill discusses them in his book "Identifying & Harvesting Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and not so wild) Places"

Black Haw berries with stems attached

Black Haw (Viburnum prunifolium) is also known as sweet haw, blackhaw or stag bush.
It's in the Viburnum family...also in the family are high bush cranberries.
Black Haw is described as having a date-like texture.
So, to us, that meant only one thing...

Black Haw berries, all washed up and sorted

We picked and cleaned 6 cups of berries.
For your reference, that produced about 2 1/2 cups of filling.
I searched Google for recipes and was stuck on one called "Ooey Gooey Date Squares".

We followed all the steps as listed, but I added 1/4 cup more brown sugar
and a dash more lemon juice than stated in the recipe.

Part way through the "boiling down process" I started to get anxious.
What if this turns out to taste like crap?
What if I wasted all of these ingredients for nothing?
What if nobody eats it?
I started to panic...

That's what cooking is all about.
You experiment with a new ingredient or a new recipe.
You push your own boundaries...your own comfort zone.
Once I reminded myself of that simple fact...I began to relax.

We lost our square baking dish years ago, so in this case, we substituted a pie dish.
I pressed in the base with my hands, trying to make sure it was nice and even throughout.
Husband poured in the Black Haw filling and I smoothed it around.
I sprinkled the topping afterwards and baked as per the instructions.

Once the baking was done, the Black Haw filling wasn't quite firm enough.
When I poked the top, the filling was more like pudding than filling.
We placed it in the fridge for a day or so to give the filling a chance to solidify.

The finished product with a sprig of mint!

This recipe was great!  I'm not one for date squares, but the taste of the Black Haw
was so different!
The flavour was light and almost perfumed in a floral sort of way.
The texture was somewhere between date square filling and blueberry pie filling.

I was most surprised that Owen liked the squares...
He's already asking for more...
and is disappointed that we won't make another batch until next fall.
Because we were trying a new recipe, we didn't want to go overboard with the picking.
We wanted to try it out without picking the trees bare.
Leave some for the wildlife!

Another reason we didn't pick a ton of berries, was because we had no idea how to store the Black Haw.  
If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know!!!
I suppose we could have frozen the filling but what about canning?

WARNING:  Black Haw contains salicin, a chemical relative of aspirin. Those who are allergic to that substance should not use Black Haw.

What have you foraged lately?
Anyone have a favorite fall wild edible?

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