Lessons from the Pantry

Like other foragers watching the last traces of winter quietly fade, I’m giving the hairy eyeball to my pantry, trying to eat up the old food to make room for the fresh.

This is a good time to check in on my own eating habits. Sometimes I let the novelty of a new food, or the ease of harvest of a familiar one, lure me into a cupboardfull of food that I don’t really enjoy.

So, below the fold: What I overmade, notable successes that I can’t make enough of, and what’s on the to-try list for this spring.

Next year, do more:

  • Nettle pesto – I rationed myself but still ran out in October. I don’t think it’s actually possible for me to make and store enough of this.
  • Pear sauce – I did some, ahem, volunteer groundskeeping at an empty for-sale house in my neighborhood. Those two quarts of pear sauce went fast. If I can’t find other pear trees it might be worth a bulk purchase of seconds. Maybe I’ll try to thin out the pears with apples.
  • Anthocyanin jam – blue elderberry, oregon grape, blackberry, in any combination. The dark purples are always my favorites for PBJ.

Do less:

  • Hazelnuts – it was so exciting to discover that you can in fact beat the squirrels, but I’ve barely made a dent in my modest harvest. It’s nice to set out a small bowl of nuts to crack and nibble while sitting around with friends, but for actual food purposes, the hulling is just too labor-intensive. In other news, I need a more ergonomic nutcracker.
  • Knotweed pickles – these were just not that compelling. Even if they had been delicious, I just don’t eat that many pickles.
  • Plum jam – I’ve still got some left over from 2011. It’s not objectionable, but despite having futzed around with different spicings, the plum flavor is just too mild to compete with my favorites. Any surplus of plums this summer will be dried instead of jammed.
  • Dried apples – they don’t keep enough flavor to justify the effort of de-worming feral apples. This isn’t a survival situation, I don’t have to harvest them for the calories.
  • Dried lemon balm – this is so easy to harvest! But I don’t drink that much tea. Maybe the solution is to get in the habit of drinking more herbal tea?
  • Suillus spp. – in theory it can be powdered for a nice soup stock, in practice I always have a slight surplus of frozen chicken broth from my scrap-bag.

Try new:

  • Knotweed chutney – small batches of different recipes. Also, dehydrated knotweed instead of dried apples as a bland addition to oatmeal and muffins. I WILL find a useful way to prepare and preserve knotweed, DAMMIT.
  • Dried nettles – assuming I have any nettles left after making pesto.
  • Rubus shoots – I pulled up some blackberries yesterday in a vague gesture at taming the invasive species thunderdome in my backyard, and found the pink sheaths of new canes at the base of the old. Soon there will be edible young shoots from both blackberries, and my over-eager raspberry patch, popping up for me to try. (Native thimbleberry and salmonberry shoots are also edible, but why eat the natives when there are so many Himalayan blackberries?)
  • Thimbleberry freezer jam – I didn’t blog about my thimbleberry jam disappointment here… but last summer was the first time I managed to bring home enough thimbleberries for jam. I almost cried when I popped open my two precious half-pints as a little winter solstice ritual, only to discover that the canning process had destroyed the flavor. My freezer is not large but I will find the space for a couple of little jam jars.
  • Scotch broom buds – I only learned that these were edible after the season was over last year.
  • Horsetail shoots – horsetails are such ridiculous, primitive plants that the holy shit, you can eat these?! factor is irresistible.
  • Canned lilac simple syrup – overall I’m satisfied with my liqueur but the simple syrup was better. Only question is, will the canning process destroy delicate flavor components? People make lilac jelly so it should be fine.


  1. erica wrote:

    Really, too much Suillus? I guess I have too much Suillus too. I dried nettles this year for the first time and it was fantastic to have them. I do a pureed pumpkin beer & Parmesan cheese soup every October and then try to modify with wild plants. One year I used some newly-made acorn flour, but this year’s pumpkin soup with ground, dried nettles in there was the best so far. Horsetail–do you have a source on the edibility? I’ve read some accounts that say to use medicinally but are dubious on the edibility factor.

  2. Maria wrote:

    My source on horsetail is Nancy Turner’s Food Plants of Coastal First Peoples – it was widely eaten. It does contain thiaminase, so can be a problem for livestock (or for humans who eat large quantities of it or have otherwise deficient diets); I expect that’s where some of the dubiosity comes from.

    Actually now that I look at it, NAEBD also has cites for several groups eating the roots as a delicacy… hmm…

  3. erica wrote:

    PS: I posted the other day about trying save Suillus’ rep, and linked you, all in good fun. Hope that’s cool.

  4. Maria wrote:

    Of course it’s cool :D

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