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Preserving wildlife (the edible kind)

Dried salted cod

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Ever since my first foraged food CSA box (and the huge dinner I made out of it), I’ve been eagerly anticipating the next batch of wild-harvested produce, and it finally arrived last week. There was just one problem: the pickup day got moved from Friday to Wednesday. Midweek isn’t exactly the most convenient time to have another dinner party, and some of the items (like cod) just wouldn’t last more than a day or two. So I took a different approach and preserved some of the foraged items instead. This way, I could enjoy the goods at a more leisurely rate. Here are a few things I made:

  • Salted cod. Eight fillets of fresh cod is a lot for one person to consume in a couple of days. So I cooked a few off and froze most of the rest…but since I had so much, I couldn’t help but wonder if salt-curing were possible, too. I found a few recipes online, but they all called for extended hanging time in a curing area, which is not an option in my apartment. I decided to wing it using the same technique you would for gravlax: coat the fillet with a thick layer of salt, weigh it down, and let the salt naturally pull the moisture out. After about five days, the fish was stiff, dry, and considerably thinner than the fillet it had started as. I tossed it into the freezer (just to be safe); someday when I have the inclination, I’ll soak the fillet in water for a few days and see if I have anything resembling bacalhau.
  • Multi-green pesto. Who says pesto has to be made with basil? My version uses New Zealand spinach, wild nettles, and radish greens, all of which I blanched and shocked before pureeing (this prevents the colors from going drab). The result had a more delicate, brighter flavor compared to basil pesto. I ate some right away, tossing a spoonful of it into a bowl of hot bowtie pasta. The rest of the pesto went into the freezer – it’ll be great for an emergency dinner.
  • Fiddlehead fern pickles, using an old-fashioned brine pickle solution. For this one I loosely followed the guidelines in one of my favorite cookbooks. It’s really just salt and water poured over the ferns; over time, the fiddlehead ferns will naturally ferment and pickle themselves. I can’t wait to perch one of these over the rim of a Bloody Mary!
  • Wild onion flower pickles, in a vinegar pickling solution. The delicate white flowers of the wild onion reminded me of lily of the valley, and I knew it wouldn’t be long before they wilted. So I packed them tighly into a jar, covered them with white vinegar, and stuck the jar in the fridge. (Pickling really is this easy, folks.) These are going to be divine chopped and tossed into a white bean salad.
  • Orange bitters for cocktails. The oranges actually came in the first box, but I can’t resist including them here. I dried slices of oranges, along with peel leftover from eaten oranges, in a 200 degree oven. Then I put them in a jar with a few green cardamom pods, a vanilla bean, and just enough vodka to cover. Two weeks later, the vodka smells and tastes a bit like an Indian cream sickle…and it’s really delicious in an Old Fashioned.

With all that “putting up,” I managed to buy a little time and stretch out my enjoyment of these unique foraged ingredients (and experiment a bit while I was at it). What are your favorite ways to preserve food?


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  • User avater
    DMickelsen | 05/12/2009

    Dabs, I NEED to try an Old Fashioned with your homemade orange bitters! That sounds so delicious. Feel like shipping some out to CT?!

  • User avater
    Tyler_M | 05/11/2009

    Wow! Sounds like you're all set for a long cold San Francisco summer. Does all preserving involve salt or vinegar?

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