Don’t miss these short-lived treats
By Carie Birkmeier EBS STAFF
Ah, spring. Birds are chirping, the sun is shining, and tasty delights are popping up all over the forest floor. Whether you’re venturing out to a favorite spot or searching for a new one, scouring the forest for edible treats is a fun pastime and another reason to get outside. The following species have a pretty short life span, so get them while you can. All of these species grow in the same spot each year, so drop a pin on your smartphone so you can find them in future seasons.
Ramps aren’t very common in our area, but with their rising popularity, they are becoming easier to find at grocery stores. If you’re lucky enough to find some in lower elevations, only pick a few plants from a patch, as overharvesting can decrease their longevity. The garlicky flavored leaves, bulbs and stems are all edible, with the flavor most potent at the bulb.
My favorite thing to make with ramp leaves is pesto. I blanch the leaves, boiling them for about 30 seconds, and then shock them in ice water to stop the cooking process. Next, I puree them with olive oil and salt. This garlicky, potent pesto makes an excellent pasta sauce, and can be added to vinaigrettes, or used as a spread on a sandwich.
Don’t blink, or you might miss fiddlehead ferns, named after the curled neck of a violin. These green delights pop up overnight, and are full-grown within a day or two. The smaller they are, the more palatable their texture; larger, more mature fiddleheads develop a woody texture. I like to blanch fiddleheads and serve them simply in melted butter, with salt and a squeeze of lemon. Their fresh, earthy flavor doesn’t need much doctoring. They are also a nice addition to salads, but I prefer to blanch and cool them first.
The elusive morel is one of the most sought after wild mushrooms. They have several poisonous lookalikes though, so take care when searching for this species. Solid or fuzz-filled stalks and wrinkled rather than porous caps are telltale signs of an imposter morel. True morels can be found under trees, especially aspens and Douglas firs, as well as at burn sites. If you are lucky enough to spot one, there are likely more, so scan the area thoroughly before moving on.
My favorite way to preserve morels is to sauté, mince and mix them with a few sticks of softened butter and salt. Divide the butter compound into individual servings, an ice cube tray is a useful tool here, and then pop them out of the freezer when you want to top a steak with a decadent, earthy finish.
A bright pop of vibrant green on the tips of a spruce tree is a welcome sign of springtime in the mountains. Spruce tips’ fresh, citrusy flavor may make you pucker, so taste a small amount at a time until you become accustomed to their unique, tart flavor. Spruce trees are abundant in our region, but when harvesting be sure to only pick a few from each tree—overharvesting can stunt a young tree’s growth. As the tips of the spruce grow, they get more woody and fibrous in texture.
The lemony, zesty young spruce tips make for a tasty snack, packed with vitamin C. Their flavor provides an earthy, citrusy compliment to vodka and gin cocktails. Spruce tips are also a great candidate for infusing oils, syrups and even salts for a fresh earthy flavor.