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Forest Food and other Summer Fun

It’s official: Summer is finally here. It sure took a little while but we’ve been inhaling the midnight sun and wandering outside of the garden probably more than we should. It’s hard to stay in our little plot when there are so many exciting things that will come and go much quicker than our steady supply of salad greens.

One of my favorite early season forest foods are fiddleheads. These fun little curly-cues are the coiled tops of young ferns. You can find fiddleheads along the forest floor, often in shady areas under leaves or other debris. They grow in clumps so once you find some, you’ve likely found a great spot. It’s suggested to not harvest more than 4 from a single plant or you risk killing it. The most important part is to get them when they are really young and tightly coiled.
The most difficult part about this delectable veggie is cleaning the brown coating from the outside. I tend to just barrel through and rub it off with my fingers which is very time consuming but seems to work best. Fiddleheads need to be cooked before eating and can be boiled or pan sauteed.   I tend to cook them on the stovetop like asparagus with butter and herbs. We enjoyed ours with risotto and Alaskan side-striped shrimp.Another fun trailside snack is the refreshing cucumber shoot. This is the shoot of a watermelon berry plant. When they are young and tender, snap them off and munch on the raw stem for a light cucumber-flavored treat. It can be a saving grace when you’re hauling up the mountain.

The last delicacy that we’ve been collecting is the stinging nettle. This fiery plant will pack a stinging punch that will irritate your skin for hours (or days if you make serious contact or have sensitive skin). Harvest with caution! And gloves!

Nettles are incredibly nutritious and have been used in herbal medicine for centuries. Cooking them removes the sting and they can be enjoyed in soups or as a side dish similar to spinach. I enjoy them dried in an herbal tea mixture for an extra boost of iron.

Well, now that we’ve been wandering around, it’s time to catch up on the garden. This will be our last week at market and next weekend we’ll be at the Alaska Botanical Garden 15th Annual Garden Fair. We’ll take a month or two off to get our fish and food and be back in late summer with some garden and seed saving support. Happy harvesting everyone!

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