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Ask me how I've been spending some of my free time this fall and you're likely to hear everything from picking grapes in a ditch to cleaning my kitchen after canning wild cherry syrup. That's because fall is one of the best times of the year for gathering and processing wild edibles and, this year, my fascination with them has been rekindled by a dear friend. Week after week, we gather and sample different types of nature's bounty.
Early in the season, mulberries find their way into breads, cakes and other wonderful desserts. Later, the discovery of a few high quality wild black cherry trees leads to a thick syrup that loves to be paired with everything from pancakes to ice cream. Wild grapes that hang densely on the vine are transformed into canned grape juice concentrate to be reconstituted as grape juice, grape syrup and even wine. Nuts from hickory, oak and walnut trees are sought in the later season -- although our dry spell has made them few and far between. Various types of sumac can be used to make everything from tea to lemonade. Even things like the pollen of cattails can be used like flour in baking recipes. It's amazing what you find when you arm yourself with a good wild edibles field guide and a little time in the great outdoors! (By the way, a field guide is a must -- safety and sanity require it. I highly recommend A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants.)
Now you might be wondering where one can find all of these goodies. No doubt it may seem like you'd need to live in the country or be hiking along some long-forgotten trail in the woods. However, nearly everything I've gathered can be found along the roadside, in abandoned lots or tucked in areas of low brush or small out-croppings of trees and bushes. To start you out on a wild edible adventure, I'm offering you a recipe that's chock full of just that. However, you can easily mix and match grocery store standbys for any of the ingredients that you are unable to find in the great outdoors. Enjoy!
This sweet, quick bread is great for breakfast, as a snack or even a dessert and combines three truly wonderful wild edibles: mulberries, hickory nuts and maple syrup.
1 c. all-purpose flour
1 c. whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. mulberries -- I like to have these individually frozen so they keep their shape (blackberries can also be used)
1/2 c. coarsely chopped hickory nuts (pecans, since they are really a hickory, can also be used)
2/3 c. maple syrup (if you're lucky enough to have homemade, use it -- otherwise choose a medium grade from your grocer)
1/2 c. canola oil
1/4 c. melted butter
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Lightly spray one standard loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside.
Combine the flours, baking soda and salt in a small bowl and whisk lightly to combine. Sprinkle a small amount of the flour mixture over the berries and nuts in another bowl. Toss and set aside.
Add the maple syrup, eggs, oil and butter to the remaining flour mixture and mix to combine. Add the berries and nuts and fold gently. Pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 1 hour or until the bread is set and golden. A large crack should form on the top of the loaf. Cool completely before slicing. If desired, serve with any number of jams, jellies and spreads made from other wild edibles like black cherries, grapes, blueberries, gooseberries, elderberries and crab apples.