Fiddlehead Season is Here!

May typically marks the opportunity to go foraging for fiddleheads.

While the fiddlehead stage of other ferns (such as Ostrich Fern) are more sought after by chefs and also more routinely available at farm markets, the only species that I enjoy is Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum).

Bracken Fern fiddlehead stage

Bracken Fern contains ptalquiloside, which has been linked to cancer.  That being said, the substance is both highly volatile (i.e., it will dissipate or disappear when subjected to boiling) and it is water soluble (i.e., soaking it in water will diminish its presence).  PLEASE:  Read more.

If you believe that your preparation will allow you to safely eat this wild edible, I encourage you to learn how to identify Bracken Fern and where they grow.  Read more about foraging.  Foraging tip:  Look for last year’s stalks and inspect the ground for emerging fiddleheads.

The photo below shows the plant after the fiddlehead has completed unfurled and the leaflets have fully developed – never collect the plant when it has reached this stage of growth.  I do not collect any plants whose fiddlehead has unfurled so that the 3-branch pattern of the leaflets is already apparent.

Bracken Fern (Pteridium aquilinum)

I don’t eat this species raw because of its mucilaginous quality.  After quickly cooking them (par-boil or steam), this species exhibits a mild asparagus flavor that I savor.  Use them as you would asparagus as a vegetable, or prepare them as a creamed soup, or add to baked dishes such as quiche.  However, please be aware that cooked Bracken Fern does not remain firm; it will become soft.

Some recipes to consider:

If you decide to collect more than you’ll eat in a single meal, I suggest that you simply wash and cut them to the desired size for however you intend to use them and then freeze for later use.

Here’s to good eats!

Happy trails!


Hickory nut harvest is underway!

Ripened hickory nuts usually begin dropping to the ground in early October.  The production of mast typically varies year-to-year, but it seems as though hickories produce the most nuts every third year.  This is one of those years; it may be possible to forage for nuts throughout October and into November.

While there are several species of hickory in our area, I believe the tastiest nuts are those of Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) and Pignut Hickory (Carya glabra).  Hickory trees are found in mature woods and fencerows.  The husk surrounding the individual nut is the easiest way to distinguish between the two species.

This is the nut of Shagbark Hickory.

Can you find the five Shagbark Hickory nuts in this photo?

Read about Shagbark Hickory.  View how to identify this species.

This is the nut of Pignut Hickory.

Read about Pignut Hickory.  View how to identify this species.


IMPORTANT – PLEASE NOTE:  Do NOT collect/use the nuts of Bitternut Hickory.  These are not palatable!  View how to identify this species.  This is the nut of Bitternut Hickory.

Bitternut Hickory


Once you have collected the nuts, you will likely need to remove the husk off the shell before you crack open the shell.

The husks of Shagbark Hickory often easily separate from the shell.  Most will quickly fall off the shell as you pick up the nuts from the forest floor.  View how to prepare these nuts for long-term storage.

The husks of Pignut Hickory, on the other hand, will nearly always need to be peeled off.  After collecting Pignut Hickory nuts, I typically wait a couple of weeks before proceeding to remove their husks.  To do so, I use a pocket knife (a paring knife is a good alternative) and simply insert the blade along the seam of one of the four sections of husk and give the blade a twist to pop off that section of husk.  If the husk has sufficiently dried, this task proceeds fairly quickly.  However, this additional step does take some time, particularly if you have collected many nuts of this particular species.

Read about foraging for these particular nuts.

After the hickory nuts have had the husks removed, I place them into a sink filled with water for two reasons.  First, any nuts that float are discarded; these either did not develop the nutmeat inside the shell or there may be a worm inside the shell – either way, you don’t want those!  Second, I want to rinse off any dirt, trail debris or under-husk little fibers that may have adhered to the shells.

These didn’t float. Today’s harvest of Shagbark Hickory nuts.

Unfortunately, hickories have perhaps the hardest shell of nearly any nut.  That makes cracking them open a challenge.  THE BEST nutcracker for hickory nuts is this –I was first introduced to one of these particular nutcrackers when I was growing up in east central Wisconsin.  The design of this nutcracker makes simple work of the essential task of gaining access to the delicious nutmeats inside.  However, once cracked, those fragments of very hard shell must be carefully removed from the delicious morsels of nutmeat.  That’s why I carefully sort out only the largest pieces of nutmeat from the rest of the nut as I crack them and simply discard those fragments of shell that may still harbor smaller pieces of nutmeat.  Doing so greatly reduces the chance of shell fragments becoming mixed with the nutmeat.

Hickory nuts are my favorite to eat, bar none.  While related to pecans, the flavor of a hickory nut is distinctively different and delicious.  Hickory nuts also contain a fairly high oil content, making them an excellent nut to use in baked goods.


Hickory Daiquiri made with Hickory Syrup

Hickory Nut Ambrosia

Hickory Nut Cookies

Maple Hickory Nut Cookies

Hickory Nut Shortbread Cookies

Hickory Nut Cake

Hickory Nut Milk (broth)

Hickory Bark Ice Cream (yes – using tree bark!)

Hickory Nut Brittle

I recommend substituting hickory nuts for any other nut (including pecans) in any of your favorite baked goods recipes.

Happy trails!

Spicebush berries

Now is the time to find these beautiful ruby red berries throughout our area.

Spicebush berries

Spicebush berries

Spicebush is an understory shrub found in open forests and along forest edges in rich, moderately moist soils.  It typically does not grow much more than about eight feet tall.

In the latter half of April, Spicebush can be found blooming throughout our area.



However, as shown above at this time of year, our focus shifts to the red berries that these shrubs have produced.  Their aromatic spiciness lend themselves to some culinary creativity.

Recipes for your consideration:

Spicebush Tea

Makes a single serving of hot tea.

  1. Place one tablespoon of chopped berries in a cup of just boiled water and let steep for 15 minutes.

Spicebush Ice Cream
Makes approximately 1 quart


  • 2 pints half and half, OR 1 pint heavy cream plus 1 pint whole milk
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. ground spicebush berries
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract (optional)
  1. Over medium-low heat, bring one up of the cream, the honey, and the salt to a simmer. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl.
  2. Whisk in the remaining cup of cream, the milk, the ground spicebush, and the vanilla if using. Cover and refrigerate overnight or as long as twenty-four hours.
  3. Pour the mixture into an ice cream machine and follow the machine manufacturer’s instructions to freeze.

Spicebush Berry Ice Cream

Makes about 1 gallon


  • 2 c. whole milk or almond milk
  • 2 c. heavy cream
  • About 40 spicebush berries
  • 1 c. granulated sugar, divided
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 5 large egg yolks
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  1. Have the bowl of the ice cream maker frozen and ready to use.
  2. In a blender, blend the spicebush berries and whole milk or almond milk until the berries are ground into small specks.
  3. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the milk, ground berries, cream, 1/2 cup of the sugar, and the salt. Slowly bring the mixture to a boil.
  4. As the milk mixture is heating, combine the yolks and remaining 1/2 cup of sugar in a bowl. Whisk until the yolks are light yellow and thick.
  5. Once the milk/cream mixture has just stated to boil, whisk about 1/3 of it into the yolk mixture. Add another 1/3 of the hot milk to the yolks, then add it all back into the saucepan. Using a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir the mixture over low heat for 3-5 minutes, until the custard thickens and coats the back of the spoon. Do not let the custard come to a boil or the yolks will be overcooked.
  6. Pour the custard through a fine mesh strainer to catch any lumps and stir in the vanilla extract. Cover and chill.
  7. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for your ice cream machine, and churn the custard until thickened, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a freezer container and chill until firm.

Spicebush Poached Crab Apples

Makes 1 cup


  • 1 cup cherry-sized crab apples, stems still attached
  • 1/4 cup sweet Riesling
  • 1/8 cup white sugar
  • 2 dried spicebush berries
  • Pinch salt
  1. Wash crabapples and set aside.
  2. In a small pot, combine the sweet Riesling, sugar, spicebush berries and salt. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring frequently.
  3. Once the sugar has dissolved completely, add the crabapples.
  4. Simmer for approximately five minutes, remove from heat once the skin on the apples bursts.
  5. Store the crabapples in the poaching liquid in the refrigerator. Enjoy cold!

Apple-Spicebush Chutney (recipe is in the narrative of a story that appeared in The Atlantic)

To learn more about this native shrub –

Plant Guide: Spicebush (USDA PLANTS Database)

Happy trails!

Black Raspberries Now Ripening

If you crave the flavor of Thimbleberry (AKA Black Raspberry), this is time to get ready for picking this delicious wild edible.  While walking along Zim Smith Trail yesterday, I saw this ripening cluster of berries.

Fruit of Thimbleberry (AKA Black Raspberry)

Fruit of Thimbleberry (AKA Black Raspberry)

Adding a handful of these tasty berries atop a cup of yogurt or atop a bowl of ice cream or cereal is a great way to enjoy this wonderful fruit.  If you are feeling more adventuresome, here are a few ideas for you to consider.

Black Raspberry Cobbler

Black Raspberry Chip Ice Cream

Sweet Corn and Black Raspberry Ice Cream

Sugared Black Raspberry Tea Cookies

Black Raspberry Buttermilk Dumplings

Purple Hooter (adult beverage)

Vanilla Cream Cheese Cupcakes with Black Raspberry Buttercream

Black Raspberry Muffins

Black Raspberry Coffee Cake

Black Raspberry Crumb Bars

Black Raspberry Oat Scones

Black Raspberry Jelly

Black Raspberry Jam

Black Raspberry Cream Pie

Black Raspberry Walnut Torte

Black Raspberry and Sage Honey Tart

miscellaneous Black Raspberry recipes

And, lastly, if you want to try a non-food recipe:  Black Raspberry Vanilla Body Butter

Happy trails!

Fruit of Nannyberry will be ripening soon

So, what’s a Nannyberry?

Ripe fruit of Nannyberry

Ripe fruit of Nannyberry

This native shrub is found throughout the area, typically in open areas with rich moist soils. Read more about Nannyberry from a sample page from one of my wildflowers guides.

Read how to harvest and prepare nannyberries.  Nannyberry fruit should begin ripening within the next week or so.

After sampling a few ripe raw berries for the first time a few years ago, I so enjoyed their sweet and unique flavor that I was inspired to create a spread (intended for my morning toast) similar to apple butter in its texture.

Thus, “Nannyberry Butter” was born!  If you decide to try my recipe, let me know what you think of it.  Here it is.

Nannyberry Butter
• 12 cups whole berries
• 2-1/4 cups water
• sugar
• ground cinnamon
• ground allspice
• ground cloves
• ground nutmeg

Put berries in large pot, add water. Cover and bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Put soft fruit in food mill to remove skins and large seeds. Measure fruit back into pot.

Add: 1 cup sugar, 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 3/8 teaspoon allspice, 3/8 ground cloves and 3/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg. Stir well. Cover and cook on low for 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.

Ladle into hot sterilized jars, attach covers and process in water bath for 10 minutes.

Remove and let cool for 24 hours, then store in cool, dark place.

Nannyberry Butter

Nannyberry Butter

I was then inspired to create another recipe to use my Nannyberry Butter.  Read on below to see if Nannyberry Butter Mini Pumpkin Pies are for you.

Nannyberry Butter Pumpkin Pie with Hickory Nut Streusel Topping

Others’ Recipes:
for Nannyberry Jam and Jelly
for Nannyberry Pudding
from a Google Book

Happy trails!

Hazelnut harvest is underway!

I typically begin collecting ripened hazelnuts during the last week or so of August. To wait any longer ensures that the chipmunks and red squirrels (and other foragers!) will have already been there to collect the delicious nuts.

There are two species of hazelnuts, both native, that grow in the wild in our area. American Hazelnut (Corylus americana), which appears similar to the filberts you will find in grocery stores, and Beaked Hazelnut (Corylus cornuta). Each is delicious and both ripen at that same time – now. The husk surrounding the individual or, more often, cluster of nuts is the easiest way to distinguish between the two species.

This is the nut of American Hazelnut.

American Hazelnut

American Hazelnut

Read more about American Hazelnut from a sample page from one of my wildflower guides.

This is the nut of Beaked Hazelnut.

Beaked Hazelnut

Beaked Hazelnut

Read more about Beaked Hazelnut from a sample page from one of my wildflower guides. Read even more info about Beaked Hazelnut.

Both hazelnuts are found throughout our area, typically in woodland borders or thickets. Sites receiving more sunlight are more likely to produce more nuts.

Read how to roast and skin hazelnuts. Read about another method to roast hazelnuts.

Read more about how to recognize these two species and how to harvest the nuts.

A few years ago, I enjoyed this bountiful harvest!

Hazelnut harvest (American on left, Beaked on right)

Hazelnut harvest (American on left, Beaked on right)

for Hazelnut Liqueur
for Hazelnut Cookies
for Torta Gianduia
for Hazelnut Butter
for another Hazelnut Butter
using Hazelnut Oil
Healthy Hazelnut Recipes

I recommend adding a cup of chopped or grated hazelnuts to your favorite shortbread cookie recipe.

Happy trails!

Elderberries ripening now!

Fruit of Common Elderberry

Fruit of Common Elderberry

This native shrub is found throughout the area, typically found in open areas with moist soils. Read more about Common Elderberry from a sample page from one of my wildflowers guides.

Only the blue or purple berries of elderberry are edible. Edible berries and the flower are used for medicine, dyes for basketry, arrow shafts, flute, whistles, clapper sticks, and folk medicine. Fruits of elderberry are gathered from the wild for wine, jellies, candy, pies, and sauces. (Source:

Read how to pick and cook elderberries.

Read how to can elderberry juice and to freeze elderberries.

for Elderberry Crunch Bread
for Elderberry Gummies
for Elderberry Jam
for Elderberry Jelly
for Elderberry Liqueur
for Elderberry Pie
for Elderberry Wine
from Norm’s Farms
from Pinterest

Happy trails!