There is something so satisfying about foraging a meal. Putting in the extra effort to pick or catch dinner makes the food that much more special and delicious. Whether it’s the first ever salmon catch, a traditional family crab feast or some nibbles of miners lettuce while hiking on a trail, there’s a bounty of plentiful cuisine in the Pacific Northwest to savor and share. Recently my husband and I tried our own hand at foraging for some new things. We were willingly forced to slow down, really notice our surroundings and get our hands dirty.
Appetizer: Nettle Cream Soup
Nettles are pretty much the worst. Just a small brush up against the stinging plant will leave you in pain for a few hours. After picking these nettles my husband and I both had severe stings that persisted through the next day. We need thicker gloves. But this off-putting plant is secretly a plant of many uses. They are used to remedy ails such as arthritis, allergies and ironically, skin irritation. Fibers from the plant can be used to make clothing which most famously was used by the Germans during WW2 as a substitution for cotton. The key to harnessing the nettle is cooking it. The chemical cocktail that is injected into us when we touch it is leached out into the deep green water. Nettles can be used as a cooked spinach substitute and makes a great pesto or soup like this one. There are many simpler recipes for this soup but I figured if we go through all the trouble to pick the stuff we might as well make a fancy soup. The nettle puree is a radiant shade of green that turns the soup a lovely minty color.
Recipe: (adapted from Food & Wine Magazine)
6 tablespoons butter
4 shallots, chopped
4 celery sticks, chopped
1 leek, cut lengthwise and thinly sliced
3 medium yukon gold potatoes, cut in 1/4″ cubes
1/4 cup white wine
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4 cups water
1 teaspoon tarragon
1 teaspoon thyme
1 bay leaf
1/3 cup heavy cream
creme freshe or sour cream
salt & pepper
- Using gloves, soak nettles in water and rinse under running water to remove bugs and debris. Bring a pot of water to boil and add the strained nettles. Cook until just wilted, about 3 minutes. Remove nettles from heat, strain and put into ice water. Strain and put nettles into blender or food processor and puree. Add water if needed. Set puree aside.
- Melt 4 tablespoons butter in large saucepan. Add shallots, celery, leek and potatoes, cover and cook over low heat. Stir occasionally until softened, approximately 8 minutes. Add wine and lemon juice and cook on high until evaporated. Add water, tarragon, thyme and bay leaf and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook on low to medium heat until veggies are tender, approximately 15 minutes. Use an immersion blender to blend the soup, or working in batches, carefully blend the soup in a blender or food processor. Strain the soup into a clean saucepan through a sieve. Stir in the heavy cream.
- Warm the soup on the stove by bringing it to a simmer over low heat. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and strain in the nettle puree. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a dollop of creme freshe or sour cream.
Main Course: Steamed Varnish Clams & Cockles
I never really thought about all the life that lives below the sandy beaches. I knew that there were shellfish down there just waiting to be cooked up for dinner, but I never knew how much fun it is to dig them up. We conveniently chose a day when the low tide reached it’s lowest at about noon, giving us plenty of time to hop on the ferry and head to Whidbey Island. Bucket and shovels in tow we scoured the beach for small breathing holes indicating where to dig. It was so satisfying to find them and we spent the better part of day collecting and showing off our goods. Our dog Nali had a blast helping us dig in the sand as this is one of her favorite things to do. She even dug up a few clams for us. To dig in Washington you’ll need to purchase a shellfish license and check to see what beaches are open and safe from biotoxins and of course, follow the local rules.
4 tablespoons butter
4 lbs clams (approx. 1 lb per person)
2-3 garlic cloves, pressed
1 cup dry white wine
salt & pepper
- Scrub clams with hard brush under cold running water. Discard clams with broken or chipped shells. Soak clams in 4 quarts cold water with 1/2 cup salt and a handful of cornmeal for 1/2 hour to 3 hours to purge.
- Put onion, garlic, wine, butter and water into large pot and bring to boil ensuring butter is melted. Allow mixture to boil a few minutes and then add the clams.
Dessert: Blueberry Pie
Blueberries are an important year-round staple in our home. Luckily the Cascades are bursting with them in late summer. Every year we spend a couple weekends backpacking in alpine country and stocking up on the delicious blue orbs. A couple years ago my husband got me the best thing ever: a blueberry picker, and my life was changed forever. We restrain ourselves from straight up bringing buckets with us, but we do bring gallon-size ziploc bags to fill until bulging. We freeze them to enjoy all year in Sunday pancakes, muffins, pastries and the occasional pie. My husband, who is totally obsessed with blueberries, only allows me to make mini versions of my favorite pie so as not to use too many of the prized berries. But that’s ok, the mini version is a perfect treat to share while reminiscing about the first time we had this recipe: at our wedding.
(this recipe makes a full size pie – it can be scaled down to make the mini version)
2 cup flour
1 cup shortening
1/2 cup water
6 cups frozen or 4 cups fresh blueberries
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon lemon peel
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
3-4 Tablespoons butter
- Cut shortening into flour and add water. Mix to form dough and divide in two. Roll out first dough ball and put into round pie dish. Save remaining dough for top crust.
- Combine all ingredients for filling and spoon into pie dish. Squeeze fresh lemon juice and dot with butter.
- Roll out remaining dough ball to top the pie. Brush melted butter on top and cut vent holes.
- Bake at 400 for 35-40 minutes.
More information on foraging:
Bonus Camp Reads!
Pacific Feast by Jennifer Hahn
This is the essential book for the Northwest forager. It is mostly a cookbook for foraged finds, complete with recipes from Seattle’s famous restaurant chefs, but it also gives informative snippets for each of the species and stories from Hahn’s foraging adventures. This book covers the forest to the sea including trees, ferns, plants, berries, shellfish, sea vegetables, mushrooms and weeds. Hahn is an avid kayaker and often relies on foraging for her long kayak trips to reduce pack weight. She also teaches foraging classes. Find out more on her website.
Car Camp, Day Hike or Backpack? Car Camp
Take this book with you on your coast road trips. Spend the day gathering the forest greens, sea veggies and shellfish and then cook up these great recipes with your family and friends.
Fat of the Land by Langdon Cook
Langdon Cook has a passion for the land and wild food of the Pacific Northwest. His enthusiasm jumps off the page as he tells his stories of foraging through the years. Divided into four sections for each season, each chapter tells a foraging tale of a specific species and finishes with a recipe. He does it all from plunging into the chilly Puget Sound for a giant ling cod, digging for razor clams, and fly fishing with ghosts to picking fiddleheads, mushrooms and dandelions. Cook leads foraging classes and writes for various magazines including Seattle Magazine. He also has a great blog called Fat of the Land where he continues to share his stories.
Car Camp, Day Hike or Backpack? Day Hike
This book is great for perusing while taking breaks from your own foraging adventures in the woods.