I'd like to start off by saying how blessed and honored I feel to have spent last Saturday with such an amazing group of people at A Mid-Summers Night Foraged Feast, hosted at El Paseo Community Garden!
This event has been a dream of mine for many, many moons now and was my first Foraged Dinner in Chicago! The dinner served just under 30 people and each dish highlighted a perennial, wild/ foraged food. For those of you who couldn't make it, and for those of you who could, I wanted to post some of the plant allies we were able to learn about and taste during the dinner!
So let's start with with the delicious cocktails made by my dear friend Argelia of Vida Mia Cocktails starring; Josta Berries, Ribes × nidigrolaria. What makes these beauties such a delight is that they are a cross between three different berries: A black Currant, Black Gooseberry and a European Gooseberry, leaving these babies with just enough sweet meatiness to counter a delightful sour note. They are about the size of a marble and grow as a perennial here in Chicago.
I harvested mine from a permaculture site here in North Lawndale run by a wonderful friend and brilliant permaculture designer, AnnaMaria Leon.
Berries are a great addition to permaculture sites as an understory that can tolerate a decent amount of shade (prefer partial sun, but don't put in in full!) Josta berries make a delicious jam, filling for a summer pie or as we experienced them, fresh in some bright summer cocktails with blackberries!
Next up was our appetizers which consisted of an array of perennial plant allies!
Each participant received a unique hand-cut, sanded, and food safe cheeseboard provided by Smal Woodworking Studio, located right here in Chicago. These pieces added a unique, "back to nature" flair and housed a vegan fermented nut cheese with Chive Blossoms, homemade sourdough bread (as well as gluten free option), and Juneberry/ Red Currant Jam.
Picture to the left is Juneberry or Amelanchier, which is a delicious berry that comes out in June that resembles a blueberry. It's a common landscaping tree here in Chicago...and prob the best kept secret from most city folk-they are absolutely delicious and in abundance!
Red Currants or Ribes rubrum, is pictured above. These babies are tart and pack a sour punch. They are full of Vitamin C, K, B6, Magnesium and Antioxidants. A great addition to any urban garden with plenty of shade during the evening and morning sun.
The fermented nut cheese was made with cashews and millet rejuvelac. Theres a great article on how to create a rejuvelac by phickle which you can read here. This delicious fermented nut cheese was topped with some Chive Blossoms, which in my opinion pack a powerful oniony punch with ultimate beauty and grace.
We also enjoyed a delicious Stinging Nettle Gezpacho, which I won't lie, definitely highlighted the "Creamy Spinach" taste of Stinging Nettle. I think that's the point of trying new (or very ancient and traditional) foods-expanding your taste buds for deep nutrition without all the added "filler Cr*p" found in most US processed foods today.
And honestly, Stinging Nettle is NO Joke! This lady is an anti-inflammatory, and has shown to be effective upon first signs of hay fever, general seasonal allergies, and gingivitis, poor circulation, anemia, and diabetes. Folks with arthritis have also used her fresh to alleviate any inflammation within their joints...I personally have used stinging nettle before and/or after eating out and when feeling intense bloat from cross contamination of gluten and dairy.
I can tell ya, that this lady has been my best friend, but one that my taste buds needed some getting use to. The "creamed spinach" taste can be countered through a cold infusion of her dried leaves some with peppermint.
Last but not least, we had Purselane or Portulaca oleracea, harvested from my beautiful sister's first year garden.
I'm sure most of you have seen this wonderful (sometimes referred to as a "weed") plant within your garden beds. But did you know that Purselane has high levels of omega 3 fatty acids, vitamics A, B, C, Iron, magnesium, among many other macro and micro nutrients? This is what I like to call some mighty "weed power!"
This baby is a keeper, so next time you spot her in your garden, have it my way-with some sour cherries, walnuts, and a homemade vinaigrette over spinach-tastes like magic, promise.
For our mains we had some delicious roasted vegetables and potatoes, local grass fed meat from Mint Creek Farm, as well as some Lambs quarters or Chenopodium album, with yellow onions.
Lambs quarters is high in iron and I love to use it as a spinach replacement. I do however like it cooked because the little white mealy powder? in it's center isn't the nicest for my tongue. (but a great ID-ing cue). I've found that a quick sauté in some ghee with onions does the trick, and is it ever delicious!
Lambs quarters is also considered a "weed," so next time you pull it, consider having it for dinner! And don't be surprised if you choose to keep these free growing, nutrient packed plant allies within your garden-you're not alone!
On to dessert! With Our main squeeze: Staghorn Sumac or Rhus typhina.
When harvesting Staghorn Sumac you are looking for the velvety red "horn." When you touch the bright red berries there will be a residue (think it is the berry hairs?) which have a lemony flavor -which indeed is the bright lemony zing of Staghorn Sumac!
Note: Do not harvest the smooth berries of Smooth Sumac nor the White berries from Poison Sumac. You're looking for fuzzy, velvet berries like the image shown above.
I chose to make these cute Staghorn Sumac Lemon Curd cups highlighting both Staghorn Sumac and Lemon Balm. It was such a treat to taste the delicious zingy lemony flavors of these two perennial plants grown here in Chicago and widely throughout the Midwest!
As "everyday forage" has been my main mantra in life, this dinner was to highlight and introduce perennial friends that can be harvested throughout Chicago. My intention is that we all can reconnect to nature and ourselves through food and take up responsibility for our health and the health of our planet.
Please do not harvest any plant you are not 100% sure of. Listen to your intuition. And please reach out if you have any ID-ing questions...This is how we grow, learn, and reconnect, yes?
I also want to give a special thank you to the wonderful folks at El Paseo, Mint Creek Farm, Smal Woodworking Studio, Vida Mia Cocktails, and Lagunitas for your support, donations, discounts, and overall community.
Furthermore, I'd like to thank all of my dear friends for your support before, during, and after this amazingly fulfilling event-you know who you are and I'm in deep gratitude for you all!
So, from my table to yours, happy foraging, reconnecting, and listening to your wild, wherever you may be.
With love and gratitude,