Ranch Diaries: Late summer rain brings new wild foods

How to use wild purslane and algerita berries, and how to not mistake death camas for wild onions.

 

Ranch Diaries is an hcn.org series highlighting the experiences of Laura Jean Schneider, who gives us a peek into daily life during the first two years of Triangle P Cattle Company, a new LLC in southcentral New Mexico. Installments are every other Tuesday.

The taste of sweet green peas, pod and all, lingers in my mouth. I’d thought they were goners after July dried our surroundings to a crisp — including some of my garden vegetable plants. But the peas got a second wind, finally trellising on the garden fence, droopy with immature pods and new blossoms.

My peas are not the only plants happy for the recent rain and the cooler temperatures. I have been seeing a crop of edible plants that I didn’t see last year. Purslane, a plant a Montana friend introduced me to years ago, is everywhere from the rocky hilltops to our corrals. A succulent related to portulaca (moss rose), the entire plant is edible. I’ve had it sautéed with butter and onions, raw in salad, and nibbled it on the trail. It’s high in pectin, a natural thickener, and has a mild taste. Allegedly, it has as many omega-3 fatty acids as wild-caught trout.

  • Urban foraged rocket, lamb's quarter and purslane.

  • Purslane up close and personal.

  • Algarita berries.

  • The silvery powder exclusive to lamb's quarter.

  • Nightshade, not edible, is blooming now too.

  • Two of our chickens, the ultimate foragers.

Purslane can grow alongside another edible plant that sometimes gets a bad rap: lamb’s quarter. Like many green leafy plants, if this is harvested too late it gets woody and bitter and makes eating foraged food feel like work. Pluck the leaves from small plants — in my opinion, the smaller the better. They can be used in frittatas and omelets, sautéed, tossed in green salads and used in place of other greens in recipes. One way to distinguish them from other forbs is to look for a silvery powder at the top of the plant’s leaves.

While I saw several wild onion plants with purple flowers in 2015, this year there’s an overwhelming sea of white blossoms. This plant is entirely edible and has a pungent odor of onion when plucked or bruised. I like to take only the green shoots so the plant can continue to produce. I use them like my domestic onion chives, a similar-looking plant, sprinkling in red sauce, salad dressing and pasta dishes. Wild onions have been confused with death camas, which does not have an onion smell and is deadly. Always be 100 percent sure you are eating a wild onion and not your last supper. If it doesn’t smell like an onion, it probably isn’t one.

Since we’ve been busy setting up our new solar system, hosting family, and completing our move into the renovated house, I’ve frozen a jar of algerita berry juice for jelly-making later. Last year these evergreen bushes with their sharp holly-like leaves bloomed but I never saw any fruit. This year several large bushes were loaded with beautiful pinkish-orange berries: They almost look frosted with a pale coating. While I wish I had worn gloves during my harvesting, my careful picking yielded a quart or so of berries that I steamed and strained for juice. This is the first berry I’ve found here that you can eat right from the bush: tart, seedy and a little bit sweet, they have the slightest bitter aftertaste. I think they’d make an amazing pie. But that’s going to have to wait until next year, unless something even more surprising and delicious comes along.