2018-05-17 / Life in Leelanau

Foraging food from the forest

By Jen Murphy
of the Enterprise staff

COOK ‘EM UP. Leelanau County morels grace the plate of a Mother’s Day brunch to remember at the home of Pete and Marlene Edwards. The couple lives in Empire and they both love to forage. COOK ‘EM UP. Leelanau County morels grace the plate of a Mother’s Day brunch to remember at the home of Pete and Marlene Edwards. The couple lives in Empire and they both love to forage. ‘Tis the season for fantastic foraged finds. At least that’s what local foragers believe as they discover all sorts of tasty treats on the forest floor.

And foraging is a pastime that’s gaining popularity. According to the Institute for Sustainable Foraging website, “(f)oraged goods such as ramps (wild leeks), fiddlehead ferns, a range of wild mushrooms, and other wild-crafted products are garnering wider recognition as tasty, versatile, seasonally aligned foods, and their popularity has increased dramatically.”

Lake Leelanau resident Andy Schudlich has picked all sorts of fruits and vegetables as long as he can remember. “I picked asparagus and morels with my Dad, and strawberries and blueberries with my aunt and my Mom when I was little,” he said.

And today, as an adult, Schudlich still enjoys hiking through the Leelanau County woods in search of seasonal goods to fill his plate. “It’s nice to go out for a walk. I just like being outside,” he said.

Visiting the woods this time of year, he searches for fiddleheads, leeks and morels.

When he gets home, Schudlich enjoys preparing both fiddleheads and morels sautéed. For him, it’s important to allow the flavor of these finds to shine through, especially with morels. “Sautéed is probably my favorite,” he said. “It’s real simple - that’s why. They’re all interesting foods. They have their own flavors so you don’t want to lose that.”

In addition to sautéing morels in butter or olive oil, he said he enjoys them stuffed, in soup or grilled.

Ramps, also known as wild leeks, are another of Schudlich’s favorites. “With the bulb, we pick ramps and pickle them,” he said. “They go well with cheese and in cocktails, and as a part of remoulade. And we make kimchi out of the leaf - the green part.”

And for those who don’t care for fiddleheads, ramps are often the first find of months-long foraging adventures for Leelanau County residents. That’s certainly true for Pete Edwards of Empire, a self-proclaimed lifelong forager.

“We have been putting the green tops in salads. They taste like a turbo charged green onion, he said. “You’re not supposed to pick out of national park, but there are plenty of other areas.”

Edwards said he also makes potato leek salad and potato leek soup. “Potato leek soup is super easy to make,” he said.

Once he has found his fill of ramps, Edwards and his wife Marlene focus on morels. And this weekend, the couple hit the jackpot.

They use morels in many different ways. “We dry some, we eat some fresh, my wife does an amazing job of battering and pan frying them,” he said. “My favorite thing now is taking dried morels and making veggie burgers out of them.”

“Even if you have a few morels, if you’re grilling steak, pan fry and throw them right on top of the steak.”

For Schudlich, Edwards and many others, the foraging season is just beginning.

As the weather warms, Edwards said he will find wild strawberries, raspberries, black raspberries and blackberries. In addition to gooseberries, grapes, apples, elderberries, mint, dandelions, asparagus, walnuts and beech nuts.

How long is the season? According to Edwards, he will find goodies “sometimes in October, if you know the right spots.”

But those new to forage frenzy have to be cautious. Both Schudlich and Edwards agreed on that point. “Do your research,” Edwards said.

“You do have to be careful. There are flowers that are toxic. You want to make sure you’re only digging leeks.

“For morels, when people get sick from eating morels, they are eating the false ones. A real morel the stems are hollow. And the cap is attached to the stem. The false ones are like elephant ears, they smell horrible and the stem is full of white foam. Why anyone would eat them, I have no idea.”

Schudlich said he is still careful. “I’m just really cautions. I stick with (mushrooms) that are really obvious - morels, chantrelles, chicken of the woods. But we have lots more out there.”

He also said it’s important people don’t harvest everything they see. “Leave some. That’s most important - so they keep coming back,” he said. “I know if you take all the fish out of the lake, there won’t be any fish left. I kind of apply that to everything, I guess.”

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