Creative Sustenance

Culinary and other adventures in foraging, gardening, urban farming and more, in Wisconsin and the Midwest.

We missed the sturgeon but found another cache of wild edibles

We spent yesterday and today in Shawano County, at my parents' cottage. Kim had a job interview in Wittenberg and I wanted to check the countryside for more potential foraging locations. If you happen to be a friend on my own facebook page you may be familiar with our forays to the cottage. They usually involve a hammock, a few cigars, some good craft beer and grilling of meat. This week, however, Shawano seemed to still be trying desperately to shake off winter's chill and grab hold of spring. It was rainy and nippy, but a most enjoyable reprieve nonetheless.

A trio of wild edibles harvested from a beautiful hardwood forest in Shawano County. l-r: Virginia Waterleaf, Ramps, Trout Lilies.

Virginia Waterleaf. I would not normally dig up the whole plant like this, rather only a portion of the young leaves, but the spot from where these were harvested was being logged and dug up to make what looked to be an entrance road. This image provides a look at the root system.

Handful of Virginia Waterleaf. The oftentimes dappled or lighter "watermark" spots are not especially visible in this image, although they are there.

Handful of Virginia Waterleaf. The oftentimes dappled or lighter "watermark" spots are not especially visible in this image, although they are there. 

As far as it concerns Creative Sustenance, I did indeed discover several new locations that look quite promising. One area in particular had me very excited. So much so that when I pulled into a muddy track entering a hardwood forest, where some heavy equipment had parked during the clearing of the area, I did so a little recklessly and risked getting stuck in the deeply ridged muddy tracks of the logging vehicles. But I was too pumped about seeing the acre upon acre of ramps, trout lilies and virginia waterleaf plants that covered the forest floor.

Virginia Waterleaf leaves, the primary edible part.

I grabbed my spade and quickly dug a few plants from the edges of the clearing where the big rigs had been working. I didn't feel guilty about the few shallow holes I dug nor the handful of plants I removed in their entirety, something I would normally never do, because I knew that this spot would soon be leveled and graded of all plant life as the road was put in. When I return and hopefully get the okay to walk the woods proper, I'll do so with my usual thoughtful stewardship of the woodland I'm responsible for when in it.

I was a little surprised at how deeply the trout lily bulbs were buried. Some were 8-12 inches or more below their mottled leaves, attached to creamy white "stalks", or scapes, blanched by many inches of mulched soil. The bulb depth told of an old forest, with decades worth of decomposing leaf matter. It was also an indication of the age of some of the plants that had seeded or reproduced vegetatively many years ago.

Trout Lily bulbs, cleaned and sweet as clover.

Ramps, cleaned and trimmed. They blanketed the forest floor for acres.

The soil was incredibly rich and black, like the most beautiful compost created from the hand of a master gardener. A half-dozen to a dozen worms seemed to be in every spade-full. Even though we're already into May right now, climatically it's still very early spring. Winter is still letting us know he hasn't given up the ghost quite yet. (Last night saw 17" of snow fall in Rice Lake, I was told. We saw a car pass us covered in several inches of the white stuff.) 

Panoramic of Wolf River in Shawano.

This morning Kim and I drove over to the Shawano dam area of the Wolf River, as two of our cottage neighbors told me this morning that the sturgeon were spawning with great theatricality just a couple days ago. They described the big fish as looking like logs bouncing around in the water, swimming over one another, as thick as cordwood. Every year the sturgeon spawning run draws people to the river to watch the giant prehistoric fish do their thing. Unfortunately for us, the day was cold and the dam had been opened, changing conditions pretty dramatically. A good number of other people were also at the river, hoping for a glimpse, but we saw no fish. Still, it was cool to know that they were in there, hiding in the deep water.

The Wittenberg Sandwich.

Addendum: I call this my Wittenberg Sandwich, because I got all of the ingredients in or a bit outside Wittenberg this day. Jack cheese, sweet/hot mustard and vinegar&herb sulze from Nueske's Meats, ramps and virginia waterleaf greens from a forest a few miles from town. But the swirled rye I did get from a sweet little local butcher shop in Shawano. If you're not familiar with sulze, it's just head-cheese with herbs or spices and vinegar added. It was fantastic.

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