Creative Sustenance

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

Filtering by Category: Foraging

An hour's worth of milkweed pods


Here are some young, juicy milkweed pods I harvested in about an hour. While many plants are forming pods a fair number also still have unopened flower buds on them. Don't have time to go into more detail or what we'll be doing with these in the kitchen, but will be sure to share that with you later. For now, just wanted to share a few images.


Making time for breakfast again

I decided that regardless of how weary I feel lately or how little spare time I seem to currently have I am going to make time for breakfast again, and I mean the kind of breakfast I enjoy making, something with a little punch.

So, this morning's sustenance included a couple of duck eggs sauteed over-easy in pork fat and butter, on a bed of mustard greens and thistle stems sauteed with lardons and diced ramps. Simple, quick and good for the spirit.

Now to finish transplanting some herbs and hot peppers we picked up yesterday.

The beautiful, invasive, edible daylily

I almost can't believe it's been 10 days since I updated this site. So much has gone on in the last week or two that the time has seemed to just flash by. I think I'll be adding updates daily for the next several days, just to cover everything that's been going on.

But today's entry has to do with this morning's breakfast. Yesterday I stopped by my Mom's house after a little foraging hike into a new area (found another ramp trove, young nettles and garlic mustard, as well as a number of young may apples just lifting themselves up from the earth). My Dad is in Alabama for a couple weeks, visiting his brother and doing some fishing, so I stopped by the house to see if Mom needed anything and to check the rhubarb she said was coming up in the back yard. 

Image of daylily flower from, where there is also some nutritional information listed on daylilies. 

As we walked around the perimeter of the yard I was amazed to see how over-run part of it was with daylilies (hemerocallis fulva), or tiger lilies as we've always called them. Shoots from three to ten inches high covered one whole section of the yard next to the house and were dozens more were creeping around the corner and into the ground around a tree. Mom complained that they were pushing into areas where she didn't want them. No problemo, says I, as I grabbed a garden fork and immediately dug up a half dozen or so.

Daylilies showing young shoots/stalks and the root system with small tubers.

I washed the roots off and placed them in a large bowl of water overnight to further loosen any remaining dirt. Daylilies are edible but not all lilies are daylilies. Some can make you very sick indeed. The common daylily or tiger lily is easy to identify, particularly when it is in full flower. The young, flowerless shoots have sword-like leaves and when cut at ground level the stalk resembles a leek in its multiple ringed layers. The real tell-tale sign is in the root. Rather than growing from a single bulb cluster like an Easter lily, daylily roots are a medusa-like tangle of tendrils and little tubers that look like small fingerling potatoes.

Daylily tubers soaking in cold water to clean.

Every part of the daylily is edible, to one degree or another. The best parts, in my opinion, are the unopened flower buds, followed by the flowers themselves, which can be used like you might a squash blossom. Unfortunately, it's still too early here for the buds and flowers to appear. But the stalks and root tubers are available now. 

Cleaned and trimmed stalks and tubers; bottom image shows the interior of the small tubers.

When preparing them I take the shoots and cut the stalks off where they meet the root system. Wash the stalks under running water and trim the side leaves and upper, looser leaves, leaving a fairly tight single stalk. The smallest ones I will toss in a salad or stir fry whole. The larger ones I slice perpendicularly like you might with a leek, and use those pieces the same way, in a salad or stir fry. The stalks are fairly bland, tasting to me like a cross between romaine lettuce and a very mild radish. But they can add some color, nutrition and variety to any number of dishes.

The root tubers require more cleaning but are interesting and kind of fun to work with. Maybe it's because they look like baby baby potatoes...the cuteness factor, I suppose. Separate the little tubers from the tendrils and stems, and wash thoroughly. I wash them in a large bowl, agitating and rubbing handfuls of them together through a few changes of water. The interior of the tubers is whitish and the meat has the texture of a common radish. They're rather mild. When eaten raw they also exhibit an interesting flavor that is slightly sweet but with a mild radish-like, peppery after-taste. Apparently there is a small percentage of the population who may find daylilies disagreeable to their systems. I think I may be on the edge of that group of people, as I find that whenever I eat them raw in anything more than a very small quantity I suffer a little nausea. It's not too dissimilar to the feeling I get when I eat a lot of raw onions or radishes; a kind of gut-achy, nauseous feeling comes over me (but I still eat onions and radishes because I just like them too darn much!). However, cooking seems to nullify whatever substance is in them that causes the discomfort when they are eaten raw.

Breakfast of eggs with ramp pesto and a daylily hash.

This morning I browned some butter with diced garlic and ramps, added several slices of pancetta and threw in a handful of daylily tubers (slicing the larger ones in half) along with a pinch of salt. As they were finshing I added a few sliced stalks to the mix and let it saute for another minute or two. Scooped them from the pan and quickly fried a couple of eggs over-easy, spooned a little ramp pesto over the tops, and that was breakfast. I might add that the tubers smell, to me, a little like peanuts while frying. I wonder if anyone else has that impression as well.

Daylily tubers & stalks, pancetta, garlic and ramps sauteed in hand rolled butter.

Daylilies, a common decorative yard flower; also good to eat. I'll let you know when the flower buds and flowers are table ready!

Ramp pesto

My Dad phoned me yesterday while he was out on one of his local exploring mini-expeditions. "I found a place covered with wild onions. They're all over." "Already?" I replied. "It's little early yet." I have my spots that I start checking around this time of year and thus far no ramps have made an appearance. 

"Where are you?" I asked. He told me and I said, "Well, why don't you come get me and we'll have a look?" He was a bit further inland than where I begin looking for the dagger-shaped leaves around this time of year, enough so that the cool Lake Michigan temperatures weren't a factor in slowing spring growth like they are closer to the lake. 

I retrieved a couple of bags, my old digging knife and a camera and waited for my Dad to show up. Upon arriving at the place he had found I had to admit that he had indeed come upon a good location for spring ramps ("wild onions" to Dad). Although they were still relatively small in size they were growing thickly, with little bunches more or less uniformly covering a pretty large expanse of ground. 

Young ramps bursting through the earth in early spring.

I was excited and harvested just a couple of handfuls-worth, while planning to return to the spot in another week or two.

Just-harvested ramps. It's not cool to harvest too much. Be frugal and leave more than you take.

Ramps, also known as wild leeks or wild onions, are one of the first wild edibles a lot of folks learn to identify and harvest. That may be because they are also one of the first edibles to make an appearance each spring. They are hard to mistake for anything else once you've harvested them yourself. They also seem to have become much more popular (trendy might be a better word) with chefs in recent years, and you'll find them on menus in a number of noteworthy restaurants.

Ramps have an intense flavor that's something of a marriage of green onion and garlic, and you can use them just about any way you might use either or both of those vegetable herbs. When the morels begin to appear a plate of grilled morel mushrooms and ramps, washed down with a nice ale, is practically tradition.

Ramps after cleaning, beautiful and colorful.

This morning I decided to make a pesto from the bunch I dug up yesterday. I'll share the recipe here, but bear in mind that the ingredient amounts are entirely arbitrary. Pesto is one of those things that can be made any number of ways with any number of ingredients and any number of mutable measurements.  

Ramp & Arugula Pesto


  • Ramps, one large handful
  • Arugula, 3/4 cup
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 1/2+ cup
  • Almonds, 1/2 cup, toasted
  • Parmesan or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, 1 cup, shaved
  • Pinch of salt
  • Freshly ground pepper, just a couple turns of the pepper mill

Ramp pesto ingredients, romaine and baby spinach I added later not shown.

1. Toast the almonds in an oven at 400° for around 10 minutes. They smell oh-so-good! Roughly chop them up and pour into your food processor. Give it a few pulses to chop them even more.

2. Roughly chop the ramps, leaves and all. Add the chopped ramps, arugula, oil, cheese, salt and pepper to the processor. Pulse it until everything is well blended. You may want to add more oil until it gets to a consistency you like.

Ramp & arugula pesto, ready to rock your taste buds.

That's pretty well it. Easy-peasy. But now here is where the adaptable nature of pesto comes in handy. I found that my initial recipe was far too pungent. I knew that Kim would find it too spicy and "hot" for her taste. So I grabbed a handful of baby spinach and three big leaves of romaine lettuce, tossed them into the processor and pulsed it to blend everything together. Perfect! The spinach and romaine mellowed it out quite nicely. The finished pesto looked fantastic, a beautiful vibrant green, and it had a spicy freshness that made spring seem even more spring-y.

Eager to use the ramp pesto right away, I whipped up a huge omelet with a row of canned diced tomatoes and a strip of the pesto spooned over them before folding the omelet over on itself. I cut the fat egg pie in half and plated one half for Kim and the other for me. It was incredible. I am not making this up--go ahead and ask her--Kim actually licked her plate clean. That's how good it was.

The pesto will stay fresh in your fridge for a month or so, if it lasts that long before you eat it all!

After we finished breakfast I jarred the remaining pesto into an empty gelato container and thought, "I would totally buy this if it was on a store shelf. Someone should make this stuff to sell." Someone like me! (Let me know if you would like a jar.)

Maple Syrup

This month I had the pleasure to learn the craft of making maple syrup with Jack Kretsch of Kretsch Family Maple Syrup. Jack and his wife Bonnie live outside of Manitowoc, near Whitelaw, where they have a hundred or so sugar maple tap lines running each year at the close of winter. I knew the high quality of Kretsch maple syrup because we used it for our Sunday morning breakfasts at Stumpjack, in our special french toast (I must remember to share that recipe here) and our baked oatmeal. Kretsch Maple Syrup a relatively small operation and their syrup is something special; it's sweet but not cloyingly so, it is lighter in color, golden brown rather than the dark, caramelized brown you see in many syrups. It's a natural and pure artisan syrup with a flavor that is entirely unadulterated.

Tap lines one a large maple tree. On one of the days we collected sap we harvested 277 gallons.

I told Jack's daughter Heather last year that if they desired any help with the maple syrup production I would be eager to join in, so that I might learn some of their secrets for producing the delicious elixir (yes, I've enjoyed it right from the glass, straight up, no chaser). Heather contacted me and said that her dad could, in fact, use a little help with this season's harvest and production. I was excited to be of assistance wherever I could. Unfortunately, I didn't get to help nearly as much as I had hoped, because the season was cut short by the uncharacteristic warm weather we've had this year. I was hoping to participate all the way through April but this year's season lasted just three weeks. Jack confirmed that last weekend was pretty well the end of it. The nights were not getting cold enough to produce the kind of sap flow they needed.

Wood burning stove that cooks the sap and steel pail collected cooked syrup through a filter.

But I did get three or four days in where I got to lend a hand collecting sap and hanging out with Jack in his sugar shack while he processed the sap into syrup. I wasn't able to be there when he did the final filtering and bottling, which bummed me out a bit because I wanted to get photos of every step during the process. Next year.


Jack Kretsch shrouded in steam inside his sugar shack as he cooks maple sap into maple syrup.

I took a lot of photos and a little bit of video, and I learned a lot and had a great time getting to know Jack. (I may have to profile him in a future article; the man does a heckuva lot of interesting things and is quite a character.) I shared the photos on my facebook page; the few shown here are from that album.

Jack in his poker room with a couple bottles of Kretsch Family Maple Syrup.

I told Jack that I have a small maple tree in my yard, and he gave me a tap, line and pail to see what I might be able to draw from it. It's a small diameter tree that I planted maybe 15 or so years ago from a little sprout that was growing in the hedge row between us and our neighbor. It shot up like a weed and is as tall as our two-story home now. I didn't get much sap from it, only a gallon or so. Last night I boiled down what I had collected and was very excited to be able to bottle some maple syrup. It was a damn small bottle (a former hot sauce bottle), but it's maple syrup I actually made myself from my own tree. And that's a pretty sweet deal.

My own maple syrup. Next year I intend to pursue making maple syrup on a larger scale.

I'll follow this entry up with one that goes into the actual process of making maple syrup, and will share some of the lessons I learned from Jack that I think help set his syrup apart from some of the others on the market.

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