Foragers 1, Session 5: A Milkweed Experiment by Allie Smith


Foragers 1, Session 5: A Milkweed Experiment by Allie Smith

Our fifth session of Foragers 1 dovetailed so perfectly with the fourth. We took our discussion with Holly about the spectrum of concepts like edibility and toxicity to its furthest extreme and dipped our toes into the world of wild food. Nick Spero was our guide this time around, leading us on a plant walk and preparing us a meal of milkweed buds and cattail. 

Because we were meeting plants that might make a whole meal and ingesting large amounts, Nick stressed the importance of where we’re harvesting from. Plants do a ton of grunt work to clear our environment of human-made toxins. This means we might want to avoid highly-trafficked locales in cities or close to highways, etc. We noted the field of conventional wheat next to where we were searching for milkweed and cattails, for example. 

I’m of two minds about this and hope to explore the idea further as a Baltimorean. On one hand, of course considering pollutants and potential contaminants is crucial, but I’m curious as to how foragers in urban areas navigate the specifics of this. It feels important to the accessibility of the practice that we have some guidelines that help those living in populated areas, and I know they exist to dive further into when time allows. 

Meanwhile–as these fruitful questions and potential rabbit holes emerged–I was falling in love with milkweed. Milkweed buds’ taste is singular, but vegetal in a similar way to all my childhood favorite veggies my mom bought from the freezer aisle: broccoli, green beans, and maybe a bit of okra. After learning more about how to identify common milkweed’s closest “foe” lookalike dogbane (dogbane’s stem is a deep burgundy and doesn’t ooze milkweed’s titular white latex), we got cooking. Well, Nick got to cooking for us and we gladly received a sautee of milkweed buds and cattail stalk. 

I loved the improvisational aspects of this sauteed milkweed bud “recipe.” As a baker used to being exacting in weights and techniques, it’s always freeing to practice savory cooking. I often like to make savory pastries to incorporate a bit of this practice, and I immediately imagined a milkweed galette with a Nick Spero-inspired, lemony-bright filling. 

Making a galette–really just a free-form pie without all the fuss of a tin and crimped crust–can be as easy as you’d like to make it. They shine in the spring, summer, and fall with all sorts of ingredients, making them a perfect vessel for wild foods. 

In case you’d like to try a common milkweed version next summer, using this steamed milkweed bud recipe from Forager | Chef worked well to prep my milkweed. Then I let it cool completely before nestling it in pie dough with a smear of cream cheese mixed with lemon zest, salt, and pepper. Baked up, the buds got some little, delightfully crispy bits on top. It can be dangerous to get the oven going in the heat of summer, but this was worth turning it on and I’ll defnitely be baking with milkweed again next year! 

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