Sep 112010
Farmer’s cheese with California peppercorns and foraged lambsquarter (a plant, not a lamb)

A few weeks ago, I took part in a foraging and cheese-making course taught by Pascal, a survival and wild foods expert in the Los Angeles area.  Pascal teaches a wide variety of wild food and outdoor skills courses, which he lists on his website.

Pascal at work

We met up in August, a time when anything edible seems to have fled the heat or shriveled down to a brown husk.  As we walked through the dry, brush-covered hills in search of edible plants, we soon learned that the term “head for the hills” is not be applicable to the Southern California area.

Pascal showed us some useful plants:

The California peppercorn.  Some people are allergic.

The yucca, which can provide cordage. . .

. . . And contains saponin.  Add water, and you have a nice exfoliating soap.

Mugwort.  Gather the dry under-leaves to form a “nest” to transport fire over long distances.

We also found white sage, buckwheat (looks like fluffy white balls – once they turn brown, you can harvest for supplementing breads, like acorn pancakes), and cacti, which when cooked, taste kind of like okra.

We took some time to meet the farm residents, including Pascal’s chickens and this Appaloosa.

After a 40 minute walk, we found the beginnings of a meal–“soap” for washing, something to transport a cooking fire, and enough edible plants for an amuse bouche.  But if we wanted anything more, we would need to look for food in areas with water.  Our best bet in a real emergency would be to forage in parks or near creeks and reservoirs.  (Oh yeah – and don’t forage unless you know your plants, or you’re with someone who does.)

Pascal’s pantry of foraged foods, including black nightshade, poisonous if eaten at the wrong time.

Despite the lack of available material, I enjoyed the instruction.  It’s hard to remember more than a few new plants at a time anyway.  We also ended our class by making a soft farmer’s cheese, which is a type of cheese that doesn’t require rennet.  The basic ingredients are milk and something to curdle the milk (lemon juice or vinegar will do).

Prepping the lambsquarter for the cheese.

The basic recipe is:

  • bring 2 cups of goat’s milk to a slow boil (stir constantly)
  • as the milk begins to boil and foam, add 1/4 cup of lemon juice or vinegar
  • let it curdle and cook for about a minute, but don’t burn your milk
  • remove from heat, drain the curds and whey through a cheesecloth
  • mix in 1/2 teaspoon of salt, let drain and cool for a couple of minutes
  • squeeze out most of the liquid (whey), but leave some moisture or your cheese will get very hard
  • add any wild food, or herbs, plus 1-2 cloves of pressed garlic
  • mix and form into a ball
  • decorate top with herbs, pepper, etc.
  • wrap ball in plastic and let sit in the fridge overnight to solidify

Note: don’t use ultra-pasteurized milk.  The high heat denatures the proteins, which means that the milk won’t form the curds to make cheese. (I made that mistake the first time I tried this recipe!)

For a complete set of photos from the wild food walk and cheese-making course, click here.

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