Springtime is pushing out of every corner right now. Ben and I took a walk and did a bit of foraging this week in Lawrence, KS.
The Eastern Redbuds are blooming a bright magenta. They are one of the prettiest native plants. A distant relative of peas, their blossoms, young leaves and immature seed pods are edible. The blossoms taste a little like fresh peas with a quiet floral note. We pickled the unopen blossoms which are not as sweet, to replace capers in recipes.
The Siberian Elm is relatively new here. Introduced to the US in the early 1900's, it stands as a quiet monument to the Dust Bowl. They were planted across the prairies of the Midwest as a drought resistant windbreak to prevent a repeat agricultural disaster. They are fruiting now. Producing small round seeds in a soft papery disk. The fruits are edible, as are the young leaves. A mild vegetal flavor and pleasant texture make them a favorite.
Clockwise from top left: Wild Violet, Eastern Redbud, Clover, Purple Dead Nettle, Dandelion Greens, Henbit, Young Sorrel, Siberian Elm.
Two members of the mint family are some of the first to jump out of the ground with petite purple flowers. Henbit and Purple Dead Nettle are both edible and are only mistaken for each other. They taste similar, very green and slightly bitter, but not at all minty. They are perfect for adding heft and color to a dish. Henbit flowers are sweet! We ate them as kids and referred to them as "honeysuckle" in our backyard colloquial vocabulary.
Dandelion, wild violet and clover are more ingredients to build a salad. Violet flowers are nice in salads but we leave the flower portion of dandelions out as it can add an unwanted bitterness. The young sorrel leaves are tender and lend a nice acidity.
We brined the quails for an hour in our One Stone Bird Brine. I trussed the tiny quails, tying their legs and lacing the butcher's twine through the body cavity so they could hang to air dry for a little while, about an hour. Once the skin dried a bit, we coated them with pomegranate molasses. We chose Missouri pecan wood for it's rich, salty smoke and balanced it with apricot wood for a lighter, sweeter smoke to avoid over powering the tiny fowl.
We smoked them at an average temperature of 230 degrees Farenheight for just under an hour. As with all poultry, you want to hit a minimum of 160 degrees. After we pulled them from the smoker, we let them rest while we built a salad from our foraged flowers and greens. We dressed it with olive oil, salt, Pickled Green Peppercorns, the pickled redbuds and their vinegary, pink brine.