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fifi

eG Foodblog: fifi - Foraging the Texas Gulf Coast

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Good Morning! And welcome to a reprisal of "She who only cooks." Well, not exactly a reprisal. When asked to blog again (boy, was I flattered) I thought it might be fun to take the cooking and eating in a bit of a new direction.

Some history:

First a little background in addition to what is already here, let me fill in on my foraging history. I suppose I have been foraging since I was a kid. Most of what I remember from childhood involved seafood. My grandfather had a family compound at Oyster Creek where we went on weekends.

The kids always had crab lines hanging off the pier. The way we crabbed was to tie a chicken neck or gizzard onto a string, weight it with a big nut, toss it into the water and wait. Pretty soon a crab would come along and try to exit stage left with the bait. The string goes tight and the fun begins. Now, you must carefully pull in the crab so he doesn't smell a rat (or crabber) and drop off. One deft swoop of the dip net and another crab is in the washtub. Ooops, first you have to check that the crab is big enough (from point to point on the shell, at least the length of your spread hand from thumb tip to little finger tip) and that it was a male (from looking at its underside and checking the shape of its flap). Information on our common blue crab is here. The rules were our own on the conservation of the crab. There were no legal requirements or limits at the time but we thought it was the right thing to do. I still think that crab traps are a lousy way to get crabs. Not only are traps boring but they just don't seem right to me.

The story of me and the crab is an example of how we related to the bounty of the waters around us. We learned about the critter; its habits and habitats, seasonal comings and goings, and of course how to eat it. My mother, grandmother and great aunt were terrific cooks and knew their way around our seafood. Grandpa had a "big boat" and the guys would use it to go after shrimp and oysters in our bays. They would also have seining parties on the beach front. Grandma and Aunt Minnie were legendary chasers of the redfish or Red Drum. They were even written up in the Houston paper sometime back in the early fifties. I still remember the picture of them in Grandma's skiff, their bonnets in place, Grandma at the helm, headed up the creek to look for the tide line.

When I was in junior high and high school, my sister was married to a hunter. He got my dad re-interested in hunting, so we added white tail deer and dove to our diet. Then, my sister got interested in foraging. She had just read her first Euell Gibbons book, Stalking the Wild Asparagus, and she has been hooked ever since and hooked me as well. That worked out because, in addition to places to go on the water, someone had a country place inland and we liked to camp and hike in the East Texas woods. We have found some things that were delicious to eat. We have found some things that we decided weren't worth the trouble but we could at least eat it if we were stranded in a survival situation. (Yeah . . . Right!) But the most fun part of our various foraging adventures is learning about the world around us as we go. We consider good eats a bonus.

Alas, my kids (in their 30s) are city folk and don't necessarily participate with the same passion that we do. However, my nephew is a passionate hunter and fisherman. He has also decided that the plant kingdom is worthy of consideration so the tradition continues.

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I'm very excited about this, Linda! My grandfather was a Gloucesterman fishing cod in George's Bank, so I find your connection to the sea (or, technically, the gulf) fascinating. I'll be reading!

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Yay! a Fifi blog!

I'm so glad this glum-looking week now has something I can look forward to every day.

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Fifi, I am very excited! You are a great cook and a fine photographer. Good luck!

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wow! this promises to be an utterly fascinating blog!

agog for more instalments

milagai

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Mechanics, how this blog will work:

First a little recent history, I just retired. (Some of my colleagues read a lot into the fact that I chose April 1, April Fool's Day as the official date.) That means I am foot-loose and fancy-free to pursue what is available here in mid-May and share it with you.

A typical day will probably start with getting up not too early in the morning (retired, remember) and choosing a route to go a-foraging. With equipment in hand, off I will go so I won't be on-line for a while. Later in the day, I will process pictures and post. A couple of days will probably be devoted to processing what I have found and maybe cooking a specific dish here and there. I am going to use a broad definition of foraging so I may include some local sources for goodies and maybe some things that we have preserved from previous finds.

I will also try to include some examples of what the Gulf Coast environment "looks like" so you can get a sense of how what I find fits into the grand scheme of things.

Of course, there is the off-chance that Mother Nature is working on getting in touch with her inner bitch and I will have to share shots of coffee and toast and a sausage and biscuit from McDonald's. :raz:

If the foraging works like I think it will, you won't be seeing a lot of breakfast/lunch/dinner stuff because, for this week, I am living to forage, not to eat. I don't eat a lot anyway.

I'm off. I will be checking in later. (Note that some posting times may get delayed. I have a new wireless network that includes the "works intermittently" feature.)

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Big wide open memories from when as a child when my mother would pack up the children and we'd drive down to vacation on the Alabama Gulf coast come to mind. Also our crawfish hunting days. It's so beautiful down there. I'm all ears Fifi! :smile:

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Many thanks for the kind encouragement. I am not quite off yet. I am still working on beating my new toy into submission. My present to myself was a Nikon D70 with an additional macro lens. I just went through the panic phase of transferring what I have shot so far. It all worked as planned. I am afraid that the new toy is now just an expensive point and shoot at this point in my educational process so don't judge the camera by my pictures. As soon as the cool packs freeze up for the cooler, I will be off and then back to post the day's activities.

Lucy, I hope that some of the shots this week will bring back fond memories. Our water isn't as pretty and the beaches aren't as white as the Alabama shore but there is a similar feel. We have pretty much the same ecological profile as that part of the coast.

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Linda, any pictures of warmth and sun will be appreciated, as will pictures of anything green and growing other than the mini-plants and leaves that are present on our trees and garden plants will be appreciated. Remember, we're still two weeks away from even getting a tomato plant into the garden...

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Fifi, you can add me to the list of people who are looking forward to reading about your wacky adventures as a 21st century techno-hunter-gatherer.

Question: where are you going to be doing this foraging? I haven't been to Houston, but can't imagine that there's a ton of wild space there: are you going to have to go far to forage? Or is is my impression of that area mistaken?

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Linda, I'm so thrilled you're blogging again! Thank you. I'm with Susan, any pictures of warmth would help, it's still too cool here for tomatos too!

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My present to myself was a Nikon D70 with an additional macro lens.

Oh MAN do I have serious Digital Camera envy now.

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Looking forward to one fun blog Fifi. Do let me know if you need help disposing of your bounty :smile:.

Elie

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Well, Andrew, there is more "wild land" in Houston, and close in to town, than you might think. I am told that is a result of large tracts of land tied up in big estates. Other than some pockets of high rise and more or less dense population, Houston is pretty spread out. That being said, we have found Bolete mushrooms in the esplanade of an inner city neighborhood. Lots of stuff grows along our many bayous. When you are foraging, once you learn the habitats and what grows (or lives) where and when, you just keep your eye out for possibilities. You certainly don't need vast expanses of wilderness to forage. What a lot of folks don't realize is the relationship of Houston to the Galveston Bay complex. Galveston Bay is the second or third largest bay complex in the US. I think that the Chesapeake is the biggest. I can't remember where Galveston fits versus the San Francisco Bay system.

Here is a map link. Zoom to #5 to see where my retirement home will be in relation to Galveston and the Bay Area. Zoom to #6 to see the Bay Area in relation to Houston proper. Right now, I am living in League City. For that reason, most of my tromping will be in this area, because I know it best, with occasional forays into town.

I will be back in a bit for tonight's treat.

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Here is a map link. Zoom to #5 to see where my retirement home will be in relation to Galveston and the Bay Area. Zoom to #6 to see the Bay Area in relation to Houston proper. Right now, I am living in League City. For that reason, most of my tromping will be in this area, because I know it best, with occasional forays into town.

Interesting. Not a very dense area at all, then. Well, I look forward to the pictures, and the results of your expeditions!

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Linda, this is facinating - I'm looking forward to your blog.

What's the weather like in Houston? I'm assuming that summers are hot and humid, but what about the rest of the year? Is the foraging good year-round?

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Oh, this is going to be a fun blog! You've picked a terrifically interesting theme!

I didn't realize Galveston Bay was so big, nor that Houston had so many undeveloped areas, as it were. In addition to the other questions already posted, I have a couple:

Those look almost like sand spits at the mouth of Galveston Bay. Which way does the longshore current go, and how (if at all) does that affect where you'll find good sea creatures?

What, if anything, is the City of Houston doing to preserve the large land tracts involved in estates? It's a natural progression up here:

* people who have dozens or hundreds of acres start cashing in on their land wealth;

*the property gets subdivided;

*more people move onto smaller lots.

The result is a lot more crowding for the same infrastructure as before - more difficulty with water, sewer, roads, emergency services, and so on. Getting back to food and foraging, it makes the foraging harder for humans and the local wildlife. In my township they've set a minimum lot size to try to control the population density - but then, of course, they're encouraging sprawl as a result.

Finally (for the moment): congratulations on your retirement! I'd missed it before. Enjoy, enjoy! :biggrin:

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Yesterday (Monday) I had to shepherd my sister through some out-patient surgery so I was at her place later in the evening to get her drugged up butt home. I took the opportunity to avail myself of some of her Hoja Santa or Rootbeer plant.

gallery_7796_1058_92850.jpg

A couple of years ago, my nephew was dove hunting in South Texas and saw this plant growing up a power pole and along a fence. Asking one of the Mexican guides about it, he found that it is a culinary treasure. He brought some pieces of it home and my sister was successful in getting it started at her house. Actually, it may swallow her house. Granted, this is second hand foraging but it does have the advantage of introducing folks to this great plant and if they happen to see it beside the road in South Texas they can go for it.

I have chosen to use it in a version of a recipe that I read in Zarella Martinez's book, Veracruz. It is a version of a tamale pie wrapped in Hoja Santa leaves.

First, a bit about Hoja Santa . . . The legend is that the Virgin Mary had washed the Baby Jesus's diapers and that she was looking around for a place to hang them out to dry. The Hoja Santa plant popped up to give her a place to dry the diapers and give them a clean aromatic smell. Think sassafras or root beer.

The first thing to do is to poach some chicken for the filling.

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The chicken is poached very simply with onion, garlic, and bay leaves. I do have to relate that the bay leaves come from a very large tree in a historic cemetary in Houston. My sister spotted it some years ago while stopped in traffic behind a wreck. (That is what I mean about keeping your eyes open.) It took us a while to wind our way through the roads in the cemetary to actually find the tree. Once we did, we have gone back from time to time for a supply. We once got caught, loppers in hand, and made up a story about "Great Aunt Mabel" that was buried beneath it and that it was actually our property that dear Auntie intended us to take advantage of. The cemetary security guard actually bought the story so we have access to the bay tree whenever we want. OK . . . I digress. But if you are going to forage in questionable places, you need to get your act together or get arrested.

Then I "foraged" some tomatillo salsa from the freezer, added some freshly chopped jalapeno and white onion to it, fried it in some lard and added the chicken. Now we have a tamale filling.

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Now we have to assemble the pie. I chose to go with the dried masa since the fresh ground at the store wasn't all that fresh. I also had some home rendered lard and the broth from the poached chicken so we are good to go. The KitchenAid processor was a fine substitute since I can't get to my stand mixer right now. The Hoja Santa leaves are arranged in a baking dish, a layer of masa is applied, the filling added and another layer of masa applied.

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Then the uncovered leaves of the Hoja Santa are folded over on the tamale pie.

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The whole thing is baked at about 350 degrees F for about 45 minutes.

It came out looking like this.

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And here is what we have, served up with some crisp radish.

gallery_7796_1058_1834.jpg

My first impression is that this thing is absolutely delicious. My second impression is that I need to get my arms around depth of field with the new toy.

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The chicken is poached very simpy with onion, garlic, and bay leaves. I do have to relate that the bay leaves come from a very large tree in a historic cemetary in Houston. My sister spotted it some years ago while stopped in traffic behind a wreck. (That is what I mean about keeping your eyes open.) It took us a while to wind our way through the roads in the cemetary to actually find the tree. Once we did, we have gone back from time to time for a supply. We once got caught, loppers in hand, and made up a story about "Great Aunt Mabel" that was buried beneath it and that it was actually our property that dear Auntie intended us to take advantage of. The cemetary security guard actually bought the story so we have access to the bay tree whenever we want. OK . . . I digress. But if you are going to forage in questionable places, you need to get your act together or get arrested.

Well, I for one am glad you digressed, because (1) I digress in my postings all the time; and (2) your digression had me laughing like a hyena! Oh poor Great Aunt Mabel! :laugh:

Needless to say, I am enjoying your blog ... and your creative approach to foraging.


Edited by mizducky (log)

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Smithy, you ask a good question about the long shore current. One of the reasons that our water is not as clear and blue as that of the Alabama/Florida Gulf coast is that the Yucatan current comes up and hits about at the mouth of the Mississippi river. It splits and some then heads west along the coast, along with all of the sediment that it contains. Another component of the current heads east and eventually joins the Gulf Stream. To the east of the Mississippi, there aren't many rivers to add sediment to the mix. Therefore the waters are clearer. To the west of the Mississipi, there are other rivers that add sediment, the Sabine at the Louisiana/Texas border, the Trinity that flows into Galveston Bay and the Brazos that flows in at Freeport, for example. Our waters are not as pretty and blue as some of our neighbors to the east but the nutrients that are brought in to the ecosystem make for the exceptional productivity of our estuary environment. During the cooler months this year, I understand that the Galveston Bay system oysters were outstanding.

edit: to correct east and west that I can't keep straight.


Edited by fifi (log)

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Impressive start, Linda.

The Hoja Santa plant popped up to give her a place to dry the diapers and give them a clean aromatic smell. Think sassafras or root beer.

Cool. But how does it taste? :biggrin: Is there any equivalent you can think of which more of us might have experience with?

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What a yummy blog this promises to be! Did the leaves impart a lot of flavor in the baking? Do you eat the leaves themselves, or are they just a fragrant wrapper?

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More on our environment: Here is a link to some aerial photos of the area.

South Galveston Bay My place is in the photo fourth from the left, top row.

North Galveston Bay Where I live now is in the Clear Lake area, first and second photos from the left on the bottom row.

I can't figure out where they got the blue color for the water. It ain't blue.

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Impressive start, Linda.

. . .

Cool.  But how does it taste? :biggrin:  Is there any equivalent you can think of which more of us might have experience with?

The leaves taste like root beer, or sassafras. The flavor component is safrole. It is supposed to be a carcinogen and true sassafras (the original source of safrole in root beer) was banned from root beer some years ago. I dunno. I have drunk sassafras tea since I was a pup and I am still here.

What a yummy blog this promises to be!  Did the leaves impart a lot of flavor in the baking?  Do you eat the leaves themselves, or are they just a fragrant wrapper?

The leaves imparted a wonderful, but subtle flavor to the masa. So, I guess you could say that they just added a fragrant wrapper.

However, now that we have this rampant source, we have taken to doing a rough chiffonade of the leaves to make a bed for baking a large batch of chicken thighs or fish. The leaves from under the chicken or fish are eaten like a green. If you find us dead in a ditch from safrole induced cancer, we would probably think it was worth it.

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This is really interesting so far!

So the leaves impart a taste but you don't eat them, is that right?

Also, I thought gumbo file' was powdered sassafras leaves. I guess that's a different variety of sassafras? Educate an ignorant Northerner. :biggrin:

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