Area Residents Try Local Wild Food Plants at Huston-Brumbaugh Nature Center

April 01, 2010

Local residents who participated recently in the John T. Huston - Dr. John D. Brumbaugh Nature Center's "Beech Leaf Bistro" had an unusual opportunity to savor some dishes prepared with local wild food plants, and many were surprised to find that the offerings were more like what you might find in a gourmet restaurant than on the "Survivor" set.


Eighteen participants joined the Nature Center staff for the event. First the group took a walk and identified edible plants.

"They were surprised how many edible plants we have in Ohio," said Patty Rickard, a naturalist at the Nature Center.

After returning to the Nature Center, the guest dined on dished prepared by the Nature Center staff, including coffee with chicory, sassafras or mint tea, sumac lemonade, stuffed day lilies, sheep sorrel soup, sweet and sour evening primrose over rice, purslane casserole, lambs-quarter quiche, various breads served with ramp butter and rose petal, elderberry and current jellies and a salad featuring wood sorrel and black walnuts. For dessert, candied mint leaves, prepared by Lin Wu, associate professor of biology at Mount Union, and clover caramel custard was served.

Rickard explained that the day lilies were found growing outside of Bracy Hall, on Mount Union's campus, and were stuffed with a mixture of cream cheese, yogurt, garlic and parsley. "It was a kind of flavored cream cheese stuffing, and the yogurt was used just to thin it out a bit," said Rickard.

The sheep sorrel soup was described as a tangy, cream soup. "Sheep sorrel is a pasture weed," explained Rickard. "The evening primrose added a peppery taste to the sweet and sour dish and was served with rice, pineapple, green pepper and mushrooms."

Purslane is a weed and lambs-quarter can be described as being much like spinach.

Bonnie Twaddle, coordinator of volunteers at the nature center, made flower arrangement to grace the table settings, and the d'cor was very outdoorsy and "just very pretty," according to Rickard. "Someone told me that they thought searching for edibles in the woods would be the most enjoyable, but that eating was actually the best part!"

Most of the recipes came from a cookbook belonging to Rickard. Rickard cautioned that no one should prepare food such as this without extensive knowledge about wild edibles. "A lot of what is out there is toxic, so you really need to know what you are doing," said Rickard.

Rickard said that although the event requires quite an effort on the part of the Nature Center staff, particularly in food preparation, they definitely plan on holding the event again in the future.

"I think everyone had a real good time, and we had a great time preparing for it as well," said Rickard. "We had people tell us that they felt like they were dining in a gourmet restaurant. It was definitely not like starvation food!

The Nature Center offers a variety of workshops and events, such as the Beech Leaf Bistro, which are open to the public, and many of them are free. The trails, including the handicap-accessible All-People's Trail, are open to the public during the daylight hours. In addition, the Nature Center features a Visitor's Center and Bird Observatory and the Huston Farm.

The Center is host to various groups of schoolchildren as well as adults, throughout the year. During the summer, the Center holds a day camp for elementary school children. The Center provides a resource to support and enhance the education of all students attending Mount Union, as well as public and private schools and other organized youth groups.

The Nature Center is located six miles south of Mount Union College on Daniel Street, just off Route 183. For more information about the Center, or for more information regarding Center events, call (330) 823-7487.

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