Pickles and Relishes

By Amy Crowell

When stumbling upon the mother lode of edible delights on a foraging hike, the instinct to gorge and hoard might kick in. Abundance is brief and rare in the wild, and there’s nothing wrong with indulging and collecting enough to store for later, as long as the plant can still regenerate once you’ve picked your share. Over the years, I’ve learned to stick plastic bags in my pockets when I set out on a walk or a bike ride, just in case I find the perfect patch of something delicious to eat.

I also keep canning supplies at the ready in my kitchen, in case the bounty should need to be preserved. Think pickles and relishes—great ways to capture the tastes, textures and colors of your foraged finds.

Pickling is the art of preserving foods in a vinegar or salt solution, and relishes are vegetables and fruits that are chopped, quickly cooked and pickled. Traditional brining often requires long, involved procedures in which fruits or veggies are covered with salt water and allowed to produce lactic acid for fermentation. The fresh-pack, vinegar-brine method of pickling is much quicker, requires less space and equipment and is perfect for preserving crunchy vegetables like cucumbers, green beans and okra.

Wild vegetables that are good candidates for pickling include prickly pear pads, wild onion bulbs and bulbils (the tiny teardrop-shaped onions that appear like flowers on some species) and the thickest purslane stems. Green grapes with soft seeds are delicious pickled, but their tangy, rhubarb-like taste is more suitable for sweet brines. Green grapes are also great for more forgiving relishes that allow you to blend interesting flavors and textures, as everything in a relish is chopped to roughly the same size. Add a few wild chile pequin peppers to a relish, and the hot dogs at your next cookout will be a spicy hit!