Seize the Day Lilies — and 2 Other Delicious Wild Foods to Forage Right Now

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day lily salad
Closed day lily buds are perfect raw in salads — crunchy, yielding, slightly sweet.

I’ve edited over a thousand stories for Edible, but while I’m probably never going to use what I’ve learned about launching a goat dairy, craft-candy company or popsicle empire, there’s one category of stories whose takeaways I implement almost daily: foraging.

I’ve had the pleasure of working with urban forager Marie Viljoen often over the years and while I’ve also taken two of her wonderful weed walks, most of what she’s taught me has been through just plain reading her stories. And now, I see edible plants everywhere I look. Especially right now.

If you’re new to urban foraging, you’re in luck, because three of the easiest, most interesting eats Marie taught me about are ripe right now. My favorites:

  • Day Lilies: They’re invasive, everywhere, and easy to identify. Plus, as the name explains, each bloom only lasts a day, so I don’t feel bad about my snack. As Marie says, the closed buds are perfect raw in salads — crunchy, yielding, slightly sweet. Steamed, they are a delicate, green beanish treat needing little more than a suggestion of melted butter and a nip of salt. Gently pickled in vinegar, they pair well with sweet spices such as allspice or cloves. Dried and rehydrated, the viscous buds are the golden needles of hot and sour soup. The Chinese and Japanese have known this for eons. And if you are dexterous, the delicate, day-old petals can be persuaded to accommodate a simple stuffing, à la zucchini blossom. Bread crumbs, ricotta, a speckling of lemon zest, a panful of foaming sweet butter.
  • Juneberries: Another invasive that’s ripe right now, juneberries, aka Amelanchier, are fruiting on their silver-leaved trees everywhere I look — in front of the library, on the sidewalk in front of the Uniqlo store. I stand there and eat my fill, and fill a bag, too, looking a loon to passersby, but I can’t help myself. As Marie says, firm juneberries are easy to collect by the bucket, stripped from their branches. The flavor is sweet, without the tart edge of blueberries, and the tiny seeds when crunched release a frisson of cyanide. This almondy essence becomes deeply pronounced when the fruit is cooked: Amelanchier pie is redolent of marzipan. Amelanchier jelly is better than the jam — the clear scarlet juice free of the small seeds is a wobbly perfection on white morning rolls. Mix Calvados and juneberries and macerate the fruit for six months, unstoppering the bottle when early summer seems a preposterous memory. Splashing some dry sparkling wine onto a measureful creates a drink that seamlessly melts continents into a buzz in the mouth. Disks of crisp, buttery shortcrust pastry topped with a warm compote of juneberries (just add sugar and a little lemon juice), beneath a dollop of pillowy whipped cream are what Marie says she may whimper for when The End threatens.
  • Mulberries: Walking over a mess? Look up. As Marie says, mulberries are often despised as a coagulating purple mess underfoot on June sidewalks. But they are wonderful to eat, unappreciated as one of the most elusive and fleeting tastes in the berry world. Too delicate to withstand transportation, the fruit, each resembling a miniaturized bunch of grapes, are seldom seen even at farmers markets. Delicate mulberries will squash, bruise and bleed. Drop them softly into small brown paper lunch bags. Tucked into tiny tarts with a handful of juneberries or raspberries, the mulberries ooze their amethyst syrup through the warm pastry. Or just eat them with cream for dessert.
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