Monday, April 26, 2021

V is for Vittels of morels, ferns and rose stems #AtoZChallenge

Dear Readers,

Welcome to the last week of the #Blogging from A to Z  April Challenge 2021. My theme this year is based on the Japanese concept of Ichigo Ichie which means--"What we are experiencing right now will never happen again. And therefore, we must value each moment like a beautiful treasure."

I've put together a collage of such moments which can be seen as chance occurrences, coincidences, pre-destined or random (depending on who you ask) for this month's challenge. 

I hope you'll enjoy being here.

Thank you.

Arti

Number 6 in the list of rules listed in the epilogue of  The Book of Ichigo Ichie is:

Apply mindfulness to your five senses: Train yourself in the art of listening, watching, touching, tasting and smelling to give each moment the richness of human perception.


You may recall my first post, Alex and the Bees, of this year's A to Z Challenge. It described a moment in May 2019 when Alex, Apu and I were sitting in Pradhanji's house in Maunda, the last village of Uttarakhand.

I mentioned in that post that we had been exploring the village and its surrounding forests before we stopped for tea at Pradhanji's house that day.

I was looking for a suitable V to use in the title of this post: verdant, vegetarian, very tasty, when 'vittels' showed up. It's a nonstandard variant of the word 'victuals' meaning food or provisions for human beings. Perfect, I thought and plucked the word out of its archaic, nonstandard usage to use it as the title today.

May 2019: 

As soon as we joined the small group of village-guides on the dirt road outside Guruji's house, our education began. Not a single tree, shrub, leaf, bird, insect we spotted on our walk that morning was left un-named or un-explored.

Wild roses were heavy with pale, pink blooms. Their rebellious vines had carpeted everything in their way. We stopped. Picked a thorny stem. Learnt about the parts that are bitter and the ones that are sweet.   
And then we ate:
Having tasted success and rose sweetness on the first day out, our food foraging plans grew bolder. Alex mentioned morels and wondered if May would be a good time to go morel hunting.

"Of Course!" everyone said. "No harm trying...if weather permits."

So, the next day, fortified with pahadi (mountain) picnic food, Pradhanji, Guruji and Veeru led us deeper and higher in the forests and hills surrounding the village.  Our volunteer guides walked in slippers while the three of us laced up our trekking shoes and tucked our walking sticks in our bag packs. The morning was clear and crisp, not a cloud was visible in the sky.
 
Our first find was fiddle-head ferns or lingda (local name). It's also called German asparagus. It is delicious. 

Recipe: Wash the young stalks, take out the stringy sides, chop them into half inch pieces. Heat some butter/ghee, stir in the lingda for a minute or two. Add salt and eat. Yummy!
The climb up the mountain, covered with deodars and oaks and a thick undergrowth wasn't easy. But, every now and then, food would be spotted, picked, explained and  recipes discussed. Those stops were enough to recharge our lungs.

Pradhanji and Guruji scampered ahead like deer.

Veeru stayed with us: guiding our city feet through forest floors. 'Walk this way, avoid that,' he'd pepper his chatter with helpful instructions. He told us about his dream of making a living as an artist based in the mountains. He  remembered his childhood aloud in the forest--recalling a time when foraging was a way of life, not like today when it was being done to show the visitors a side of their lives they themselves were on the verge of forgetting. 

Pradhanji called from up ahead. We joined him, He showed us the gold he'd gathered. Forest oyster mushrooms are called chhatri or the squeaky sounding chyanoon by the locals.
After this point, I had to tuck my camera under my arm to use both my hands to scramble up the slippery slope where the men were sure they'd find morels. They'd seen some last year, they said, in this part of the slope. It amazes me how their eyes can spot so easily and their memories recall so clearly without maps or a GPS! While someone I live with (not taking any names) can't spot salt in the kitchen cupboard! 

"Aa jao...yahan hain." (Come over, spotted some) called out Pradhanji.
They'll  find better ones growing near this one. And I'll try to use my camera, not the phone.
This was the hardest photo to click. My foot kept slipping. I wouldn't go too far down if  I slipped but getting hurt, twisting an ankle or scraping a knee, would've made the climb down and the trek back to the village pretty onerous.
Notice how all three of us are holding on to branches...photo courtesy: Veeru.
After another half an hour or so, we reached the top. Twigs and dried leaves were collected to roast the steamed cakes (called Sidku) that Julie and her helpful neighbour had prepared and packed for our planned picnic in the forest.

The dough for sidku is prepared with flour mixed with boiled potatoes. Doughnut size dough balls are steamed. They're quite dense. One piece and you don't need to be fed for the rest of the day. Easy food to carry when one is travelling through forests and mountains. We were told these can be filled with poppy seeds, too. Soft sniggers, wicked winks and general hilarity accompanied that piece of extra information. Julie told us that just one of those poopy seed buns was enough to knock you off into happy land for many hours.

The ones we ate that day were prepared simply with potatoes and salt. Sidku was roasted in the fire and eaten with chillies under the shade of tall and wide deodars. Birds were busy singing. Ants were busy working. The six of us munched and absorbed the mountain in silence.

After enough time had passed, we got up and carried our forest loot back to the village. 

Sadly, in their enthusiasm to impress us with their culinary skills, the men used too many spices in the morel dish. Alex, Apu and I would've preferred a simpler preparation. But we thanked them for their hospitality and discussed the 'what if' among the three of us afterwards.

The fiddle head fern or lingda, however, was cooked to perfection: simply and quickly, using ghee, garlic, salt and pepper.

We polished it off with gusto.

You may recall from J is for Julie post that when we had visited the village in October of 2018, Julie had told us she didn't like to cook. It was good to see her feminist ways had found her helpers in the kitchen by the time we went back in May 2019. 

Pradhanji and Julie's  brother-in-law, Kishen, prepared dinner that night.
The fact that this post has more short clips or V for videos makes me smile:) 

Have you ever foraged for food in the wild or outdoors?
Do morels grow where you live?
What's you favourite spring-time vegetable? 

This year, I'm participating in #BlogchatterA2Z  powered by theblogchatter.com 

24 comments:

  1. Wow! You ate a wild rose's stem! The food seems amazing, but the picky eater in me is wondering how I'll ever survive on such trips, lol.
    The golden oyster mushrooms rare so delicate as if ready to crumble at one touch. Love this post, and thank you for the videos. <3

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    1. There's always daal chawal in the hills:) You'll do good. xx

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  2. Hari Om
    That's spooky - I was thinking of the word 'vittels' just the other day! Didn't end up using it though. I grew up learning to forage from my grandad and uncles and father... I don't recall ever eating rose stems though! I adore asparagus - and near equivalents. YAM xx

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    1. I love asparagus too, especially the delicate white ones--only ate it once in Berlin. Loved it.

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  3. I've not heard the word vittels for years - I like it! A lovely post with great pictures. I like collecting mushrooms, wild garlic, beach samphire and blackberries!

    Here's my V!

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    1. I'll have to google beach samphire.
      Blackberries--yummy:)

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  4. It's the first time I am coming across the word vittels.... I believe one should attempt the local cuisine of any place one visits

    https://pagesfromjayashree.blogspot.com/2021/04/v-for-veritaserum.html

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    1. Most of my happiest travel memories feature local food:)

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  5. Wild rose stems! I had no idea, and seeing the video was wonderful. So many wonderful finds! I've neve been food foraging, although I've done some plant foraging. I get fruits and vegetables delivered weekly from our local CSA (community supported agriculture) which works with local farmers and growers to provide local, mostly organic food. I especially love Spring when all sorts of wonders appear in the box - fiddleheads and morels, ramps and rhubarb and more.

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    1. I'm loving the sound of your food deliveries Deborah. It's a blessing to be able to eat locally grown, organic and seasonal produce.

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  6. Enjoyed the V for Videos. Many new discoveries here & Interesting too!

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  7. Great and fun forest harvest! I love wild aspargus, and morels too. In a pan, with garlic and parsley, nothing else needed ;)

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    1. Exactly, morels taste best with butter and garlic--mouth is watering now:)

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  8. Touching, tasting, smelling... I like what you shared about using our senses to add richness to our lives. I forget to do that.

    I've eaten rosebuds, but not wild ones, and not the stems! Amazing!

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    1. Thank you Trudy. Happy to see you here:)

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  9. Foraging is getting more popular in Maine. I've never done it myself but do find it fascinating. I would want to do it with a knowledgeable guide to be sure I didn't forage anything poisonous.

    It sounds like your excursion was amazing! Glad you made it there and back injury free.

    Weekends In Maine

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    1. Me too:)

      And good guides make it safe as well as fun to forage for food. Our trio of villagers certainly did.

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  10. Never foraged for food in the wilds... Only foraged for food in one of our last trips in Europe just before the covid where we couldn't find anything without pork in it! That was the only forage I can think of. Wow even this post of yours left me with a craving for food... But I loved that GPS part. And yes, I too live with someone (Yup not naming) who cannot find salt in the kitchen :#!

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    1. Ha! HA! to the foraging and for the need GPS needs for salt spotting in kitchen cupboards:)
      Cheers Ira. xx

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  11. They were pulling your leg :D We eat poppy seed pastries in Hungary all the time, but they don't get you high. You'd have to eat several kilos of them, anyway.
    Sounds like a fun trip! I'd love to learn more about foraging too.

    The Multicolored Diary

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    1. Ah! Wish I had known this then;)
      Will have to taste the Hungarian pastry to check--Ha! HA!

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