Foraging for Fern Shoots with the Seasons

We don’t usually think of our climate as seasonal. Since young, we read about frigid winters in storybooks, or watch movies with falling autumn leaves turning the ground red and yellow. But for us those scenes only happen in far away places. In our humid tropics we are blessed with relatively consistent temperatures and rainfall throughout the year. The grass is always greener on the other side; I’m sure many of us (myself included) sometimes admire the excitement that changing seasons bring. Waiting for the first snowfall, or for the wild flowers to bloom in the meadow.

In fact, we do have variations in our weather even though the changes are not as dramatic as temperate regions. We have our Northeast monsoon, Southwest monsoon, inter-monsoon period, Sumatra squalls, etc. Even within the monsoon season we have wet phases and dry phases. Unfortunately this information is something that we read as children only in our geography textbooks for the sole purpose of examinations, forgotten two hours after the examination ends. We know it but don’t understand it. Most of us did not grow up living close to the land. We don’t rely directly on her for food through farming, foraging, fishing, and hunting. As such, the weather is just an inconvenience to be dealt with.

I found myself becoming much more aware of the weather and seasons ever since I started farming. For example, certain crops suit certain weather, or that the watering requirements would change, or the kind of weeds would change. However, it was in foraging that I realized how reliant one becomes on the weather. In farming, there is relatively more control: you can water more during the hot season, select suitable crops, provide more shade, etc. When one forages, the difficulty and beauty is that one has to accept and adapt. You submit to the changes of the environment and let Nature decide your menu, if there is any at all, for the day…

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Vegetable Fern / Paku Pakis

We forage for fern shoots quite a bit while living in Project Lui. There are a few types of edible ferns and the one we forage is (I think!) the vegetable fern, or paku pakis / pucuk paku in Malay (Diplazium esculentum). It is commonly eaten throughout Asia and even in Hawaii. They thrive in wet soil and partially shaded areas. Continue reading

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Foraging for Edible Mushrooms – Termite Mushroom

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I never thought that wild mushrooms in Malaysia and Singapore could be edible. The image of picking mushrooms from the ground and placing them in a weaved basket to bring home for dinner doesn’t seem realistic here. It’s only possible in a children’s storybook happening in temperate Europe where everything is pristine, not in our tropical land of mosquitoes and leeches.

I realized this isn’t true ever since we started staying at Project Lui. We are in the rural villages amidst foggy mountains and waterfalls. Knowledge of the land is still somewhat strong here and people still forage for food in the wild. One of the wild mushrooms we learned about is the termite mushroom. Actually I came up with the name myself because I don’t think there’s a common name in English for it. In Malay, it’s “cendawan busut” (cendawan means mushroom). The scientific name is Termitomyces sp., which provides a clue about this mushroom. Termito like termites, and myces like fungus. Continue reading

Are Garden Snails in Singapore Edible?

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Twenty snails harvested in a few minutes on a drizzling day

Yes they are. We have eaten them a few times over the past months. The snails at Project Canossian have been munching away at our seedlings and we thought that the best way for pest control would be to introduce a natural predator – the Homo sapiens. In a more diverse ecosystem, we would probably get more natural predators like ducks, lizards, beetles, birds, snakes, etc. However this is not common in an urban area surrounded by lawns.

A favorite permaculture adage is “the problem is the solution“. And as Bill Mollison says You don’t have a snail problem, you have a duck deficiency!” Over here, our duck deficiency is solved by some very omnivorous human beings.

To be accurate, these are the common snails you see all over Singapore. The kind you might have stepped on accidentally after a rainy day. They are known as African Land Snails (Achatina fulica). Before attempting the African Land Snails, we have actually tried eating the very invasive Golden Apple Snails (Pomacea canaliculata), commonly found at the reservoirs with their pink eggs along the water edges.

In an urban garden that does not have any livestock, these garden snails are the only source of meat. In fact, they are said to be very healthy because they are low in fats. If you are looking to be more self-sufficient in food, these snails are a great addition to all the greens for a whole diet. Not to mention they are free-range, organic, wild foraged, hand-picked, and “add any fancy marketing term here“. Continue reading

Foraging Diaries (NTU Herb Garden)

Michelle is our resident forager. If you get the chance to take a stroll with her, you might notice that she has the ability to stop suddenly to pluck off some weed-looking plant from the roadside and put it in her mouth. She will be sharing her foraging diaries with us in hope that we can start seeing the forest as a free grocery store. Here goes…


We got word about a day before about some chefs wanting to forage – Mads Reflunds, fresh off the 4×4 event, with other chefs – Dave from Burnt Ends, Bryan from Morsels, Denise who gathered us all, us farmer folks, and Rebecca, interviewing Mads for the Straits Times.

We brought the guys to NTU (Nanyang Technological University), one of my favourite spots for the curious plants, including the fragrant Tonkin Jasmine, with its mandarin colored, edible flowers blossoms.

I am observing the responses. Uncle Ng leads the tour, serving his usual rounds of herbal tea (which I politely turn down). Mads gingerly picks up, and sniffs the Asiatic Pennywort, Centella Asiatica, breaking into a grin – finally – someone who gets excited by ingredients! (often times I get blank stares when I share with friends about this).

We move through a few other plants familiar to us – Wild Mints, Shinybush, Wormwood, Blue Butterfly Pea and Yellow Pea flowers, Wild Maracuja (tiny in size), etc. I am once again exhausted from the mosquitos that leave me bitten and bleeding. Continue reading