Send in the Invasivores
Recipes for Ecosystem Recovery
By Sarah DeWeerdt
“We’re trying to be unsustainable,” says University of Vermont conservation biologist Joe Roman. And he says it with glee. Roman runs www.eattheinvaders.org, a compendium of invasive species recipes. He is one of a growing number of people who advocate controlling invasives by eating them. Instead of relying on toxic pesticides, expensive eradication campaigns, or risky introductions of biological control agents, “why not use our own appetites to good advantage?” he suggests.
Admittedly, the proposal is a little tongue-in-cheek. “Eating invaders is rarely going to result in complete eradication,” Roman acknowledges, though it could significantly reduce some species in defined areas.
There are more “invasivores” around than you might think. Many in the increasingly trendy foraging movement promote eating invasives, even if not explicitly. In this photo essay, we present favorite recipes for invasive species from half a dozen expert foragers.
Invasives can be a practical culinary choice: they’re widely available, and novice foragers needn’t worry about taking too much. Another argument in their favor is straight-up foodie-ism: “This is something that you can’t buy to eat,” says Jackson Landers of the pigeons he has hunted in Manhattan and Brooklyn.
Landers, author of Eating Aliens: One Man’s Adventures Hunting Invasive Animal Species, says the birds can be lured to the hunter’s hand with “a pocketful of birdseed.” “It takes practice, but it’s poultry that’s right there.” The small birds are tedious to debone, so he opts to “cook them whole, like tiny little Thanks-giving turkeys.”
Thankful for invasive species? That might be a stretch, but eating well could be the best revenge.
1/4 cup red wine
1 teaspoon tarragon
Kill both pigeons. Pluck them while they are still warm (plucking becomes more difficult after they cool). Then remove the head and feet and gut them like fish. Be sure to remove the crop and its contents, which are directly under the neck.
Warm the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Rub the pigeons with the tarragon and salt and pepper to taste. Pan-sear the birds for about two minutes per side and then transfer them to an oven-safe container. Place them in the oven at about 400 degrees F and cook to about 150 degrees internal temperature. Pour the wine into the hot pan and allow it to tighten up into a glaze. When the glaze is ready, pour it over the pigeons and let them continue to cook in it.
Pairs well with a pinot grigio.
Photo of cooked pigeons and recipe by Jackson Landers
Rose Petal Scotch Pancakes
Rosa rugosa, a hardy deciduous shrub native to eastern Asia, is displacing native rose species in seashore habitats throughout northern Europe, including Scotland’s Outer Hebrides. “However, it’s wonderfully scented, beautiful, and attracts bumblebees,” says Fiona Bird, author of The Forager’s Kitchen, who lives part-time on the island of South Uist.
“The Rosa rugosa is the lazy forager’s star,” Bird adds. “The bushes are relatively easy to forage.” They have larger, sturdier petals and hips compared to the native dog rose.
Look for the “candy-floss pink flowers” with an “intoxicating” scent during the summer months in habitats such as overgrown hedgerows, sand dunes, sea cliffs, roadsides, and waste ground. “Forage the petals alone; don’t pull the whole rose away,” she advises, “shaking well to allow any insects to relocate.”
In autumn, come back for the hips, which you can use in “syrup; jelly, jam, and chutney with crabapples; and tea.” A spiced rose-hip syrup is not only “rich in vitamin C [but] doubles up as a nonalcoholic treat for drivers at Christmas time.”
As for the petals, add them to pancakes to create sweet, heart-shaped decorations. Use them to flavor Turkish delight, homemade marshmallows, apricot jam, ice cream, sorbet, fruit curds. Or simply steep them in water and then boil with sugar to make a “hectic pink Rosa rugosa syrup,” which is excellent spooned over ice cream.
20 Rosa rugosa petals, insect-free (shaken) but unwashed
3⁄4 cup self-rising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 tablespoons superfine (caster) sugar
1 medium egg
Generous 1⁄2 cup milk
Butter for greasing
Honey or syrup and bilberries, to serve
1. Sift the flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl and add the sugar. Make a well in the center and pop the egg in. Using a small whisk, mix the milk with the egg, gradually drawing in the flour and sugar. Beat the batter well until it is smooth and free of lumps.
2. In a skillet, heat a knob of butter (do not allow it to brown) and drop a scant tablespoonful of the batter into the pan (it can be easier to put the batter into a measuring cup and slowly pour the batter into the skillet from the cup).
3. When the pancake puffs up and starts to bubble, arrange a petal on the top. Then flip the pancake over with a spatula. Cook for another minute, until the pancake puffs up and the underside is golden. Repeat until you have used all the batter, adding additional butter as necessary. Wrap the pancakes in a clean dish towel to keep warm.
Photo and recipe by Fiona Bird. Adapted and reprinted with permission from The Forager’s Kitchen, published by CICO Books
Chinese-Style Lesser Garlic Mustard
“Bland lesser celandine and bitter garlic mustard are a match made in foraging heaven,” says “Wildman” Steve Brill, who leads foraging tours in and around New York City and is the author of a foraging app, Wild Edibles. “The two are so ubiquitous” during late winter and early spring, when wild foods are mostly scarce. More precisely, “Garlic mustard is especially good around the time it is flowering,” Brill says. But harvest lesser celandine, he cautions, before it sends up “a long stalk with a flower that looks like a buttercup [above] kidney-shaped, shiny leaves [that] grow in a mat” in moist, wooded areas.
Both plants are invasive in the eastern U.S. and can be harvested “in huge quantities.” But of lesser celandine Brill says, “I neglected it for decades.” Raw, the leaves have a “bitter and acrid aftertaste” (at least when grown in American soil; foragers in the plant’s native Britain don’t have this complaint). But when boiled “it had no flavor whatsoever,” he found. Finally, inspiration struck: mix it with garlic mustard leaves, which become more bitter when cooked. “The one modulates the intensity of the other in this Chinese cooked-greens dish” shared here, he says. “Combine bitter with bland, and you may have the best of all possible worlds.”
2 teaspoons peanut oil
1/2 teaspoon dark sesame oil
2 tablespoons vegan bacon bits (available in health food stores)
1/2 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely chopped
3 large cloves of garlic, chopped
1/2 teaspoon crushed hot pepper flakes, or to taste
4 cups young lesser celandine leaves
3 cups garlic mustard leaves
1/2 tablespoon tamari soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon sherry or white wine
1/2 tablespoon salt
1. Parboil the lesser celandine leaves for 2 minutes in rapidly boiling, salted water; drain.
2. In a wok or frying pan, stir-fry the vegan bacon bits, ginger, garlic, and crushed hot pepper in the peanut and sesame oils for 30 seconds.
3. Add the lesser celandine and garlic mustard and stir-fry for 2 minutes.
4. Add the remaining ingredients and stir-fry for another 2 minutes.
Serves 4 to 6
Recipe by Steve Brill
Bigorneaux à la Madison
“I’m more of a conservation biologist than I am a cook,” says Joe Roman, who runs www.eattheinvaders.org. “I tend to make simple things.” Roman uses this recipe, a gift from renowned French chef Jacques Pépin, to prepare periwinkle snails. Periwinkles arrived from Europe in the 1860s and are now the predominant snail along much of the northeast coast of North America. To harvest them, Roman says, go at low tide to a rocky shore and look for the voracious herbivores “eating algae off the rocks.” The shell is a squat, dark, corkscrew shape, and the meat “tastes like the ocean, delicious.” Best of all, he says, “Here’s an example of a species that you never have to worry about overharvesting.”
3 cups periwinkles, each about one inch in diameter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon Tabasco
1/4 cup dry white wine
In a large bowl of cold water, wash and rub together approximately three cups of periwinkles. Lift the periwinkles from the water and put them into a medium saucepan, preferably stainless steel. Add the olive oil, Tabasco, and wine to the periwinkles and bring to a hard boil. Cover and boil for 2 to 3 minutes, removing the lid and stirring them once or twice while they cook. Transfer to a bowl, let cool to warm, and enjoy. Serves 4 to 6.
Recipe by Jacques Pépin, courtesy Joe Roman
Silverberry & Spice Bush Bread
“You almost never find just one sweet autumn olive tree,” says Ellen Zachos, author of Backyard Foraging: 65 Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat. Sweet autumn olive, or silverberry, is a shrub native to eastern Asia that forms thickets in abandoned farm fields and lines the roadsides of New England and the Mid-Atlantic states. The berry, about the size of a pinky fingernail and a very vibrant pink with silvery mottling, tastes “both tart and sweet at the same time,” she says. Use the extremely versatile fruit to make jelly or jam, a dry white wine, a variation on lemon meringue pie, or—as in the recipe here—a simple quick bread. Enjoy without guilt: not only is the plant invasive, but its fruit is “very high in vitamin C and lycopene.”
1 stick softened butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground spicebush berry
1 cup silverberry pulp
1 teaspoon vanilla
Cream butter, sugar, and egg. Set aside.
Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and ground spicebush berry; then blend dry ingredients into butter mixture. Add berry pulp (run the berries through a food mill with a medium disc) and vanilla and mix thoroughly. Spoon batter into a greased, 9 x 5 loaf pan and let sit 20 minutes.
Bake at 375 degrees F for 50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Remove from pan and let cool on a rack.
Recipe and photo by Ellen Zachos
Wild Boar Herbed Sausage
The pig is a cosmopolitan species: native to Eurasia but with feral populations found throughout wide swaths of North America, South America, Australia, and New Zealand and on many Pacific Islands. “They’re invasive and destructive wherever they live, so in general there’s never a season on them,” says Hank Shaw, author of Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast.
Particularly in spring and fall, a feral pig hunter can get “a very superior pig, a pig with a better fat content and better muscle tone” than those of any domestic hog. In spring the animals will be fat with “lots of greenery” and “green barley,” while in fall “there’s a very good chance that you can get a wild pig finished on acorns,” Shaw says.
The “coarse, country-style wild boar sausage recipe” below would be an ideal use for such meat. “If you have an exceptional pig, then you want to be very minimal with your spices.” This recipe has “only a few herbs for flavoring, which allows the taste of the meat to come through.”
But, Shaw cautions, “Don’t make this with a stanky old boar.” Even at the best times of the year, large boars “loaded with” testosterone can have meat that is “very gamey—and I don’t use that word lightly,” he explains. What to do with “sagey, stinky pigs”? Make “chorizo or something very heavily spiced.”
4 pounds wild boar meat
1 pound pork shoulder (make sure it’s fatty)
25 grams sugar (about 2 tablespoons)
35 grams kosher salt (about 2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage
¼ cup ice water
½ cup white wine
Put the meat in the freezer for an hour or so, or until it is almost frozen. Take out some hog casings and set them in a bowl of very warm water.
Chop the meat and fat into 1-inch chunks. Combine the sugar, salt, garlic, thyme, rosemary, and sage with the meat. Mix well with your hands and let it rest in the fridge for 1 hour.
Grind the mixture through your meat grinder, using the coarse die (you can use a food processor in a pinch, but you will not get a fine texture). If your room is warm, set the bowl with the ground meat into another bowl with ice to keep it cold.
Add the water and wine. Mix thoroughly, using either a stand mixer with a paddle attachment set on low, for 60 to 90 seconds, or use your (very clean) hands. This is important to get the sausage to bind properly. Once it is mixed well, put it back in the fridge for 10 to 20 minutes.
Stuff the sausage into the casings all at once. Twist off links by pinching the sausage down and twisting it, first in one direction and then, with the next link, the other direction. Or you could tie them off with butcher’s string.
Hang the sausages in a cool place. The colder it is, the longer you can hang them. If it is warmer than 70 degrees F outdoors, hang for 1 hour; if it’s in the 40s or even high 30s, you can hang the links overnight. Once they have dried a bit—the color of the links will darken—put them in the fridge until needed. Refrigerated, the sausages will keep for at least a week. If you are freezing the sausages, wait a day before doing so. This will tighten up the sausages and help them keep their shape in the deep freeze.
Remember to cook the sausages slowly. Good sausages hate high heat. Indirect heat on a wood-fire grill is perfect, but my indoor alternative is to put a spot of oil in an ovenproof pan, brown one side over medium-low heat, flip the links, then put them into an oven at 300 degrees F for 20 to 30 minutes. They come out perfectly.
Makes about 20 sausages
Recipe by Hank Shaw, reprinted with permission from Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast, published by Rodale. Photo ©Holly A. Heyser
Go Back for More
For more recipes as well as information about foraging for invasives responsibly (you’ll need to know how to identify species with certainty, where and when collecting them is allowed, and whether a hunting license or permit is needed), please check out the resources listed below:
Eat the Invaders
Eating Aliens: One Man’s Adventures Hunting Invasive Animal Species
By Jackson Landers
Storey Publishing, LLC
The Forager’s Kitchen
By Fiona Bird
“Wildman” Steve Brill foraging tours
Wild Edibles app
for iPhone, iPad, and Android
Backyard Foraging: 65 Familiar Plants You Didn’t Know You Could Eat
By Ellen Zachos
Storey Publishing, LLC
Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast
By Hank Shaw