Foraging season is in full swing in my area. This means that I am not only spending a lot of time in the field picking wild edibles, but also concentrating my effort on preserving those same foods. The local high altitude, late and early freezes, and arid climate mean that Colorado has a spectacularly short growing season. It just isn’t possible to eat fresh wild foods all year long here. That is why I put so much energy into preserving foraged foods throughout the summer. If I preserve my wild produce in small batches, using a variety of methods, I can enjoy scrumptious foraged foods all year long.
Many foraged foods naturally lend themselves to being dried. Nettle leaves, lamb’s quarter, elderflowers, sumac and mushrooms all fit the bill. These foods can be reconstituted in sauces and braises, used in rubs, and made into tea throughout the cold season. They are a staple of my wild pantry.
Feral fruits are naturals to preserve through canned jams, jellies, chutneys and sauces. Wild roots and sturdier vegetables make tremendous fodder for pickling. Frozen blanched dock greens and milkweed buds and pods make for an easy recipe ingredient or side dish when it is cold outside.
There are so many options for preserving wild foods, and they yield lasting memories and future full bellies. But there are certain foraged foods that don’t take well to being preserved by any of the above methods, particularly tender herbs such as wild mint, sweet cicely and oregano. Over the years, I’ve discovered that my favorite method for preserving these delicate foods is to mix them with softened butter and freeze them into logs known as compound butter.
Spread compound butter on plastic wrap or parchment paper. Credit: Wendy Petty
Preserving compound butter
Compound butter freezes beautifully and can be used throughout the year. Cut off a coin of compound butter, and you have the perfect way to finish a steak, fish, shellfish and cooked vegetables. Compound butter is tantalizingly good when spread right onto a piece of bread. And it is a beautiful way to finish a sauce.
Wild onion makes my favorite compound butter. I both dry and pickle the bulbs of my local wild onion, which tastes strongly of garlic. But their numerous and lengthy leaves just don’t stay as flavorful when dried.
The ideal solution is to freeze them in butter. Last year, I made 10 pounds of wild onion butter. I used a slice of it nearly every day for dinner. And everyone in my family was crazy about its taste.
If you are looking for a fun way to extend your enjoyment of delicate foraged herbs, preserving them as compounds butters can take your meals to the wild side.
Wild Compound Butter
1 pound unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
¼ – ½ cup chopped fresh wild herbs (used alone, or in combination)
1. Thoroughly mix the wild herbs and butter in a bowl.
2. Tear off four 18-inch rectangles of parchment paper or plastic wrap.
3. Place ¼ of the compound butter in an approximate log shape in the middle of each paper.
4. Fold the wrap over the butter, then use your fingers to tighten it back toward you. This is how the round log shape is formed.
5. Finish rolling the butter in the paper.
6. Pick up the log of butter, and at the same time, twist each end of the paper in opposite directions. This tightens the compound butter into a perfect log.
7. Refrigerate if you intend to use it within a few week. Alternately, freeze the compound butter logs still in their parchment wrappers for up to a year.
* Make absolutely certain that you have correctly identified wild onions, as they have dangerous look-alikes like death camas.
Top photo: Compound butter. Credit: Wendy Petty