Outdoor bounty: Master Naturalists forage and prepare a delicious feast

 

TRIBUNE/Tom Cherveny Fresh-picked dandelion flowers were dipped in a batter and deep fried to become dandelion fritters.

TRIBUNE/Tom Cherveny
Fresh-picked dandelion flowers were dipped in a batter and deep fried to become dandelion fritters.

MONTEVIDEO — The Heyday Restaurant on Lyndale Avenue in Minneapolis celebrated the arrival of Spring last Tuesday by offering a four-course meal featuring wild foraged foods at $45 a plate.

A better deal could be found that very night in Montevideo: It required two large tables to hold the nine-course offering of wild foraged foods served at no charge in the basement of the Congregational Church on Fourth Street in Montevideo.

Dandelion fritters, a wild greens salad, Minnesota River catfish, pheasant and wild rice hotdish, and lotus root upside down cake are just a sampling of the dishes the tables held. All of the foods were foraged and prepared by participants in a University of Minnesota Master Naturalist program held this spring in Montevideo. The program was sponsored by Clean Up our River Environment.

The participants prepared the feast to celebrate their graduation from the 11-week program. They studied the Prairie and Pothole biome of southern and western Minnesota

“The great thing about it is this is where we live, where they live. They all learn so much more about where they live,’’ said Kylene Olson of Watson, who served as their instructor.

They also learned so much more about the natural foods that continue to grow on the remaining wild lands and waters of the prairie region.

“None of these people will starve in the apocalypse,’’ joked Amy Rager on her Facebook page. She is the director of the Master Naturalist program for the University, a resident of rural Montevideo, and mother to Liza Buchanan, the young angler who supplied the catfish.

There’s a growing interest across the state in foraging wild foods. Preppers, as these wild foragers are often called, make natural foods as large a share of their diet as they can.

State laws allow some foraging on most public lands. New Master Naturalist Ariel Herrod researched the laws and reported that in general, it is okay to harvest fruits and mushrooms for private consumption. Leaves, roots and vegetative reproductive portions are not supposed to be foraged on most state lands. No harvesting of any sort is allowed on Scientific and Natural Areas.

051915-EatWildCatfishfilet

Herrod pointed out that many wild foods can be cultivated on privately-owned lands. And many wild foods, from dandelions to nettles and garlic mustard, are abundant everywhere.

As the dishes made evident, even “weeds” like stinging nettles can be part of a delicious and nutritious meal. Once blanched, nettles lose the sting but retain their flavor and nutritious benefits.

Wild leeks or ramps and garlic mustard can add flavor and spice up a dish. Pickled wild leeks become a worthy treat of their own.

Master Naturalist Mike Murray turned wild rice into pancakes that needed no syrup topping. Ginger and shallots added all the flavoring needed.

Master Naturalist Scott DeMuth showed that acorns are not just for squirrels. Take the tannin from them, and their bitter taste is gone. Acorns are nutritious and can be turned into flour, he pointed out. DeMuth served up a dish of acorn pasta with nettles and greens pesto.

Chef Mike Murray prepares wild rice pancakes in the frying pan. TRIBUNE/Tom Cherveny

Chef Mike Murray prepares wild rice pancakes in the frying pan.
TRIBUNE/Tom Cherveny

With help from his spouse, Wicanhpi Iyotan Win, DeMuth also produced a tasty dessert that he called a twist on pineapple upside down cake. Lotus roots replaced the pineapple.  Maple syrup sugar took the place of refined sugar.

Students in the Master Naturalist program are required to complete a capstone project of their own choosing. Ten of Olson’s students made wild food foraging and preparation their project. As part of the project, they intend to publish a recipe book featuring many of the wild foods that can be foraged on the western Minnesota landscape.

Olson noted that it took lots of effort to forage and prepare the foods, not to mention the challenge of coordinating the work of 10 people to make a feast so large. Yet she was not surprised. From day one, she said she realized how enthusiastic a group these new Master Naturalists are.

That’s evident too by the capstone projects others in the class have taken on. Dawson-Boyd teachers Sharon Vick and Sharon Olson are developing a curriculum to introduce elementary students to the natural world. Appleton attorney Brian Wojtalewicz has removed invasive plants along the Pomme de Terre River and planted 50 trees in their place.

And as for the wild food dishes served in Montevideo, Olson has no doubt they would be worthy of gracing the tables at the trendiest of restaurants.  “Very well done. I am proud of them,’’ said Olson.

 

The Wild Foods Menu

Wild Greens Salad or Wild Greens Sauté

(Plantains, lambs quarters (wild spinach), samaras, wood sorrel, wild lettuces, watercress, dandelion greens)

Pickled Ramps (wild leeks)

Minnesota River Catfish

Pheasant and Wild Rice Hotdish

(Wild garlic greens, cattail stems, burdock, wild rice, pheasant)

Acorn Pasta with Nettle and Greens Pesto

(Nettles, ramps, cheese, garlic mustard, black walnut)

Wild Rice Pancakes

Dandelion Fritters

Lotus Root Upside Down Cake

Prairie Bouquet Tea

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Marsh Lake restoration moving forward, better habitat will benefit wildlife

 

An air boat leads the way as volunteers head to the Marsh Lake islands to ban pelicans. The lake restoration will maintain water levels to isolate and protect the islands, which are important nesting areas for white pelicans.

An air boat leads the way as volunteers head to the Marsh Lake islands to band pelicans. The lake restoration will maintain water levels to isolate and protect the islands, which are important nesting areas for white pelicans.

Win Mitchell has been duck hunting on Marsh Lake since 1966, and knows the days when it was referred to as a duck hunting “mecca,’’ one of the state’s premier destinations.

Now the migrating waterfowl drop down on its waters like motorists who pull in to their favorite café only to find it closed, and hurry back on their way.

“The duck hunting is very poor, very poor,’’ said Mitchell.

He is among those who now hope the good old days are back on their way. Mitchell, a member of the Marsh Lake advisory council, was among those who gathered Monday near Watson to hear about the newly-updated plans by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to restore the ecological system of this upper Minnesota River water body.

If Congress approves funding for the federal share of costs, work on an estimated, $12 million project will get underway in 2016, with a completion date in 2018. It is one of four projects in the President’s budget, and local sponsors are optimistic for its approval, according to David Potter, biologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The gist of the project is to be able to do what nature used to do: allow lake levels to fluctuate. A sluice gate structure will be installed at the site to allow for periodic drawdowns of the riverine lake. The drawdowns will be used when needed to allow aquatic vegetation favored by waterfowl, Sago pond weed in particular, to re-establish.

That’s why the ducks don’t stay, Mitchell pointed out. There’s no longer food to hold them.

David Potter, biologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, described the plans to restore the ecological system of Marsh Lake on May 4.

David Potter, biologist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, described the plans to restore the ecological system of Marsh Lake on May 4.

When Dave Trauba began working at the Lac qui Parle wildlife office 23 years ago, there were still areas in the lake where the beds of Sago pondweed were thick enough to stop a boat.

Today, you’re lucky to find a single plant, said Trauba, manager of the Lac qui Parle wildlife office for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

“The message I tell people the day Marsh Lake started to decline is in 1937 when they built the fixed crest dam. That’s when the death knell for Marsh Lake began,’’ Trauba said.  With steady water levels, aquatic vegetation began a persistent decline that accelerated during the wet years of the 1990’s.

Restoring aquatic vegetation should also improve water quality by reducing how the lake is churned when strong winds blow. Today, winds whip the open waters and re-suspend the sediments, like mixing gravy in a pan.

The project restoration project also calls for restoring the Pomme de Terre River to its historic, natural channel that outlets into the Minnesota River. It was detoured into Marsh Lake when the fixed crest dam was installed..

The project also calls for developing a fish passageway connecting Marsh and Lac qui Parle Lakes. The passageway will be built at a three percent grade, so that native fish can move against the current and into Marsh Lake.

Currently, it’s mainly unwanted carp that are able to swim over the dam spillway and populate Marsh Lake, according to Chris Domeier, fisheries supervisor with the Minnesota DNR in Ortonville.

The passage way will allow 25 species of native fish that prey on carp and their eggs to make the trip as well, he pointed out.

For those worried about the possible arrival of Asian carp to the Minnesota River system, Domeier and others said the current dam at Marsh Lake is no impediment to them. In fact, there is no dam on the Minnesota River that could stop their upstream migration. During spring floods, the Asian carp species would easily swim over (and around) the dam at Granite Falls and around the Churchill Dam at the south end of Lac qui Parle Lake.

Restoring the connectivity between waters needed by native species is our best means of keeping invasive species in check, according to Domeier.

The restoration will go a long ways towards improving the Marsh Lake ecological system, but it won’t by itself perform miracles.

“I think I would be lying if we were going to turn that into gin clear water when you look at our watershed,’’ said Trauba. “But we are going to make it less degraded. That’s really the goal of this project,’’ he explained.

Aerial image provided by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers outlines the proposed work for the restoration.

Aerial image provided by U.S. Army Corps of Engineers outlines the proposed work for the restoration.

 

 

An early mother’s day primer: Mom’s efforts made possible his outdoor career choice

 

Ed Picht working the Minnesota River

Ed Picht working the Minnesota River

MONTEVIDEO — It was his mother who put in the effort that made the difference, her blunders included.

Ed Picht was 14-years-old and already an avid duck hunter.  The sun was yet to rise when his mother drove across the field and dropped him off at the slough.  The first, early light revealed ducks starting to stir and lift from the water.

And that’s when mom began blasting the automobile horn BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, scattering the ducks. Her son was fuming. “I’m just mad mom. What is going on,’’ said Picht, describing the incident from his youth.

“There were ducks flying and I wanted to get your attention,’’ he said his mother answered.

“I had a lot of good times growing up,’’ laughed Picht. His mother, Barbara Picht-Roles,  may not have been much of a hunter, but her willingness to support his love for the outdoors had a lot to do with his career today, he explained.

For seven years now, Ed Picht has served as a Minnesota Conservation Officer based in Montevideo. He credits his mother’s support and outdoor adventures with his older brother Wesley with fostering his appreciation for the outdoor life. Picht spoke April 23 during the annual meeting of the Friends for the Upper Sioux Agency State Park.

He’s been the lead investigator for a number of much- publicized fish and game law cases, the most recent a deer poaching case in Lac qui Parle County. The Minnesota Chapter of The Wildlife Society awarded him its law enforcement award for dedication and service to the protection of Minnesota’s resources in 2010.

Barbara Picht-Roles

Barbara Picht-Roles

His interest in law enforcement came early. When he was in kindergarten, he drew a picture of himself as sheriff of Stevens County.

The Chokio-native started his law enforcement career in Douglas County, where he worked as a part time sheriff’s deputy under then-Sheriff Bill Ingebrigtsen.  He worked law enforcement in Glenwood too before he took his first full time position in Anoka County.

That led to marriage and a sheriff’s deputy position with Wright County for six years.  He worked the night shift and for four of those years as the K9 officer. The night time duties often exposed him to the worst. “Ninety-nine percent of the people I deal with from 10 o’clock at night to 6 in the morning are not your class A citizens,’’ said Picht.

That’s just the opposite of his role today as a conservation officer. He likes to point out that 99 percent of those he meets in the field are good people.

It was while he was serving as the night-time deputy in Anoka that Picht said he realized he wanted to combine his love for the outdoors with his law enforcement interests, and applied to become a Conservation Officer.

Ely, Madison, Montevideo, and Minnetonka were the openings available. His wife Tammy, who today is the owner and instructor at Dance Haven in Montevideo, initially suggested Minnetonka.

Ed Picht and catfish seized from violators.

Ed Picht and catfish seized from violators.

 

 

 

His answer:  “I’m not going to be a game warden in the city. I can’t do it.  It defeats the purpose really. I need to get back out there to the real world.’’

Today, he and CO partner Craig Miska, Ortonville, are responsible for much of the Upper Minnesota River area.

Conservation officers are responsible for much larger geographic areas than was the case years ago. And,  they have more laws to enforce. Along with fish and game laws, they are responsible for enforcing snowmobile and off-highway vehicle laws, wetland, invasive species and other environmental regulations. Picht and Officer Neil Henriksen of Benson once pulled the duty of checking on whether horseback riders in state parks carried state trails passes. “Walking up to horses is not like walking up to snowmobiles,’’ he laughed.

Picht said that behavior cues from those he meets in the field can often tip him off that things are not right and some investigation is needed. Other times, he walks right in on the violations.

On one such occasion he came across a pair of men, each with two fishing lines in the Minnesota River. They had a cooler packed with 36 catfish and a 10-foot long stringer dangling another 14. One of the men happened to own a restaurant in Missouri. He attempted to excuse their transgressions by telling Picht that he’d heard “nobody cares about catfish up here.’’

“Not true,’’ answered the officer.

Working the Fargo flood.

Working the Fargo flood.

People care about their deer too.  Tips from people about suspected poaching activities lead to many of the investigations and ultimately, arrests. He said that people who shoot deer outside of legal hours is probably a more frequent violation in this area than is baiting.

Until Minnesota lengthened its firearm season, another problem was “running and gunning’’ or people who chased and shot deer from their vehicles.

One time he was waiting in the darkness when a shot rang out a full two hours before legal shooting time. A buck went down. Picht interviewed 20 people within a one-mile radius of the area where the shot was heard in hopes of making the case.

He couldn’t. The suspect denied everything and had cleaned out his vehicle thoroughly before meeting with the officer.

Some violators don’t get the chance to cover things up. One day Picht was patrolling during the deer firearm season when the crackle and spatter of radio chatter came over the monitor in his pickup truck. “Station one to central command’’ went the talk as central command relayed the whereabouts of a deer. “It was like they were playing war with this deer,’’ said Picht.

He followed the signal to a farm yard. There, atop the roof of a barn overlooking the valley he spotted an orange-clad radio operator, the apparent “central command.”  Nearby were others in orange, carrying radios along with their shotguns.  “They got in a little trouble for doing that,’’ he said.

In many other cases, taking enforcement action requires loads of investigatory work.  Picht emphasized that he does not bring a case forward until he is confident it is airtight.

Conservation officers also routinely provide assistance to other law enforcement agencies. He’s helped officers wrestle unruly suspects, responded to accident and fire scenes, and gone along with officers to homes where he’s witnessed children living in appalling conditions.

Last winter he took his airboat to Lake Benton and devoted a week to helping search for the bodies of two who had gone through the ice.  Anguished family members watched the searchers from the shore.

Difficult assignments all, but Picht said the rewards of being a conservation officer more than make up for the heart-wrenching duties it can also bring. For him, the biggest reward is always the good people he meets in the field.

“You know, 99 percent of my contacts are really just a conversation,’’ he said.

In every encounter, he always remembers how much his mother and others influenced him as a youth. He knows how much influence a conservation officer can have on people’s lives, especially when it comes to young people. “We can never take that for granted,’’ he said. “We need to really portray a positive experience for people in our day-to-day contacts.’’

Airboat training.

Airboat training.

Wild turkey hunters respond to call for help in Kandiyohi County

Wild turkey

Wild turkey

A dozen, successful wild turkey hunters have brought their birds to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resource’s wildlife office in Sibley State Park since the state put out a call for hunters to voluntarily submit their birds to be tested for the highly pathogenic avian influenza.

Cory Netland, wildlife office supervisor, said he sent the first batch of samples in for testing April 27, and is awaiting the results. The hunters all reported that the birds had been active and appeared healthy when harvested.  They had no reason to suspect their birds might be infected by the H5N2 virus.

In fact, Netland said the hunters told him they brought the birds in for testing out of a “spirit of cooperation.” They appreciate the seriousness of the avian influenza epidemic and its implications for turkey producers in the area. They want to help researchers as they attempt to determine how the virus is being spread to commercial turkey flocks.

Starting April 20, the state has asked successful wild turkey hunters in Kandiyohi, Pope, Meeker, Swift and Stearns counties to help out by bringing their birds in for testing. A simple swab test of the bird’s trachea is all that is required.

The DNR wildlife offices in Sauk Rapids, New London, Glenwood, Carlos Avery and Little Falls are performing the tests. The New London office in Sibley State Park has seen the most birds to date. One hunter made the trip from McLeod County to New London.

Cory Netland

Cory Netland

The wild turkey testing is only a small part of the work that Netland and co-worker Jeff Miller are performing as part of the research into this disease. Roughly one-half of the state’s confirmed cases in commercial flocks are found in the area the two wildlife workers normally cover.

Along with DNR technicians from Madelia, they have been collecting waterfowl fecal matter from around the region. They have collected over 600 samples of waterfowl fecal matter in Kandiyohi and Meeker Counties. All has tested negative.

The job is more complicated than it might sound, as the fecal matter must be collected within 24-hours. The workers rake areas clean where they know waterfowl congregate and return later to collect the samples. The Ripley Golf Course in Litchfield and a variety of wetlands are among the targeted sites.

On the recommendation of others, they initially tried baiting waterfowl on the edges of wetlands but had little success with this approach.

Josh Kavanagh was among the successful hunters who brought a bird in for testing.

Josh Kavanagh was among the successful hunters who brought a bird in for testing.

The workers have also been receiving and helping with the testing of dead raptors and waterfowl that are found by citizens. A bald eagle and sharp-shinned hawk are among the birds that were found. To date, all the raptors and waterfowl have tested negative.

Netland said that in terms of wild waterfowl and raptors, this spring appears very normal. Every year they receive reports of some ill, injured or dead waterfowl and raptors being found by citizens. They have not seen a significant uptick in these reports, although he suspects more people are being watchful and reporting things.

Warm hearts cheer them on as they paddle from Gulf to Arctic Ocean

Six friends comprising the Rediscover North America expedition are, from left: Adam Trigg, Luke Kimmes, Dan Flynn, Winchell Delano, Jarrad Moore, and John Keaveny.

Six friends comprising the Rediscover North America expedition are, from left: Adam Trigg, Luke Kimmes, Dan Flynn, Winchell Delano, Jarrad Moore, and John Keaveny.

GRANITE FALLS — Doug Jans looked out the back window of his house on Sunday evening and knew immediately that something unusual was going on.

Six paddlers in three canoes were fighting the rapids of the Minnesota River, slicing their paddles into the churning water faster than a TV-chef dicing onions, and struggling to make their way upstream.

“Most are going down the rapids,’’ said Jans of the paddlers he usually watches from his home on the Minnesota River just one block from the community’s downtown.

Moments later, Jans was inviting the six young men to pitch their tents in his back yard and enjoy warm showers.

And only a couple of hours later, Mayor Dave Smiglewski treated the same crew at Jimmy’s Pizza, only one block upstream.

It’s been that way since they began paddling in the Gulf of Mexico on January 2 to make their way up the Mississippi River.  The six men who comprise the “Rediscover North America” expedition cannot say enough about the hospitality they’ve encountered along the length of the Mississippi River and now, the Minnesota River.

Adam Trigg lifts a pack as they prepare to move on from their backyard campsite in Granite Falls on Monday.

Adam Trigg lifts a pack as they prepare to move on from their backyard campsite in Granite Falls on Monday.

Jans was on the mark when he suspected the unusual here:  On what was day 107, these paddlers were a little more than one-third of the way on a more than 5,200 mile, nine-month expedition to reach the Arctic Ocean in northwest Canada. They have the Red River of the North, Lake Winnipeg, the Churchill River, and Great Slave Lake among other destinations yet to go.

Strong currents and winds, water that froze the instant it splashed on them, and a snowfall that basically shut down a Missouri town the moment they arrived have been just some of the adversities they’ve faced.

Yes, they’ve had their moments, said Adam Trigg. That’s where the hospitality comes into play and revives their morale. “Every time we are kind of down, we meet some people who are super psyched up about the trip,’’ said Trigg.

He is one of four St. Cloud natives comprising the team. Daniel Flynn, Winchell Delano, and John Keaveny are all graduates of St. Cloud Cathedral. They are joined by two Iowa natives: Luke Kimmes and Jarrad Moore.

Their ages are in the upper 20’s to 30. All of them have years of wilderness experience, ranging from rock climbing to lengthy paddling trips in the arctic. Five of the crew worked together at Second Nature, a wilderness retreat in Utah.

Delano mapped out much of the route. He once joined paddlers on a 2,600-mile canoe trip to cover Canada from west to east.

The others also like to point out that until recently, Delano was the only crew member who knew that their trip ahead includes a 12-mile portage connecting the Churchill and Clearwater River systems in Canada.

“You are going to some of the wildest of the wild,’’ said Tom Kalahar of Olivia, who met up with the group during their stop. He is an uncle to expedition member John Keaveny.

They are ready for what lies ahead. Talk at the pizza restaurant included discussions on how they plan to protect themselves against both bears and bugs.

What makes this trip different from others they’ve made is this: They are paddling portions of rivers with communities along the way, and encountering hospitality they had not expected, they said.

The idea for the route came over a few beverages almost two years ago.  They talked about going from the US-Canada border to the arctic. A friend of theirs had much such a trip once.  They wanted to better him.

Partly in jest, Trigg suggested they start in the Gulf of Mexico. “And Winchell (Delano) was like ‘dude, that is actually possible.’’’

Now they are on their way to proving it. Cold headwinds bore down on them as they departed Granite Falls on Monday morning with a goal of reaching Montevideo. They cover anywhere from 20 to 30 miles a day.

They’ve spent about $18,000 on the trip so far, with about $7,000 in expenses ahead. Donations from sponsors and contributors to a webpage have helped cover $14,000 of the expenses to date. Family members are serving as support teams.

They met family members during a lay-over and break they enjoyed more than a week ago in New Ulm. Family members will re-supply them at points along the way. The last re-supply near Great Slave Lake will require a one-way, 45-hour drive for the support team.

Their last leg will be to follow the Coppermine River to the Arctic. They hope to make it before freeze-up in October. They’ve arranged for a flight back to civilization once they reach their goal.

To learn about the team members and the expedition, and to track their progress, check out their webpage: http://www.rediscoverna.com/

Strong winds and temperatures in the 30's bore down on the paddlers as they launched their canoes on Monday above the dam on the Minnesota  River in Granite Falls.

Strong winds and temperatures in the 30’s bore down on the paddlers as they launched their canoes on Monday above the dam on the Minnesota River in Granite Falls.