Thursday, April 17, 2014

Love the Wild Thing! -1- Bracken Fern Shoots

Bracken Fern Shoots

If you come to my hometown, Muroto, you'll instantly notice that there is almost no flat plain here. The land has been rising -- literally getting higher -- because of the movement of tectonic plates. In most places, there are just mountains and the ocean.

Our ancestors could not develop large-scale agriculture here. Instead, they have learned to make the best use of the resources available, which includes edible wild plants.

Now, think about it. You have absolutely no scientific knowledge of plants. And you are starving. You see many young shoots of wild plants around you. They look soft, but you have no idea what they would taste like or if they are poisonous. Would you dare to eat them?

It must have taken some courage for our ancestors to eat shoots of some wild plants, because they often taste bitter and/or contained unhealthy substance. I wonder how they found ways to remove such unwanted substance. They must have gone through a series of trials and errors... especially before they found out that wood ash can be effective in removing unwanted harshness.

In case of these bracken fern shoots, the unwanted substance even includes a carcinogen, ptaquiloside. OMG, but don't panic. That is why a thorough preparation is necessary, and we know that... even though not everyone knows exactly how to do it.

Let me show you a traditional way of preparing bracken fern shoots using wood ash. 

You prepare boiling water and add wood ash to it.  My mom actually cooks the shoots in it for quite a while, but those who like the crispiness turn off the heat before throwing the shoots in, and just let them soak in the hot ash-mixed water overnight.

After that, the shoots are washed and soaked in fresh water for hours. I always soak them for two solid days and keep a little water running to let it overflow all the time.  In my childhood, grandma would soak them in a nearby stream.
Now, it is widely said in Japan that this pre-treatment of heating and soaking in water make the young shoots safe, and unless you keep eating a huge amount of them, you don't need to worry about ptaquiloside. (More scientific explanation says that the treatment changes ptaquiloside into pterosin B which is not carcinogenic. Details are here if you really want to go deep into the scientific stuff. Choose "bracken" on that website.)
Spaghetti Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino with Bracken Fern and Rapeseed Flower Buds

To enjoy bracken shoots as a side dish, we usually simmer them with soy sauce and sugar.
Let me show you the photos of bracken shoots dishes (mostly traditional ones) here.
But many young moms these days creatively use them for Western dishes as well. This photo above is one of my inventions from April, 2013.
I liked the idea a lot.


blaine said...

I really love 山菜!

obachan said...

Oh, I bet you mastered how to prepare them while you were in Kochi.
Do you find any 山菜 over there?

Recycled Crafts and Ideas said...

How much wood ash to fern shoots do you use? I would like to try this as I have an abundance of ferns available.

obachan said...

Hi! Sorry about this late reply.
I really didn't care much about the amount of wood ash... Some people say "just a handful" without saying how much water you need.
The only recipe I found on the internet with the amount of water said "30g of ash for 1 liter of water."
Hope this helps. :)
And... just forgive me if I sound like saying "You don't know anything," but just in case... you might want to make sure it's bracken ferns that you have, not other kinds, because there are some kinds that look just like bracken ferns but not edible even after you treated them with this method...


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