Last month, the edible wild plant study club held an outdoor cookout. It wasn't chilly outside but it was drizzling, and the online weather forecast showed wind and heavy rain at around 2 in the afternoon.
I remember thinking we'd be finished before then and I was just too excited to seriously consider the little hurricane symbol that was blinking in the corner of the screen.
The event took place at the Hamilton Club, a dining club in Morris Run, where owners John and Lida Kaiser were so kind to offer us the seating areas in their beautiful flower garden. We used their barbecue, firepit and kitchen to clean vegetables.
Upon arriving at the club, we followed our noses and found group members Bill and Diane Myers already cooking delicious groundhog patties! Soon everybody arrived and the tables started to fill up with wonderful dishes.
Steve Bortz cooked up a wonderful medley of wild mushrooms, shared fresh truffle butter and homemade wines. Andy Lyon brought freshly cut watercress for salads and homemade creeping Charlie beer. Sally Maneval made a delicious purslane casserole and we used French weed from the dining club's garden to fry with potatoes. We also had autumn olive fruit leather, pork with sow thistle and Jerusalem artichoke coleslaw. It was a feast!
While we were busy cooking, Lida invited us to dig up her groundnuts as she would like to get rid of them. Groundnuts? The plant I read so much about but have never been able to find?
We rushed over to the patch right next to the clubhouse where Lida showed us the vines and even though the flowers already had disappeared, I immediately recognized the leaves. These were indeed the groundnuts I've been seeking!
Groundnut also is known as hopniss, Indian potato or potato bean. Its scientific name, Apios Americana, means "American pear" and refers to its pear-shaped tubers.
A perennial member of the bean family, it is native to eastern North America and was a staple food for American Indians and European settlers.
The groundnut is a vine that grows about 20 feet long and has leaves with three, five, seven or nine pinnate leaflets where the number and size of the leaves increase with age.
The plant bears edible clusters of fragrant pink and maroon flowers in summer. These turn into seed pods with few seeds that can be eaten like lentils.
In northern regions, however, the groundnut usually doesn't grow seed pods because the plant spreads more successfully by tubers. These are the swollen parts of the branching rhizomes. The tubers are the best edible part of the plant and are very high in protein.
Groundnuts can be harvested throughout the year and can be found in wet places such as riverbanks and streams. Be careful when harvesting because poison ivy is known to often grow in the same spot.
Tubers can vary from the size of a peanut to a big potato. That day, however, we mostly found tubers a little smaller than eggs. We dug up a few for the cookout and for planting at home.
We peeled and boiled them in a pot on the grill. They tasted like a mix of potato and chestnut without the sweetness and had a pleasant, slightly mealy texture.
In addition to peeling and boiling, groundnuts also can be eaten fried, unpeeled and roasted. It's said that they also can be eaten raw if you don't mind risking flatulence.
We'd just started to enjoy our wonderful food when suddenly strong gusts of wind and rain ruined our picnic! We quickly gathered all the food and sought shelter on the porch of the clubhouse.
Completely drenched but still in good spirits, we continued the event for a little while longer and enjoyed pieces of elderberry pie.
Coming in November: Roses, not just for smelling.