By Tina Cole Mullins
As the days grow longer and the temperatures become warmer, some Michiganders turn from foraging in their cupboards for that last can of soup, to foraging outdoors where delicious edibles flow forth as sap from maple trees, or springs up as fresh greens. Out come the eager tree tappers, looking forward to making fresh maple syrup, and the plant foragers put on their boots and head into the woods.
H & H Sugarbush Farm, just south of Chelsea, is busy tapping their trees this month. Started in 2008 as a hobby with ten taps on buckets, it has evolved into a family business involving over 1,800 taps on tubing with an ever growing sugarhouse. “The typical season starts in mid-February running…throughout March. Sap…runs on days when temperatures rise into the 40’s with nights below freezing. [It takes] forty gallons of sap to make one gallon of maple syrup, with each tree yielding anywhere from 5 – 15 gallons per season,” explains Michelle Hedding, teacher at Smith Elementary School in Stockbridge, and one of the proprietors of H & H Sugarbush Farm. “It is a true family affair as not only do all of us participate in the syrup making process, but the business is called H&H to reflect our last name, Hedding, as well as [my] grandparents’ name, Hinderer, to pay tribute to the heritage of the farm we live on.” H & H Sugarbush Farm invites all ages to a FREE Open House the weekend of March 23 and 24th , 10am – 4pm at their farm located just South of Chelsea at 4800 S. M-52.
Of course, maple trees can be found throughout our area, and each year new tappers are lured to take advantage of this sweet harvest. Though this year’s weather gave them a late start, John & Becky Salyer of Stockbridge, have been tapping their 10 trees since the second week of March. “Last year was our first year, we started with 5 trees, which produced a gallon and a half [of] syrup. Each year we plan to add more trees.”
Institutions and organizations also get in on the act of tapping maple trees. Hudson Mills Metropark, of Dexter, is offering programs each weekend morning in March on the history behind the area’s maple-making process, including a “hands on” tapping of a tree. For those who wish, the program is followed by a pancake and sausage breakfast for an additional charge. To pre-register or for more information, (734) 426-8211, https://www.metroparks.com/parks/hudson-mills-metropark/ .
Michigan in the Spring can be a foragers paradise. As temperatures continue to rise, others anticipate warm Spring rains followed by sun-shining days, bringing a bounty of edibles to those who know where to look and what to look for.
Dandelions aplenty can be found in our lawns, whose flowers and greens can be added to a salad, or the flowers fried, and even the roots are said to have medicinal properties. Violets are another edible found just outside your door, both the leaves and flowers are often used in salads.
Not all edibles foraged are as easily found, such as the elusive morels. It is a common practice for true mushroomers’ to keep their favorite spots to themselves and their families. One longtime mushroom hunter, Lambert Mulzer, eagerly watches for the signs that will send him searching for this deliciousness. Each year Mulzer gathers a sizable amount of mushrooms, allowing him to store his bounty to enjoy throughout the year. Although Michigan is a forager’s paradise, take caution and do your research on what is safe to ingest, as there a many look alike mushrooms that are poisonous.
In addition to morels, Mulzer looks for forest edibles such as ramps (wild leeks), and fiddle-head ferns (picked early before the fronds unfurl), both of which he often sautées as a side. Along with these finds, Mulzer gathers one of my favorites, asparagus, which is easily found along the sides of our country roads.
For beginning foragers, Gerald E. Eddy Discovery Center will host an Edible Plant Walk. Participants will look for edible, medicinal, and otherwise useful plants and mushrooms on the Discovery Center trails. The walk will be leisurely, but participants need to be able to handle uneven, shrubby or muddy ground, as they may leave the trail to search for these plants. Sponsored by the Friends of Eddy Discovery Center, $3 donation requested. Sunday, May 5th – 2:00 pm. For more information or to register: https://www.meetup.com/WillForageforFood-SCMI/events
As spring draws near, we all can take advantage of the bounty and beauty of Michigan.