by Jennifer Yarbrough
I love cooking and am always trying new recipes and ingredients. That, along with my love of exploring the woods of Northeast Florida, brought me to foraging.
What better way to combine a passion for food and nature than using “wild edibles,” in your meals, right? I set out on my quest by speaking with Mr. AyoLane Halusky, St. Johns County Recreation and Parks Naturalist for Trout Creek and Alpine Groves Parks. In addition to his usual offerings through SJC Recreation and Parks of kayaking trips and nature walks, he occasionally offers Wild Edibles Walks. Going in to the meeting with him, I thought I might be bringing back some items to serve my family for dinner, but what I brought back with me was more profound.
We started off discussing the “Don’ts” of gathering, which are very important to your health and to nature. We covered how much to gather, where to gather, and how to gather. As we were discussing these things he mentioned “the green wall,” how one really has to hone in their skills of truly “seeing” nature. That is what stopped me in my tracks. I began to realize that this foraging thing is much bigger than dinner, it’s about looking at the natural world with keen eyes. It will take far more than one walk to determine what leaves are edible or poisonous, what berries might be used for medicinal purposes or are considered “hot medicine.”
If you would like to see past the green wall and begin a foraging adventure, here are some tips from Mr. Halusky:
Allergies- Talk with a Doctor about possible allergies before you begin. Don’t think that you can wait until survival situations to forage, learn now.
Start taking walks in nature and identifying what you see.
Keep a journal- draw pictures or take rubbings. Write down details in your journal.
Verify- Verify what you saw with two field guides and a naturalist before you decide to forage. Write down the name of the item, similar items, noting ones that might look similar, but be poisonous. Include details helpful in identifying in the future.
Some Field Guides to consider: Botany in a Day by Thomas J. Elpel, Native Florida Plants by Haehle and Brookwell, Peterson’s Field Guide, Newcombs Wildflower Guide.
Take your time- Plan on taking walks and identifying what you see for about a year before you begin foraging. Be wary of mushrooms, they are hard to identify.
Start with what you enjoy- Which do you enjoy more—flowers, berries, bushes, trees? Begin to hone your skills observing what you enjoy first and then branching out.
Stay connected - If you would like to be added to SJC Recreation and Parks email list to learn of future opportunities, please email Mr. Halusky at firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s a beautiful day today, I’m grabbing my sketchbook, my field guide and I am headed out! Hope to see you on the trails!
By Jennifer Andreu Yarbrough
Hey, y’all! I have been writing for St. Johns Magazine since February and have had the honor of interviewing many amazing members of our community and writing about things that are happening right here in Northwest St. Johns County. Well, Mrs. Debbie, my Publisher has asked me to write something a little more personal, so, here it is. This is the November Food Issue, so I wanted to write to you about one of my all- time favorite, super local, hot-hot-hot food items: the Datil Pepper! Y’all, I could eat Datils in one form or another all day—Datil sauce on my eggs for breakfast, Datil sauce again on my turkey sandwich for lunch and some Datil pepper vinegar on my greens or spinach for dinner! What is a Datil Pepper, you ask? I am here to tell you all about my love for them and 'pepper' in some facts while we’re at it.
Local legend says that the Minorcans brought the Datil Pepper to the area in the late 1700s. Woah, writer lady, what’s a Minorcan? Well, you are “talking” to one, or the descendant of one, and that might be the reason I have a spicy relationship with these peppers. Minorcans were a group of indentured servants primarily from Minorca, Spain, an island in the Mediterranean, brought to New Smyrna Beach in 1768, by Dr. Andrew Turnbull to work on his indigo plantation. Well, what the Minorcans originally thought of as an opportunity turned into a disaster. The brave Minorcans (who also had Italians, Greeks, Corsicans and French in their ranks) fled abuses in New Smyrna and sought safety in St. Augustine. The walk was long and difficult, many died; the ones who survived became part of the tapestry that is St. Augustine, and my peeps.
Modern research has shown that while the Minorcans grew Datil peppers and created many recipes with them they may not have brought them here. One such story is that the pepper was brought here by jelly maker, SB Vallas in 1880. No matter what the origin, every Minorcan family has a Datil sauce recipe, and if they share it with you, you should count yourself lucky, ‘cause we are very protective of our sauce!
How does one eat a Datil Pepper, especially since it’s about the same heat as a habanero on the Scoville scale? The answer: very carefully. While some restaurants in St. Augustine have started offering the raw peppers dipped in chocolate, I would suggest you start with a mild pepper jelly, then move up to a mild sauce and/or a smidge of pepper vinegar on your greens. A great idea for the upcoming holiday season—put out a dish of cream cheese topped with datil pepper jelly and a side of crackers—it will be a hit. You are going to love the flavor of these peppers—as my grandma used to say, they’re like the Minorcans—spicy, but sweet, a unique and memorable flavor for sure!
105 Nature Parkway, #108 (on CR 210)
Have you tried Bite A Bagel yet? The cozy new eatery brings the taste of New York to North Florida with its authentic bagels and unique cream cheeses. Kathy & Rich Borsody dreamed of opening a bagel store for years. They wanted it to offer delicious wholesome fare and be family friendly, the kind of place where they knew customers on a first name basis. Last spring they took the plunge and with the help of their extended family opened Bite A Bagel on County Road 210. We wanted to help our readers get to know a little bit more about this welcome addition to the neighborhood.
Bite a Bagel is all about family. Besides you and Rich, who is part of it? My sister Nancy, and her daughter Alex (my niece), my daughter Danielle, my son Bobby, my youngest daughter Olivia who helps me behind the scenes and sometimes my parents, Dan & Addy, come to give us a hand. We also have a great “BAB” family, who may not be related, but are a huge part of the success of BAB – Jordan, Hailey, Daniel and Dan.
One of the things that makes Bite A Bagel so unique is the cream cheese flavors... How do you come up with ideas? I honestly don’t know – it just hits me. I can see something, or hear something, and I will wonder if I can make it into a cream cheese spread. Some work, and some don’t.
Do you test them out on anyone first? Yes. Anyone who is working that day will have a taste test – and they are all very honest with me. When I create a new flavor, I usually make a very small batch and test it. I will ask our customers to try it and tell me what they think. If customers like it, I will make it again and again – but will fine tune it each time I make it until I feel it is just right. We always have the most popular flavors daily, but the many other flavors are alternated each week – and new ones added. If you don’t see your favorite, please let me know and I’ll make it for you the next time you come in. Many customers have asked me to make their favorite. I love that! Makes me feel good and very happy knowing they enjoy something I created.
What are the key ingredients in creating an outstanding cream cheese spread? Each cream cheese spread has unique ingredients, but the key is “fresh” ingredients. What are the top 3 sellers? Bacon and Chive, Veggie, and Jalapeno .
Which one is your favorite? My favorite is the Pumpkin Pie! It really is so good.
Where do you get your dough? Our dough is made in Brooklyn. They are purchased from a Bagel/Bialy company who has been in business for over 65 years.
Since you make the bagels fresh daily, what is the process? There is a long process. The bagels have to be prepared, proofed and then refrigerated over night before they are steamed and baked. It’s hard when we run out of a specific flavor for the day, because we can’t just bake and serve. We try to always have enough, and sometimes we have too much. At the end of the day, all remaining bagels are donated or discarded.
Other than bagels, what types of foods do you serve? It is important to know that we do not have a microwave at Bite a Bagel – everything is made fresh on the grill. For breakfast we have omelet sandwiches and platters, egg sandwiches with or without cheese and choice of bacon, ham or sausage, Lox sandwiches, and we even have Fried Taylor Ham for our New Jersey customers. Our most popular breakfast sandwich is “The Brooklyn” – two eggs any style with your choice of meat on top of Jalapeno cream cheese and choice of bagel. Recently we added a healthier option, “The Lean &
Mean” made with egg whites. For lunch you can create your own sandwich with all Boars Head Meats & cheeses. We have tuna, egg and chicken salad everyday. Soup, when the weather is not so hot, and the very popular Bagel Burger. Another favorite is the Wrangler – hot roast beef and provolone cheese smothered with mushrooms, onions and our homemade horseradish sauce.
The coffee is delicious and its nice that the flavors change often. Where do you get your coffee ? We buy our coffee from Kaffe Magnum Opus, a specialty coffee roaster in Southern New Jersey. We love to pick the different flavors – they have so many! The most popular is Almond Biscotti, Salted Caramel, and right now – Harvest Spice. We serve a very popular Brazilian blend –a medium roast and the Italian Roast – which is a bit bolder. We have a very good Decaf House Blend as well.