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August 21, 2013 at 4:16 PMComments: 9 Faves: 1

Foraged Cattail: Vegetarian Pulled-Pork Barbeque Recipe

By Erin Froehlich More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the Gastronomics Blog Series

Believe it or not, I figured this recipe out by accident. I foraged the cattail as an afterthought. I followed a recipe I had significant doubts about. I watched it start to fail, made last minute changes in an attempt to save it and in the end, I had a dish that was very different than I had expected going in, and so good, even my 10 year old loved it!

Here’s how I got there, and how you can get there too!

Foraging Cattail

While I was out picking Queen Anne’s Lace for a jelly recipe I’ve been sitting on, I remembered hearing that cattail could also be eaten, and decided to take a few heads just to see what I could do with them. What I found when I got home however, was discouraging. It turned out I had missed the peak season – spring through early summer – when the cattail heads were still immature and green, or later, when they are coated in highly nutritious golden pollen.

The cattails I picked up looked like cattails as most people think of them - a soft, chocolate brown color, shaped like hotdogs on a stick. Pouring over the internet, most sites never even mention using cattails heads in this stage and of those that do, almost all say it’s too late for harvesting at this point. In fact, despite extensive searching, I found only two recipes calling for the brown matured cattail heads – one of which, a straightforward BBQ approach, was accompanied by a particularly lack-luster if not entirely negative review:

“From a culinary perspective the very young cattails are often compared to corn but I’ll have to wait another year to find some really young cattails. These were fairly small – about the circumference of a cigarette and as long as a cigar

Although the texture was odd (at best), the flavor resembled corn (however faintly). Dana and her Mother dove in next.“See, it kind of tastes like corn,” I proded. Dana squished her nose, laughed, and said, “Yeah, but more like carpet on the cob.”  We all laughed. The truth is, they were right.  Perhaps I haven’t mastered cattail yet.  And I won’t dismiss this as awful.  But I think that it falls under the category of survival food (at least until I can figure out a better way to prepare it)!” – Joel from WellPreserved.Ca

The remaining recipe came without a review – good or bad, but was posted on a well-known and respected foraging site - Eat The Weeds.  With this, I figured it must at least be edible and safe to eat. I was still very unsure that the food I’d end up would be palatable, let alone good, however:

  1. The recipe required just a few other common ingredients
  2. I’d already taken the time to forage and research cattail heads and
  3. I was intensely curious.

What the heck?! Green Deane seems to think it can be done.* At worst, I’ll have wasted a few eggs, tasted a little bad food, and I'll have a laugh about it all.

Almost Failure

Determined, I set to work. The recipe was straightforward – 2 cups brown cattail, 2 eggs, ½ cup butter, ½ tsp sugar, nutmeg, and black pepper – pour in a greased casserole  dish and bake at 275 for half and hour. (Looking back, there was another part about adding a cup of scalded milk I must have overlooked in my haste.)

First step, remove the pulpy part of the cattail from the stick – more difficult than I thought. I eventually figured out I could loosen it with a “snake bite” twisting each end of the cattail in a different direction.  They broke in half when I did this, but it wasn’t a problem. I only needed 1 ½ brown cattails to reach the 2 cup requirement.

Cattail Fluff

A bowl full of fluff… could this really be good to eat? I took a sniff and the scent was faintly sweet in the way previous claims of a “corn type flavor” would suggest. I was still wary, but this at least seemed like some sort of good sign. I cracked in the two eggs and poured in ½ cup melted vegan butter.

Rather than sugar, I decided to deviate from recipe slightly, adding a generous amount of maple syrup – maybe a tablespoon and half - instead and mixing. The mass of fluff was instantly reduced by the liquid, and finally looked like something that you could physically manage to eat without suffocating HOWEVER, it also looked like a wet clump of blonde hair you might have pulled out of your shower drain  - unfortunate, and definitely unappetizing, but I had to at least try it. I tasted a very small bit. 

Mixed with fat and sugar, the flavor was pleasant like cookie dough. The only issue was that texture. It tasted exactly as it appeared to - like hair coated in yum! I shrugged my shoulders hoping that would improve, maybe become softer with the heat, or perhaps a bit crispy where hot oil on the casserole dish met it? I greased up the dish and spread the mixture into. Pressed into shape, it looked more okay-ish than it had in the bowl. I sprinkled it with a generous portion of nutmeg and black pepper (I didn’t bother to measure, but probably somewhere near a teaspoon) and added a dash more maple syrup to the top.

Last Minute Changes

I had the dish in the oven for about 2 minutes before I decided I wasn’t done working on this thing and pulled it back out. “The flavor is good,” I thought “It’s just that god-awful texture getting in the way!”

Food processor.

 I’m gunna blend the crap out of this stuff!

I grabbed my Ninja and scooped the cattail mix in for a blend.  The wet clumps formed a batter and things instantly started looking up. I added a little almond milk – around 1/8 of a cup, maybe a bit more, but not much – hit blend again, and it looked even better. Testing, it still wasn’t smooth, but it tasted like sweetened oatmeal and the texture was now palatable. Before I poured it back into my re-greased casserole dish, I decided to make one more change and added an extra egg hoping the greater ratio of eggs to cattail would lighten up the texture. THEN it was ready.

Back into the 275 degree oven, I checked on the mixture periodically, and removed it when I noticed it was starting to puff up here and there.

What on earth had I made? Envisioning some sort of pancake-like food, I cut 12 pieces and used a spatula to remove a middle section and try it.

It didn’t taste like a pancake. It didn’t even taste particularly sweet, really.

The fibers of the cattail that had given me so many issues had formed together, but not uniformly. It was more like many smaller fused pieces had fused into a larger whole. Bound with egg, spiced, and sweetened with maple syrup, the fibers now tasted exactly like meat - among the most convincing meat substitutes I’ve ever tried as a matter of fact! Specifically, I thought, because of the maple sweetness maybe, like pulled pork. Barbeque!

Brown Cattail Fluff – The Other White Meat Substitute

I thin-sliced a whole red onion and tossed them over medium-high heat stove with a generous amount of ground black pepper. In the mean time, the squares I cut tore easily into chunky faux-meat morsels which I set aside until the onions were ready then tossed into the skillet alongside them.

I left them there for just about 2 minutes. I only wanted to make sure they’d be nice and hot. They were already warm from the oven and I didn’t want them to lose too much moisture. After two minutes, I added a hickory bbq sauce we had on hand and gave them a toss.

As a vehicle, I toasted corn tortillas over open flame on the stove, waiting just long enough on each side that they got a nice singe, then filled them with a generous amount of BBQ. I could have added any number of taco toppings at this point, and it probably would have been good, but I wanted to keep the flavors simple and the focus on the cattail meat.

For a side, I picked some fresh arugula from my garden for a salad. Topped with a homemade stoneground mustard/maple syrup vinaigrette (think honey mustard, only better), it was the perfect accompaniment to the meal.

Though we were all, admittedly, a little unsure when we first tried it, this stuff is fantastic! Nick was impressed and my sometimes picky ten year old cleaned her plate.

Recently, I used some leftovers in a soup and was impressed by how it held up in all that liquid. It didn’t break up like I was worried it might, in fact, it may have even tasted better than before! Interestingly, it seemed to soak up flavor very well – the leftover pieces I had coated in BBQ tasted still had a yummy BBQ flavor even after hours sitting in a flavorful, arugula broth I made.

I can’t wait to experiment with it more!

*Later, when I went back to ask Green Deane some questions about his recipe on Eat The Weeds I found that he had only accidentally written "brown cattail!" He  corrected this on his site and explained that the reason most people don't use them is that the texture usually wasn't palatable, however, he assured me the brown cattail were as safe as the green cattails he had meant to recommend and "if you can find a way to cook it, more the better!"

THE RECIPE: Vegetarian Pulled-Pork Barbeque

Cattail Faux-Pork Ingredients:

2 Cups Brown Catttail Fluff ( 1 1/2 Brown Cattail Tops), 3 Eggs, ½ Cup Melted Butter ( I used vegan butter), 1/8 Cup Milk ( I used Almond Milk), 2 Tbsp Real Maple Syrup, 1 Tsp Nutmeg, 1 Tsp Black Pepper

Vegetarian Pulled Pork Ingredients:

2 CupsPrepared Cattail Faux-Pork (torn into 1 inch chunks), 1 Medium Red Onion (cut in half, thin sliced), Lots of Black Pepper, Hickory BBQ (or whichever BBQ you prefer!)

I Also Used:

Taco Shells, Arugula, Homemade Stoneground Mustard Maple Syrup Vinagrette ( 1/3 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil, 1 T bsp Rice Wine Vinegar, 1 ½ Tsp Stoneground Mustard, ½ Tsp Real Maple Syrup, 1/8 Tsp sea salt)

Tools You’ll Need:

Mixing Bowls, Food Processor, Casserole Dish, Spatula, Cutting Board, Spatula

  1. Preheat oven to 275. Loosen cattail fluff from stick by twisting. Remove two cups worth into a medium size mixing bowl.
  2. Stir in three eggs, ½ cup melted butter, 1/8 cup milk. 2Tbsp Maple Syrup, 1 Tsp Nutmeg and 1 Tsp Black Pepper.
  3. Blend well in food processor. Grease your casserole dish and pour it in, smoothing it evenly over the bottom.
  4. Bake around 20 minutes or until rising bubbles occur. Remove from oven and casserole dish.
  5. Tear 2 cups worth cattail faux-pork pieces.  No need to be precise, but around 1 inch in size. (You’ll have untorn leftovers. This is a good thing!)
  6. Cut a medium sized onion in half then thin slice it. Toss in a skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkled with a generous amount of ground black pepper. Cook till carmelized.
  7. Toss in torn cattail faux-pork pieces and cook with the onions till they are nice and hot.
  8. Pour in your favorite BBQ. Enjoy! J

More Great-Looking Cattail Recipes from the Web

 Eat Here Now: Herby Cattail Quick Pickles

 Honest Food: Cattail Pollen Pasta

The 3 Foragers: Cattail Flower Griddle Cake

The 3 Foragers: Cattail Pollen Pancakes with Strawberry Compote

Eat Here Now: Asian Style Cattail Shoots


Well Preserved: BBQ Cattail Recipe (AKA BBQ Bullrush)

Eat The Weeds: Cattails – A Survival Dinner

The 3 Foragers: Cattail Recipe - Cattail Flower Griddle Cake

The 3 Foragers: Cattail Foraging

Eat Here Now: Asian Style Cattail Shoots

Eat Here Now: Herby Cattail Quick Pickles

Honest Food: Cattail Pollen Pasta

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  • OMG you sure are brave! I'm glad it all turned out for you, talk about living off the land you sure did that with this recipe. I would have never considered eating such a thing. But it does look appetizing for sure, since it truly does look like pulled pork - surprise! Good job.

  • Thanks, Nancy! :)

    Foraging might seem like this really out-there sort of cooking, but actually, people foraging and making use of free local ingredients has been the rule, not the exception throughout most of human history! It's a shame that through cultural upbringing and learned social norms, most Americans have come to accept that all their food must come from a profiting food source. It's definitely not the case, and I'm glad to be part of the growing number of people learning to use these forgotten ingredients!

    Beyond this, foraging is fun, it's an opportunity to get outside in fresh air, and because there isn't a ton of standard ways of approaching foraged ingredients like there is with the the more common produce at your grocery store, foraging offers people who love food and cooking a chance to stretch their imagination and try something new. I'd recommend it to anyone! :)

  • I have been looking forward to cattail season, so was very interested in your experiment. I will give it a try. I wonder if the same method works for milkweed when it is a little overripe. And I agree with your comments about foraging - it's a wonderful way to avoid supermarkets.

  • Hilda - I haven't tried this with milkweed, but it sounds like a fun experiment at worst. I'd say give it a shot and see - let me know how it turns out if you do!

    And yes, I can't wait for it to start looking like spring outside so I can start foraging again. I've learned a lot since I first became interested in it, but there's still plenty of things I'd like to try! :)

  • I read this and said "holy smokes!" Truly groundbreaking in the wild food literature. I have got to try this.

  • I have been foraging for a while and I am a long time fan of GREEN DEANE @eattheweeds,...but I wanna get this late in the season can you actually use the fluff? Does it get too fibrous as it gets closer to bursting open? Or can you use the brown "heads" at any stage? This is wild...almost adding another season to the already full calendar of cattail useage!

  • Dan - Thank you! Funny how some misplaced confidence and a little ingenuity can work out. And yes, you do have to try it. :)

    Jeremy - The cattails I used were still very dense when I picked them. In fact, as I mentioned, it was trick trying to figure out how to break them up! I haven't tried using cattails which have already burst open, but I don't imagine it would be problem except that maybe, little bugs or things could more readily make their way in there if they wanted to at that point.

    I would check for pests before trying to use them, but they should still be safe to use and add the good, meaty texture this dish requires.

  • I am very excited about this. I forage for herbal medicine and this is an off shoot of that interest. Compounded by a recent financial ding, I want to forage as much as possible. I am surrounded by woods but do not have patches where I know certain things grow. it takes a few seasons to get a map in your head of where to find things in your area, like I did with my herbs.

  • Have an answer for Jeremy, just obtained from experimentation. In September of 2014, he asked " late in the season can you actually use the fluff? Does it get too fibrous as it gets closer to bursting open? Or can you use the brown "heads" at any stage?" In February, from a marsh where some of the narrow-leaved cattail (Typha angustifolia) heads were still brown and compact, but more had already exploded into a fluffy white and brown seed head, I collected the compact brown heads only. Using your recipe, they worked fine. I tried the fluffy white and brown seed heads this week (1st wk. of March.) The flavor was excellent, but I had to spit out wads of fibers every bite.

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