My friends won’t be surprised by this disclosure: I was born with the Gibbons Gene. The gene was first discovered among children raised in 60s and 70s and manifests in Euell Gibbons Syndrome. My case is moderately severe. The urge to pick leaves, berries, and weeds never lets up, so when I’m walking in nature I’m sampling everything. This time of year I take my walks with two grocery bags—one to cover my hand, the other to hold tender new sprigs of stinging nettles if I find them. Throughout summer I sample wild cherries and crabapples and rose hips on a constant quest for amazing ingredients.
This drives Skip crazy because my enthusiasm compels me to thrust things at him with the assurance “You’ll love this.” He hardly ever does. And even if he does, he holds back, reminding me, “Someone’s going to have to drive you to the emergency room.” In the car it’s the same. Scanning, scanning, scanning—rubber-necking left and right. Inspecting elderberry bushes (flowers and berries). Noting auspicious black walnut trees (easy-reach branches). Tracking favored blackberry patches (estimating harvest times).
Now cane thickets are on my roster of swervable distractions. Cane is actually bamboo and it grows prolifically where I live. A couple of years ago we were strolling past a favorite bamboo patch, the one where we harvest garden stakes and trellis reeds, and happened to glance down. “Look at these shoots!,” I exclaimed to Skip as I stepped off the sidewalk and plucked one from the ground. “I wonder if they’re good?” Back at home I sliced one open. The creamy yellow core smelled grassy and had a delightful crunch. “Oh wow! This is amazing! Here. Taste it.”
Finding Wild Bamboo Shoots
Once bamboo is on your radar you’ll be amazed by how much there is. All three native North American species grow prolifically around Asheville, along with dozens of non-native invasives. It didn’t take long for me to chart promising patches. Around here, late April though early June is the time to harvesting bamboo shoots. Look for the pointy spears thrusting up from edges of bamboo thickets. Some species also send up shoots mid grove, so look there too. When you find a shoot all you have to do is pluck it out of the ground, most times they pop right out with a sideways tug.
Fresh, Raw Bamboo Shoots
The scent of just cut bamboo shoots registers between cucumbers and newly mown grass. Fantastically fresh! It’s OK to taste a little raw bamboo, but some (not all) bamboo gets a bitterness from hydrocyanic acid, a toxin that’s removed once the shoots have been blanched. Don’t freak! Hydrocyanic acid is present in lots of things we love—almonds, lima beans, and sweet potatoes, just to name a few. Blanching neutralizes and removes it from bamboo.
[L] Peeling bamboo the hard way [C] Splitting shoots makes them easy to peel [R] Split, peeled, and ready to go
Preparing and Blanching Bamboo Shoots
Be ready to blanch shoots soon after you’ve peeled and sliced them because exposure to air quickly hardens their tender flesh. Use freshly blanched bamboo shoots the same way you’d use canned ones—in salads, stir fries, noodle soups, or with a dip. Or PICKLE them!
PEEL THE SHOOTS by halving them lengthwise. Using a paring knife, get between the outer leaves and the center core and pry apart the two layers. The core pops out easily. That’s your bamboo shoot.
CUT THE SHOOTS anyway you like, leaving them in halves, cut into quarters or slivers, or chopped into chunks. If not blanching them immediately, keep the raw shoots submerged in water so they don’t dry out.
BLANCH THE SHOOTS by covering them with cold water and adding some salt—guesstimate about ½ teaspoon per cup of water. Bring the water to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer the shoots for about 5 minutes. Taste them for doneness. You want to remove the raw or bitter flavor while retaining a firm and crunchy texture. If the shoots haven’t lost most of their bitterness after 5 minutes, change the water before you continue simmering. The type of bamboo and the thickness of the shoots will determine how long it takes. Mine were ready after about 10 minutes. Drain the shoots and rinse them under cold water.
STORE THE SHOOTS in salted water for 4 or 5 days in the refrigerator, or freeze them in some of the brine.
Quick and Easy Bamboo Shoot Pickles
If you’ve scanned my other posts, it’ll be no surprise that I pickled my bamboo shoot harvest. I find the flavor and texture absolutely unique. Using packaged Asian-style seasoned rice vinegar makes this the simplest pickling recipe ever, or make your own seasoned vinegar from the recipe that follows this one. Since these pickles will keep nicely in the fridge for a couple of months, there’s no need to get out the canning tackle, unless, perhaps, you have a huge harvest. I made a two-jar batch this year that’s already gone. I still have a little more time to make more!
- Blanched bamboo shoots
- 1 part seasoned rice vinegar, such as Kikkoman (or use recipe below)
- 1 part water
- Slices of fresh garlic, to taste
- Freshly ground black or white peppercorns, to taste
- Hot chili pepper or red pepper flakes, optional
- To estimate the amount of pickling solution you’ll need, pack blanched bamboo shoots into your pickle jar (or jars). Cover the shoots with water then pour the water into a measuring cup. That’s how much you’ll need, plus a wee bit more to make up for evaporation.
- Place the bamboo shoots in a non reactive saucepan and cover with the vinegar-water mixture. If the liquid doesn’t cover the shoots, add more vinegar and water. Add the garlic, pepper, and chili, if using.
- Bring the mixture to a boil then turn down the heat and simmer the shoots for 10 to 15 minutes, depending on their size.
- Transfer the shoots to a jar (or jars) and ladle the pickling solution to cover the pickles.
- They’re ready to eat immediately, or they’ll keep in the fridge for a couple of months.
Simmer blanched shoots in a simple pickling solution | Pack the shoots into jars and cover with pickling solution
DIY Seasoned Rice Vinegar
Kikkoman and Marukan are the top brands of this sweet-sour-salty condiment that’s used for sushi-making and in Thai-style salad dressings. There’s nothing to making it yourself—just three ingredients stirred or shaken together. Rice vinegar is traditional but any vinegar will work.
INGREDIENTS and METHOD
- 1 cup vinegar
- ½ cup sugar (sounds like a lot but condiments are supposed to be concentrated)
- 1 heaping teaspoon salt
Combine all of the ingredients and stir, or shake, until the sugar is dissolved.
Bamboo shoot pickles are cool looking and their tangy crunch will tempt you to hide the jar for yourself.