I spent last week driving up and around San Francisco, Petaluma, Sonoma, Ukiah and Napa. My husband and I headed out West to attend a wedding, and to celebrate our own 1-year wedding anniversary. Our all-time favorite destination is a no-frills “resort” in Ukiah, a placed called Orr Hot Springs. This sanctuary in the redwood forest is perfectly minimal, with tiny log cabins for rent, a communal kitchen to cook your meals in, and a collection of large rocky pools and private claw foot tubs for bathing in mineral water. The water is naturally warm and high in sulfur, producing an eggy smell that is not appealing to all, but which I rather enjoy. I have no photos of the baths, just one little image of our room. Photography is not permitted at Orr Hot Springs, since clothing is optional, and what a relief that was! So, we spent two days bathing, star gazing and cooking incredible food, before heading back down through wine country, to Petaluma, to meet friends and stay in a rather rustic treehouse.
We took our sweet time on the road, stopping at wineries and most importantly, foraging for fennel flowers. The landscape was exceptionally dry this year, for obvious reasons – California is experiencing a record breaking drought, which was visible in the landscape. The hills were golden brown, and lined with bright yellow flowers: wild fennel was in bloom.
When collected in their prime, the yellow flowers can be dried in a bag or on a baking tray in the sun. Some of the fennel will drop from the plant and collect at the bottom of your container, and the rest can be harvested by pushing the flowers around in a fine meshed sieve over a large bowl. The stems will stay in the sieve (for the most part), and the pollen will drop to the bowl. Collect that dust in a jar and keep it in a cool, dry place.
We sprinkled our pollen on freshly shucked oysters at Tomales Bay Oyster Company at the end of our day, which I strongly recommend. The flavor is versatile, experiment with it. It doesn’t taste like fennel seed or anise, it tastes like fennel essence. It not only enhances savory dishes like meat and roasted vegetables, it is a wonderful ingredient to add to baked goods, cocktails, and even, salad.
This is a great seasonal harvest project, give it a try.