Becoming a Forager: How to Join In on the Latest Foodie Trend
Once the pastime of eccentric Nonna’s and naturalist types, foraging is trending as the latest pursuit of the food obsessed; foraging is the act of looking or searching for food, in this case wild edibles. And all over the country enthusiasts are on the hunt: porcini, nettles, huckleberries, the legendary paw paw.Famous chefs are phoning up foragers like huntress Connie Green for her “act of God mushrooms,” staging elaborate forest to table dinners, experimenting with savage roots, douglas fir, different varieties of sap. Noma the Neo-Nordic eatery that sparked this frenzy was crowned the best restaurant in the world; there is ramp custard on the menu at Gramercy Tavern, roving supper clubs serving woodsy chanterelle soup, sugared violets, and sassafras on ice cream.
So I decided to go on assignment, sign up for my first foraging trip. Wanting to get in on the fun, yes but also remembering my Aunt Mamie’s wild huckleberry pies and the gustatory joys when Uncle Cap came round with the mushrooms, I was in it for the food. Inspired by Italians that are masters of the craft; hunting with dogs for black diamonds, roaming the hills for insalata di campo. Their foraged food feasts: pasta with porcini, frittata con tartufo, rum in the chestnuts stewed. I was in greedy pursuit of the delicious, the glorious, as Wildman Steve Brill said the when eaten, “die of happiness” wild foods.
Into Central Park and out with a meal, my first adventure was urban foraging with Wildman Steve Brill. The obvious, hard to wrap your head around eating anything plucked from here. With the buzzing of activity at the entrance to the park, I felt less the huntress and more Woody Allen. But Wildman who has been leading tours for over thirty years has an infectious passion and this is New York folks, he puts on a great show. Politics, metaphor, music, with his “Brill o phone” Wildman played Poison Ivy and other apropos tunes. Witty banter, “this plant is beautiful and deadly,” an ode to his ex girlfriend. And danger, a fellow tour mate had the poisonous white snake plant in his grasp twice. No joke, you must have a guide, a proper book or App to identify these plants.
Wildman, the author of a wild foods cookbook, made wonderful recipe suggestions, wisteria blossom pancakes, an Indian spiced bitter doc paneer. We gathered over ten species of plants, buds, and flowers. And most were over fences and up trees a comfortable distance from all that roam the park, a relief. It was the perfect first exposure. I was hooked, intrigued. What other foods might I forage for? Maybe like my ancestors I could gather wild mushrooms to dry for our Christmas Eve soup. I was thinking spring garlic and summer berries of joining the Delaware Highlands Mushroom Society, a foraging group. I wanted to get to know my own terroir, what is on my land. I had the thought too, that this is good work. What can we do in a world of Mad Cow, Franken Food an over reliance on processed foods? Get to the source, dig in, plant a garden, keep bees, and forage for food. When we look to the land to sustain us our relationship to the land inevitably changes. In times such as ours, this is an exquisitely hopeful thing.
Here is the information to get foraging. The tours, the resources and for those that just want to sit back and sample the foods from the wild, the dinners and restaurants. I even have a list of the most delicious wild foods from Wildman Steve Brill, a hit list if you will.
Wild Foods Dinners
The Most Delicious Wild Foods According to Wildman Steve Brill
- The June Berry is my favorite fruit. It tastes like a combination of blueberries, apples, and almonds, and it’s sweet and abundant.
- The Cattail is one of my favorite vegetables, even though I’m a vegan. The shoot has a wonderful cucumber/zucchini flavor; the immature flower’s a little like corn on the cob, and the pollen’s great for baking.
- The Black Trumpet, with its rich, smoky flavor, is one of my favorite mushrooms, great in almost any recipe.
- Burdock is probably my favorite root vegetable. It’s large and abundant, quite versatile in recipes, with a flavor of artichokes and potatoes. The young shoots, which taste like artichoke hearts, are also great.
- Sheep Sorrel is my favorite leafy green. Its lemony flavor makes it a favorite among kids, who are never sheepish about gathering it.
- The Butternut is my favorite nut. Large and easy to shell with the right equipment, it tastes like walnuts and pecans, but with a smoky overtone