Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Why We Forage (Part II)

Sautéeing bracken and ostrich fern fiddleheads
Why we forage is so as to know our way around this place.

I spend a lot of time flipping through books on wild foods, like those by Sam Thayer and Teresa Marrone (linked at right under "Bide-A-Wee Friends and Neighbors"), and I'm constantly amazed to see how little of  the surface of wild foods I have even scratched.  I don't think of myself as an expert, at all; rather, in this area, as in many things that I enjoy, I prefer to remain the happy amateur, noting that amateur comes from the Latin "to love."

But you do, you know, if you stick with something, come to know a thing or two, and so here's a list of the wild food plants I've cooked with, just running them off the top of my head:

Oyster mushrooms
Wood nettles
Stinging nettles
Ostrich fern
Bracken fern
Wood sorrel
Sheep sorrel
Hen of the woods mushrooms
Black trumpet
Golden chanterelles
Hedgehog mushrooms
Haw berries
High-bush cranberries
Sulfur shelf mushrooms
Tooth mushrooms
Fawn mushrooms
Boletus variety mushrooms
Staghorn sumac
Black cap raspberries
Burdock root
Maple syrup
Birch syrup

And I've probably forgotten a few.  My point here is that I never set out upon a concerted study of wild foods, never have devoted myself to eating them exclusively or primarily--though this year I've been making more of a point of it.  I pick up a new wild food item or two each year, and I learn by going where I have to go, as Theodore Roethke put it, so compellingly, in his poem "The Waking."

I am sure that the wild foods trend will ebb down in time; I am just as certain that as it does so it will leave behind, like bright baubles of beach glass on a sandy shore, a few devoted souls who became caught up in it, for whatever reason, and who found in it that compelling something that will have them heading out to the woods again, year after year, and they'll take someone with them, and if it's the right someone, that right someone will lead another newcomer into a woods full of ramps or chanterelles, a blackberry patch or a plum grove, and a lovely and sustaining tradition will endure.

Furthermore, I would say:  See Patrick's comment on the previous post.  He boils a lot of my thinking down far more succinctly than I've been able to do.

Bide-A-Wee Chop Suey: wild asparagus, ramps, bracken and ostrich fern, morels


I've been working pretty intensely on the cookbook for a good few months now.  The end is really and truly in sight:  one more read-through of the proof-read page proofs, then it's off to the printer and nothing more to be done.  (You can place an advance order alreadly at Amazon, by the way.)  Having spent so much time poring back and forth over what is basically the content of this blog, I'm feeling, for the moment, that anything I put up here is something of a rehash--you might have noticed that I was citing myself in the previous post, which, while amusing in some ways, I do not think is an awfully good sign, over all.  Therefore, so as not to become tedious, I'm taking a couple of weeks off, with every expectation that I will return refreshed.  We've been eating well here, and coming up with interesting preparations of the swell foods of the season, from woods, stream, market, and garden.  I just haven't been able to find interesting ways to write about it.

So happy June; eat well, have fun.  Thanks, all.  Back soon.

Text and photos copyright 2011 by Brett Laidlaw


Nancy @ rivertreekitchen said...

I posted a shout-out to your book (and blog) on my blog. I'm new to blogging, so I don't know how much good it will do, but I really loved the book. I can't wait until it comes out, if for no other reason than to prove to my husband that we could, in fact, tap our mini-forest of box elders for syrup.

el said...

I remember first walking our property when we looked at it in July, and I saw asparagus, blackberries, sassafras, sumac and elderberries, and I thought it was a forager's paradise. "All this and dinner too," yay.

Then I visited a local museum that had a lot of artifacts and things used by a Native American tribe (Pokagon band of Potawatomi) and goodness, I had no idea. They ate and made stuff out of everything. So it shows I knew nothing! And I still don't!

which is what makes foraging fun, I think.

It's cultural, too, though, Brett. Ask any eastern European immigrant about mushrooming, for example: they all run into the woods, willingly. It's our grocery store culture that kills all this knowledge.

good luck with the final-final

Trout Caviar said...

Hi Nancy: I just read your mention of the book on your blog--blushing still. Thank you. And thank you again for the nice words here.

I haven't personally tapped box elders, but I know others who have. We have a couple of big ones on our property, but mostly they seem to fall down before they get to a size for tapping.

I'll link your blog here and look forward to checking in often. Whereabouts in Wisconsin are you?

Hi El: Imagine that kind of life, when just getting enough food to eat was a full-time job. You had to make use of everything. By comparison, the way I use wild foods is more or less as garnish.

My latest addition to the wild-foods repertoire is honewort, or wild chervil (though it bears no resemblance to chervil). It's got a celery-like taste, and it grows everywhere on our land.

So true about the cultural influence. Every Russian emigré I've ever met goes into an ecstasy while recalling those family foraging outings. And while there's surely a large aspect of the trendy to this current interest in foraged foods, I do think it will have a lasting--positive--impact.

Also I forgot to list gooseberries, black currants, and prickly ash berries (for spice, related to Sichuan pepper).

Cheers~ Brett

mdmnm said...

Haven't been commenting much, but as always I've enjoyed your recipes and posts. Congrats on the book and hope you enjoy your time off!
Tight lines!

sylvie in Rappahannock said...

So many mushrooms... definitively a food I don;t enough to forage (except for morels!).

Enjoy the time off!

WeekendFarmer said...

wow! Is that a picture of Watercress in a stream?? You are so lucky! I just got seeds and will experiment.

Have you tried lambs quart? They are amazing as well! Thats the only wild food I remember from Bangladesh. We collected a load of it this weekend in the sheep pasture. Saute it with dried red chilli, garlic and olive oil....mmmmm devine : )

Nancy @ rivertreekitchen said...

Brett, when I'm not editing and blogging I'm on the board of the Waupaca (WI) Book Festival. if you're interested I'd love to chat with you about the 2012 Festival. At our first festival last year, we had authors from all across the U.S. meeting with readers, reading from (and selling) their books. This year we may possibly have a food theme.
Your editor Shannon has my direct email. Send me a note to let me know if you're interested.

Trout Caviar said...

Mike, great to hear from you, and happy to see that you've been posting again at your site, too.

Hi Sylvie: Mushrooms are my favorite wild food to forage. If I can add one new 'shroom to my repertoire each year, I consider myself lucky. When the market and garden are giving us tomatoes, sweet corn, green beans, etc., I don't bother much with wild greens, but I'll definitely brave the bugs and weeds and steamy heat to gather chanterelles and black trumpets. There's nothing else like them.

WF, yes, the header is watercress in a spring in SE Minnesota. I know of a few cress springs roundabouts my stomping grounds. I have tried lambsquarter, and I like it--ought to eat more of it, too, as it's taking over my garden already!

Nancy, thanks, will be in touch.

Cheers, all~ Brett