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Foodies in the Great Outdoors: Foraging

Around the World, Food Lovers — By NileGuide staff on July 20, 2009 at 8:14 am

Being a foodie isn’t just about finding the best restaurants, taco stands, and wine bars; it’s about finding and savoring the widest variety of food experiences possible. So what is a foodie in the outdoors to do? Forage.  When you delve into the ‘gatherer’ side of your hunter-gatherer heritage, there is a wealth of edible goodies to be had: wild greens, flowers, vegetables, fruits, wild yeast, and mushrooms. Make sure that you have a trusted field guide with you any time you are foraging, as a percentage (albeit small) of plants growing in the wild anywhere can harm or even kill you.  To familiarize yourself with safe eating practices, avoiding endangered species, and general rules of thumb, it’s a good idea to become familiar with the Forager Press, particularly their Do’s and Don’ts before trying your hand at foraging in these six destinations:

  • In Sweden, you don’t have to venture far outside of Stockholm to find a huge bounty of edible mushrooms. Horn of plenty, ceps, and chanterelles are common here. Not much of a chef, or like the hunt better than the eating? Sell them to a mushroom buyer or directly to a restaurant: they’ll pay top dollar.
  • Vancouver’s location and climate bring a veritable bumper crop of edibles. Yummy greens such as stinging nettles are easy to find, and the mushrooms include matsutake and morel. Head along the north coast to take advantage of wild (and wildly delicious) blackberries and huckleberries in the summer.
  • Chicago, believe it or not, sparks a forager frenzy every spring. The Native Americans that first settled the area gave the city its name, which actually means ‘Stinky Town’, because of the wild onions that overtook the region. These spring onions, or ‘ramps’, have become an object of obsession for local chefs. Join in the hunt for ramps, or just enjoy the annual Ramp Festival that plays out in restaurants city-wide.
  • Most people think of Italy or France when they hear the word ‘truffles’, but the UK is actually a great place to go foraging for these precious hunks of fungus. It’s the UK’s rainy, humid climate that helps them grow. Just grab your trusty truffle-sniffing pig (or a seasoned veteran truffle hunter), strap on your wellies, and go!
  • The San Francisco Bay Area combines a huge array of forageables with a huge foraging community. While NileGuide does not in any way condone illegal activities, anyone with a small boat and a wetsuit can go hunting for the elusive and endangered Abalone.  Much less dangerous is hunting for wild purslane, which is a pest for local farmers that just happens to be delicious.  Since the only way to fully eradicate purslane is liberal application of chemical pesticides, any purslane you find is going to be organic in addition to a crunchy, salty, pleasantly sour green high in Omega 3 fatty acids. If you’re a baker, consider ‘hunting’ the air for some of the area’s famous ‘sour’ yeast. Figure out how to catch and feed a yeast beast here.
  • Believe it or not, your own backyard probably has a bunch of edibles you can forage without much trouble… that is, unless you use pesticides on any of your plants or have your house sprayed for bugs. If your yard is chemical clean, a great place to start foraging is with an annoying weed: dandelions! Use the leaves to make a fun addition to your salads. Who knows… you might find a patch of morels in your weekly dandelion hunt.

While you have to be careful foraging (and remember that wild does not necessarily mean clean), it’s a great way to get in touch with your natural surroundings and change your thinking about where your food can come from. Do you forage something great in a destination I didn’t cover? Let me know in the comments section!

Photo courtesy of Srini G/ Creative Commons

Tags: abalone, foraging, morel, mushrooms, purslane, ramps, truffles

    8 Comments

  • Alexi says:

    The first time I visited my Grandpa in Austria he took me mushroom hunting in the alps behind his house. I felt like Heidi, and have been kind of hooked to finding wild food ever since. Since San Francisco doesn’t have those tiny orange mushrooms we found in Europe, I like to look for…
    - Blackberries (common along streams or bodies of water all over California. Plus they’re in my backyard)
    - Day Lilies (not everyone knows these flowers are totally edible. Impress your friends by eating their garden!)
    - Figs (you’d be surprised at the number of wild fig trees in the Bay Area. Pick the fruit when it’s a deep purple. YUM.)

  • Victoria says:

    @Alexi,
    Thanks for the tips! I had no idea that day lilies were edible… and didn’t know there were wild fig trees in the Bay Area. I’ll keep my eyes open for them so I can make one of my favorite recipes: Grilled Bacon-wrapped Figs stuffed with Goat Cheese!

  • Nicole Lerner says:

    Mmm. blackberries, huckleberries and morels. You just added three more reasons I want to visit Vancouver soon.

  • Alexi says:

    Just so you know, when you make it I’ll be the crazy person drooling outside your house.

  • Wink Lorch says:

    Love this post, Victoria and love the idea of foraging. But, in my area of the northern French Alps, word has got out that doctors have been warning people against picking the wild blueberries (bilberries) that abound on our mountainsides in August/September. The reason? Apparently the foxes’ urine gets into them and carries some awful diseases – the simple act of washing the fruit doesn’t get rid of it and results can be serious. I was warned about this when I became excited about the mass of ‘wild’ or ‘alpine’ strawberries (the really tiny ones) in my chalet’s garden … I planted a few runners about 6 years ago from someone elses garden, and now they are everywhere – and delicious with a really delicate taste. I ignore the advice (though I wouldn’t let a child eat them) in the hope that foxes wouldn’t approach so close to my chalet and deliberately use my strawberry patch as a bathroom! Incidentally, notes of Alpine Strawberries are often cited as the aroma of delicate reds or rosé wines, so I’ve been busy sniffing them to remind myself.

  • Victoria says:

    @Wink Lorch- berries as a fox bathroom! Oh my! We don’t have many fox here in Northern California (I don’t think) but it’s definitely always a good idea to do your research before eating anything wild. Thanks for the advice!

  • Meredith says:

    Yum! I just started my own wild yeast sourdough starter today! I have big hopes. Also, if you’re interested in more foraging in SF you should check out http://www.foragesf.com sometimes they have forage hikes and also special foraged dinners on houseboats! Also yum I hope you find some figs soon…

  • Russ Cohen says:

    Anyone visiting New England is welcome to check my website (http://users.rcn.com/eatwild/sched.htm) to see if I’m leading any foraging programs that might coincide well with your itinerary. I’ll be happy to help facilitate your connecting to the local landscape of New England and upstate NY via your taste buds.

    – Russ Cohen

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