Friday, July 02, 2010

Stalking the Wild Bounty

Since my cookbook has come out I've had a few comments from readers about the sections that mention foraging. I think that most people who grow up in rural areas do some foraging, if only to pick berries. Foraging, searching for food in nature, is the oldest activity known to man. Even before we hunted we gathered and found ways to stay alive by looking to nature. These days the majority of people do their foraging in grocery stores but it may be making a comeback for those with a sense of adventure.

The high point of my father's foraging year was when wild leeks (ramps) came into season. He loved them. My mother hated them but she tolerated it when he arrived home from the woods all muddy and happy with a bucket full of the stinky things. He'd wash them and then she would fry them up in butter or add them to homemade potato soup and he'd slurp them down joyfully and sleep on the couch because they had a “fragrance” that lingered --- sometimes for days.

Dad's brother-in-law, our Uncle Custy, was another forager who knew a lot about wild mushrooms. He and Dad would go to the woods and come home with bushel baskets full of mushrooms. Uncle Custy knew which ones were the good ones and they were delicious fried in butter with garlic or wild leeks if there were any leftover.

Because the woods surrounding the town we lived in were full of old railroad grades there was always lots of places to go to hunt for wild berries and grapes. I can remember setting off in the morning with a pack basket on my back and not coming home until it was filled with blackberries. In the cookbook I talk about how Jack gathered wild grapes to make wine and, of course, Gram would forage in her backyard for dandelions to make salad.

At one point Dad discovered the books of Euell Gibbons. He bought all of them and would take a couple of us out in the woods looking for the plants described in it. I remember gathering different kinds of nuts and digging up ferns that had an edible root that tasted kind of like celery. We weren't tremendously productive but it was fun to be out in the woods with Dad and Euell. I wonder what happened to those books. I bet they're still in the bookcase in the kitchen behind the woodstove.

I've been thinking about this because I saw in North Shore Dish that Russell Cohen from Marblehead has started leading foraging adventures on the North Shore. Anyone interested in learning to forage can go on an expedition with him and try the treats he teaches you to hunt and prepare. I was happy to see mention in the article of several things I write about in my book including elderberry bushes, hickory nuts and wild grapes. They also mentioned sassafras bark which Dad often brought home from the woods to boil into tea, really delicious tea.

Of course coastal New Englanders know a lot about fishing but also about foraging from the shore. I was sitting on a rock out along the back shore one evening just reading a book when I noticed a man poking through the rocks at the water's edge. As he made his way back up the rocks he noticed me looking and he grinned. “Look at this,” he said holding out a bucket half-filled with slimy, round things covered with spiky bristles. What is that? I asked. “Sea urchins,” he said with a huge smile, “I'm going to have a good dinner tonight!”

Good for him!

Thanks for reading.

2 comments:

  1. Love this one, it brings back some very good memories.
    Raspberries are ripe early this year.

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  2. I forgot to mention our adventures in collecting maple sap to boil into syrup. We had half a dozen trees tapped and would come home with a couple buckets of sap. By the time we boiled it down we were lucky to get a cup of syrup but it sure was tasty stuff!

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