Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Foraging: hot new foodie trend, or the hottest new foodie trend?

Suddenly the world's foodies have gone crazy for foraging*.

Not that this isn't the time of year for it -- with morels, ramps, and dozens of other premium wild foods starting to appear in the edible landscape all around the country, we'd expect foraging to be associated with April, especially here in the Midwest. In the past couple weeks, I've seen blog posts on foraging and cooking nettles, wild onions, Japanese knotweed, morels, dandelion greens, dandelion blossoms, and even a recipe for making pickled dandelion buds. (Even Martha Stewart is talking about foraging -- the April issue of Martha Stewart Living features an article on wild foods, with recipes but without any instruction on how to identify and avoid nonedible lookalikes, natch. I'll stay on the alert and report back any planned litigation.)

Is interest in foraging growing? A quick blog search on 'foraging food' came up with 165 hits over the past week, as compared to 83 hits over the same week last year.


New York City-based forager Steve "Wildman" Brill has noticed it, too. "I've been getting large turnouts on most of my tours, including locations that bombed out in the past." What was seen as "really weird" in the 80s when Brill was busy getting arrested by Central Park Rangers for "eating the park," as then-Parks Commissioner Henry Stern put it, is now seen as interesting. Interest in foraged foods, says Brill, is "slowly growing." His foraging tours of New York City area parks attract a mix of local-eating enthusiasts, freegans, environmentalists, earth literacy educators, and survivalists.

Leda Meredith, based in Brooklyn, NY (and by the way what's with all the mega-urban foraging going on?) agrees. "My wild edible plants classes have been filling up quicker than in past years, and book and magazine editors have been receptive to the topic when I don't think they would have been as much so in the past. I think the local food movement has a big influence."

Beginning foragers may want to start with this helpful video series on YouTube called Eat The Weeds by Florida-based forager GreeneDean Jordan. However, as video 1 covers ten minutes on his personal philosophy of foraging and video 2 is an explanation of his system for reliably identifying plants, I'd start with video 3 (which is when he actually starts discussing specific edible plants) to get a feel for his style, and then watch video 2 before actually going out and eating anything.

Or start by joining ForageAhead, the yahoo group for foragers. The five-year-old twelve-hundred member email group has participants from all over the world and discusses finding, identifying, and cooking with edible wild foods, along with other topics related to wilderness living.

Maybe all this heightened interest is just a natural offshoot of the local-foods movement. Maybe it's fear of the predicted coming Depression causing folks to want to develop self-sufficiency skills. Either way, I've got to get me some stinging-nettle soup.

*In the interests of full disclosure, I must admit I've been foraging myself for wild garlic and a few other goodies. I've even signed up for a mushroom-hunting "foray" up in Bellefontaine in May. I'll report back on that, too.


Langdon Cook said...

Sorry...wish there was an edit button. One more try:

A trend? Probably. Here to stay? Hard to say. Michael Pollan has no doubt kicked up the interest level--but so have all the survivalists, millennialists, peak oilers, and other doomsayers that are a sign of the times. Fact is, foraging was a much bigger part of our grandparents' lives than it is ours. I saw some figures recently about canning that just blew me away. Before 1950 something like 75% of American households canned. I'll need to look it up for exact numbers.

Here in Seattle the biggest foragers are the folks just off the boat. They foraged in their homelands and it's only natural to forage here. Economical, too. A winter night of squid-jigging down at the Elliott Bay public pier is a fantastic amalgam of foreign tongues and excitement.

I've been foraging for about 15 years, but only seriously for the last five. By "seriously" I mean I purchased a vacuum-sealer and I'm now planning my year around what species are available when. That said, I still think of it as a hobby. Yes, there's satisfaction in subverting the dominant food paradigm, but I personally get more pleasure out of being outside, finding wild edible treasures, and cooking than I do imagining what sort of political impact I might be having. Bottom line for me is that foraging is fun and educational.

Great topic, Valereee!

Anonymous said...

Great post and comment finspot, you pretty much summed it up. I love getting out in the spring and morel hunting. Me thinks it's time for a trip to Rabbit hash.

Anonymous said...

I came across a book a few years ago that might be of interest to any foragers out there by Steve Brill who you mentioned in your post called 'The Wild Vegetarian'. I remember it didn't have too many tips on foraging, but did have a huge number of delicious looking recipes once you had already foraged.

I think it's interesting too that things that were once only gotten by foraging are now showing up in groceries and farmer's markets -- for example, I can get dandelion greens, nettle, and even fiddle head ferns at my local markets! yum!

maybelles mom said...

interesting post. Are they any ethical issues on foraging--I obviously wouldn't want to pull up all of anything, but is there any rule?

valereee said...

Vudutu, what's in Rabbit Hash?

Maybelles Mom, there are always ethical issues! Some wild foods (for instance, ginseng root) are so valuable that they have been foraged into endangerment. These obviously shouldn't be foraged at all. Others should be foraged with care -- for instance, when harvesting fiddlehead ferns, never take more than half the fiddleheads from any fern, and don't harvest from a fern more than once per season. Otherwise you could endanger the plant. You do need to know what you're doing.

valereee said...

Jen, I got some fiddlehead ferns at Madison's at Findlay Market here in Cincinnati last week. They also had morels. Haven't seen any ramps or nettles.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jen,

Glad you like my cookbook. The reason there's not much identification info in it is because it's a companion book to my Identifying and Harvesting Wild Edible and Medicinal Plants in Wild (and Not-So-Wild) Places, which features such info. The books are by different publishers, so they don't cross-promote. and I've got another book, Shoots & Greens of Early Spring in Northeastern North America that I'll be publishing myself within a week or 2. Please get signed books from my site, wildmanstevebrill.com, or the publisher and book seller will get nearly all your money. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Whats in Rabbit Hash? Heck it's the Center of the Universe havent you heard? Google it! Great folks and a friends property to walk, we look for morels admire the spring wildflowers and forage.

valereee said...

Maybelles mom, I forgot to also mention (and I'm glad you brought up this aspect!) that foraging usually also requires going onto someone else's property, so there's an ethical issue there too, obviously. :D It's best to have permission, though for some foods that most people consider weeds, it's kind of embarrassing to ask. My next door neighbors have a stunning array of dandelions in their back yard, but I can't decide whether it would be better for me to harvest while they're at work one day without their permission or to ask them and have the request be seen as some sort of criticism of the way they keep their yard.

maybelles mom said...

this is something that have talked with friends about quite a lot. Years ago, when I was in Japan I went foraging for fiddleheads. I was on a homestay and the family I was with had lifelong permission to do so--in otherwords, there was a connection with one's neighbors, and there was the understanding that you only take what you need, so we harvested and gave a portion back to the neighbors.

So this issue about tresspassing is also an issue about if your neighbors are informed about the value of what they have. Some neighbors might see your foraging as labor-saving for them--they wont have to dig up their dandelions.

Langdon Cook said...

Valereee, definitely ask permission. The embarrassment will be magnified if they catch you. Besides, you have the opportunity to provide yr neighbors with a "teachable moment."

Hurry, get 'em before the mower comes out! And let us know what you make

valereee said...

This post was featured in the carnivals of Improving Life, Frugality, and Homesteading

Anonymous said...

Pradeep and I would definitely agree that there is a groundswell of interest in foraging.

We believe that much of the new found passion for wild edibles stems from the public's growing uncertainty with regard to the safety and provenance of the foods that are availability on the common market.

There is no better way to forge a true connection with our individual terroirs than to go out into the world around us and forage for dinner.

Forage On! -

Farmer de Ville

Anonymous said...

Foraging is fun. I first did it about 20 years ago, hunting for wild berries. You can't get salmon berries any other way, and I love the delicate little morsels. I remember the first time I found oyster mushrooms. Made myself a nice omelette the next day. Food is better fresher, and even better when you sweat trying to get it.

It has been a couple years since I've done much foraging. I occasionally go into my yard and pull up some of the wild garlic and mint, but that is not the same.

This article has been included in the Dirty Fingers blog carnival. Thanks for the submission.

Anonymous said...

I love the idea of gathering wild foods, but the reality of it leaves me afraid of poisoning someone! I do make salads from dandelion greens and I've cooked cowslips, but I'm not ranging much farther than that. You give great references for those brave enough to try!

Terrell said...

I haven't thought much about wild foods since the seventies when my wife and I tried a few of Euell Gibbons' delicacies. Day lily buds were a delicious vegetable but it seemed a shame to rob the roadsides of tomorrow's blossums. The day lily tubers were not bad. Acorn bread was a lot of trouble and not very good.

My fourth graders tried lichens at "camp" this past week as part of a "survival" class. I missed that pleasure. The consensus seemed to be the stuff was tasteless.

I enjoyed your article. Thanks for supporting Learning in the Great Outdoors.

Anonymous said...

You might say that I harvest wild garlic out of my backyard since I don’t tend it or cultivate it like one would regular garlic that’s grown for the cloves/heads such as we buy in the stores. It’s Green Garlic, and it only takes a few feet of space to grow enough to last a family year round. From my experience it’s best to use hardneck type instead of softneck garlic as you get cloves or rounds AND bulbils to renew the harvest. Bulbils [pea sized ] form on top of the scape and if planted will make what’s called a round the next year [which looks like a small marble sized onion] which planted in the fall will produce a full head of garlic in July or harvested as green garlic in mid May the lastest.

Green garlic looks similar to green onions and any chef in the know will salivate when lucky enough to spy it at a vegetable stand. It smells and tastes like garlic cloves but is more mild and has a more, well let’s say, refined taste than garlic cloves. It can be used in most any recipe calling for garlic.

If I wanted to start my own patch of [wild] green garlic here’s what I’d do for a fall planting and harvest next spring in 09. Find some heads of hardneck garlic. Each clove on a mature head will yield one stalk of green garlic about the size of a medium green onion, so plan accordingly. Plant the cloves 2 or 3 inches deep and one inch apart to get larger stalks or if you want plant the entire head of garlic and it will form a clump and give large to small sizes of green garlic scallions.

If you leave the garlic be for a couple years [in the ground] it will get thicker and thicker as the cloves make new cloves and the bulbils fall to the ground and make new rounds and pretty soon in a few years you will have more garlic than you can shake a stick at. LOL. Also, in the summer when the tops die back you can dig them and plant the rounds/coves for a spring harvest.

You can also use the larger cloves for growing regular garlic that you harvest for heads of garlic.

If you can dig a 3 inch hole you can grow garlic. Even softneck garlic will work, the kind you get from the grocery store. In march-April, I’ve even dug and transplanted individual green garlic scallions and it made heads of garlic by July.

Mati said...

I really miss foraging for mushrooms in my hometown. With unfamiliar local fungi and no friendly mycologist to consult, it's a little more intimidating! We especially loved puffballs sauteed in butter, and found a few choice coral-like types that were unforgettable.