This post marks the start of an ongoing series relating to foraging, wildcrafting and wild edibles. Gathering wild edibles has been something I have always done without really thinking about it. It was a way of life growing up on a small New England farm in a very rural area. There wasn't a season that we didn't gather some kind of wild edible. It helped that my stepmother was an amazing gardener/botanist and a Vermont farmer’s granddaughter. We spent countless hours in the woods and the fields on our small farm where she would point out edible plants to us. In part it was an economic choice to gather these treasures as it has historically been for many New Englanders. In the early days of may she sent us out to gather the tiny wild strawberries that grew in the cow pasture. With them she made her coveted wild strawberry jam. When we drove her crazy she shooed us outdoors to find "sour grass" or sheep sorrel and other wild greens for the salads. At summers end we gathered blackberries and elderberries, and with the colder days of fall we were sent in search of wild grapes and cranberries. I can still find the exact spot on my dad's property where wild cranberries grow and the one juniper bush lives at the wood's edge in that far corner of the large field. At the time I was not so crazy about growing up on a small family farm, but now I think it was the perfect place to be. We were given an absolute freedom of the woods that I am not sure kids have today. When I moved to New York for school some twenty odd years ago I never thought I would stay, but here I am, a complete city dweller. So I have decided to bring a little of the woods and the country into my city life by using more wild edibles on a regular basis. Some of these I will gather myself when I can and others I will get from professional wildcrafters and gatherers at the many local markets here in New York City.
I was inspired by a recent trip to Faviken in Northern Sweden where I had the most unusual and spectacular meal of my life. I ate mushrooms and moss and lichens and a seven year old dairy cow, but it was the philosophy behind it that mostly had me hooked. The Sweden trip renewed my interest in gathering. As I mentioned earlier, I am not a stranger to gathering by any means, I gather ramp and wild onions, dandelion greens and teaberry and of course all kinds of wild berries in Upstate New York where I go to get out of the city. The Sweden trip made me realize it can be part of my every day life even if I am not constantly living in the country. At Faviken, they take great care with what they pick. They gather ethically, only harvesting small amounts of wild edibles. They realize they have a relationship with the forests and the fields and they must at all costs protect that delicate balance. The dishes they serve are very minimal. I was suddenly seeing the beauty and the flavor in a single pea flower as opposed to a whole pile of them. I fell in love with the long forgotten lovage plant. I had wild herb infusions every morning and a cold juniper infusion with dinner. Walking the woods with Magnus, the chef at Faviken, suddenly everything seemed very alive. We talked about reindeer lichen and old man's beard, mushrooms and berries.
As far as mushrooms go I have never really spent much time picking them. I went with my grandparents and their Italian friends a couple of times in Northern Vermont, where they lived for many years, to pick chanterelle's and morels. I don't feel particularly confident picking mushrooms myself. Since there are so many poisonous similes I tend to leave the mushrooms to the experts. There is a definite science to mushroom picking, spore prints must be done and guides should be consulted. I would never pick mushrooms without checking a guide and doing a spore print.
That is a whole other post for another time!