If I were a cat and could have nine lives (or more) to live, in one of them I would definitely want to be a wild food huntress. I would wear a long cape and would spend most of my time outside, seeking treasure in the form of wild mushrooms, berries, nuts, and greens. To be precise, I would like to be Connie Green, who has founded and continues to run Wine Forest Wild Mushrooms, one of the most highly respected wild-food businesses in the United States, with a clientele of top chefs around the country.
But I’m not a cat, and I have only one life on earth to live, and so I can pore over Ms. Green’s book, The Wild Table, and learn from her about the natural bounty of our land and all the wild foods that are available to anybody who educates himself a bit and enjoys a walk in wilder areas from time to time.
Honestly. . . right now, though it’s very early spring in Nebraska and the buds are still clenched tightly on the trees and the grass is just beginning to green up, there are dandelions coming up in my yard. They are everywhere, but it wasn’t always so. European settlers brought dandelions to the New World. Imagine–we have them to
blame thank for this green with its large doses of vitamins A and C just when they are needed after a starch-filled winter diet! You can also eat the young tender flowers, sauteed in butter or dipped in batter and fried, and if you’re particularly adventurous you can roast the roots and grind them into a coffee-type beverage. (Though if you do do this, you may decide–like we did–that it’s not worth the effort to do it a second time.)
In fact the season for dandelion greens is right now, before the plant has put out its famous bright flower, and the leaves are young and tender. They are delicious in salads, and are fabulous in a recipe that I found in this book, “Stir-Fried Dandelion Greens with Duck Fat and Garlic.” (I substituted butter for the duck fat, not having any of that on hand and it was delicious.) Just be sure to collect your dandelion greens in an area that has not been sprayed for pesticides.
This wonderful book is divided up into seasons, and is full of gorgeous photos of wild foods and recipes such as “Elderberry Fool” and “Poor Man’s Truffle Risotto” and “Purslane Salad with Hot Bacon Vinaigrette and Garlic Croutons.” Not all of the wild foods featured will be growing in your area, but I was surprised at how many of them grow around us.
On our little acreage alone, we’ve picked many delicious and nutritious wild foods. Nettles are a rich source of protein, iron, vitamin C and vitamin A and are delicious cooked (like spinach) with a bit of olive oil and vinegar, or in our lunchtime smoothies. Purslane grows wild in our garden–I can weed my garden, and then come in with a lunch full of omega-3s. Purslane pairs deliciously with bacon and garlic. Oh, now my mouth really is watering.
There’s curly dock which, chances are, grows within a stone’s throw of your house, even if you live in the city. It has a succulent lemony flavor when it’s young and delicious sauteed with a bit of butter. Lamb’s quarters grow everywhere as well, and my children actually prefer them, steamed with a bit of butter, to cooked spinach. The elderberries which the county road crews–despite their best efforts–are not able to completely eradicate, make delicious jellies and syrup, and–we discovered a couple of years ago–the most beautiful wine you’ve ever seen. Wild plums are in the ditches, too, and make a beautiful jelly.
Now I’m getting excited! My favorite wild food to find, of course, is the morel mushroom. When we were growing up in Nelson, I remember going out to hunt them and bringing home large bags full. Unfortunately I’ve never found the areas around where I live now where these delicacies grow, but I keep going out and looking for them. Little Mack will be a valuable ally this year in this hunt, as low to the ground and sharp-eyed as he is. He’s also got scads of energy, which makes him just perfectly suited to days of hunting morel mushrooms this spring. I can’t wait!
Connie Green (with Sarah Scott) writes with enthusiasm and passion about the wild foods that grow happily all around us despite our best efforts to eradicate them. Kudos to both authors for this fascinating and satisfying book! It’s one of my favorites to read in the springtime, and always makes me itchy to get out and do one of my favorite things . . . take a long walk in the woods and return home with a sackful of wild goodies to cook for dinner!
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