Book Report: The Wild Table
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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Amy, only YOU could make dandelions sound delicious (Connie Green, as well, I am guessing!) If I keep reading your blog everyday I am going to weigh 1,000 pounds! Going to have to go in search of this book…
You know that dandelion greens probably have very few calories, chickie . . . so EAT UP!! 😉
I don’t use many wild foods, but one that I do use on occasion is Stinging Nettle. It’s very versatile, and can be used the same ways as Spinach (and more).
I agree! But don’t forget to wear long gloves when harvesting it–ouch!
Growing up I had some of the items you mentioned but there are a few I have never heard of. I think our folks were of a generation that they where taught these things by their parents who lived during the Depression and knew how to make a meal out of the different things that grows wild. Sadly, the knowledge is fading away.
But Shawn, I think there is a resurgence in this area in malcontents and rebels like myself! Thanks for your comment, chickie!
I bet your spellcheck had fun with ‘curly dock’ – and also, I’m loathe to point out errors, but I didn’t see chocolate mentioned anywhere?
I don’t use spellcheck (you can probably tell) and I agree with you that any omission of chocolate in a food-related blog post should be outlawed! I wonder how tender cattails coated in chocolate might taste . . . . nah!! 😉
Looks like a book I will be on watch for. I get most of my books at a book store in Wisconsin named “Half Price Books” people sell their old books there and they buy out books stores that go out of business. I have found some real treasures there for pennies on the dollar. Can’t wait to get home and start working the ground. My wife tells me the ground is covered with snow today so I might need to wait a day or so.
Oh, Chef, you’re still not home yet? I hope that by the time you get there the ground will be thawed and all ready for you to plant your garden! And you’d enjoy this book, it’s crammed full of wonderful recipes!
How fabulous. I have a similar book by someone called Valentine Warner who likes to forage and gather. I have finally begun planting things in pots for our kitchen garden and this book looks like one we should definitely have on our shelves at @Westwoodhill 🙂
Yes Anita-Clare, you really ought to add it to your library. There are many really amazing recipes in it!
Amy, I have grown to absolutely love reading your blog! As much as I am trying to include more real food and less processed food in our diets, and I had not even considered wild food. We used to pick wild asparagus as kids, and my mom used to talk about cat tails, and dandelions and other plants – and how to harvest, and cook them. I don’t know why I put that information away and never used it – I guess it was always our “worst case scenario” fall back plan. Like, if grocery stores closed, or something! LOL Thanks Amy, you write beautifully and are quite inspiring!
You’re so sweet, Regina, thank you. Honestly, my mom was a Euelle Gibbons fan when I was a kid (Have you heard of him? He wrote Stalking the Wild Asparagus, a great foraging book.) so we did lots of foraging and I always thought it was the best kind of fun! I wonder sometimes why I work so hard to have a garden when there is so much wild food growing all around us . . . oh yeah . . . no wild tomatoes. That must be why! 😉
We don’t quite have dandelions popping up around here, the grass is just barely starting to turn from brown, and our weather is still up and down.
This isn’t the first place I’ve heard that dandelion greens are very good for you. I might just have to give them a try this year.
Do it, Gwynne! Give it a try and then let me know what you think!
I never knew what to do to make dandilions palatable. Thanks for that tip. And frying the flowers in batter–what fun. I must try that. You make the whole subject so interesting.
I must confess, Francene, if you decide to try the blossoms fried in batter, they mostly taste like . . . the batter. But it’s a fun thing to do!
You are my Dandelion Angel, Amy! I’ve got a yard full of dandelions and I know they are edible, I just never think of it. I lived in France for nearly 30 years and your blog has certainly conjured up savory mouth-watering memories. Too bad you don’t have duck fat because it really does make the best sauteed potatoes among other things!
Duck fat would probably not be something I could buy around here! I think I’d have to raise a flock of ducks in order to get it. Where do you live? Here in Nebraska the dandelions are just coming up, and that’s when they taste best–when they are less than 4″ long and before the flowers have shown up. Timing might be just right for you to enjoy some?
I love lambs quarters; I agree they are better than spinach! When my son was younger we used to make a “spinach pie” in a 8 inch square pan – layers of egg roll wrappers, cooked lambs quarters (you can use cooked spinach, too), feta cheese, and topped with some whole wheat bread crumbs – might be leaving out something, but you baked and it was a favorite dish of this boy who hated veggies. When we lived in rural Arkansas we also gathered elderberries (both flower and berry), wild blackberries, and wild strawberries. We even had wild persimmon trees but the seed was so big there was not much fruit left. Thanks for the memories!
Thanks for this recipe idea! I’ll try it this summer when my garden is overrun with lambs’ quarters. We have a lot of it growing around here.
Amy, whenever I come to your blog it is such a sensual experience, such a delight for the senses! Whether it be pies or berries or the wild foods that grow around us, it is beautiful experiencing what you share 🙂
Hi Hemal! What a sweet thing to say. I do enjoy the world we live in very much. I’m glad you’ve enjoyed some of my ramblings. 😉
My great grandmother made dandelion wine:)
My grandma made dandelion wine, too!
I love the sound of this book. I am a huge fan of wild and bush foods.
The are tours apparently you can do in inner city Sydney were you go and collect *weeds* from verges and then have a big cook up X
That sounds like a fabulous thing to do with your adorable little ones! (It would make a fascinating blog post, too, hint, hint!)