ersatz_read (ersatz_read) wrote,

new-to-me foods

Last weekend I went on a field trip to identify, collect, talk about, and eat wild edibles.  It was a worthwhile trip.  The owner of a flower farm was kind enough to not only let us roam and forage on her land, but also to let us stomp through her house in hiking boots and use her kitchen.

The menu:  flower canapes (herbed cream cheese on canape bread, topped with petals), purslane salad (with wood sorrel, lots of flowers, and a balsamic vinaigrette), quiche (made with lambs quarters, garlic mustard, and amaranth greens), cooked nettles, cattail spikes, (common) milkweed pods, and berry crisp (made with mulberries, currants, and black raspberries).  We also had mushroom appetizers, calendula cookies, sumac-ade, elderberry-ade, and half a dozen teas/tisanes.

The spread was beautiful, and the meal was satisfying.  However...

  • A thing can be natural and still not set well with some people - but with so many different foods at once it's difficult to identify just what might be the culprit.  Happily I had no issues, but I ate sparingly of the items I was eating for the first time (the nettles, cattails, and milkweed).  And, this was a great way to pass over from nibbling at the wild to actually making a meal of it (with - in this case - the assistance of eggs and dairy).

  • I didn't feel totally safe, and much of my sense of safety came from knowledge I had beforehand, not from the trip leaders. They did a great job, but seemed far more interested in just trying stuff some book had mentioned, without then also looking up whether or not there were any references to the item being toxic or not well-tolerated.  Maybe that happened behind the scenes...but I don't think so:  when I mentioned having heard that people with pollen allergies should be cautious about eating flowers, they'd heard nothing like that and could neither confirm or deny it (I suspect it isn't really true - hay fever doesn't mean one is allergic to all pollen - but had seen enough references to make it a legitimate question).

  • Some were certain that wild-harvested foods are automatically better than any other food, and there was no attempt to moderate such opinions.  There are - for example - wild-harvested foods that are listed as edible but may contain naturally-ocurring carcinogens.  I also think it's also a hard sell as a sustainable lifestyle for the populace at large, due to logistics and labor, so it isn't something that should be pushed wholesale as the way for everyone to live.

  • The nettles, cattails, and milkweed would have been improved by some seasoning (which we could have harvested).  But it was the first time for everyone on those ingredients.  The nettles were like a cooked spinach, but a bit...fuzzy...and with absolutely no flavor.  I suspect the cattail spikes would have been mighty tasty fried and salted - or roasted over a bonfire; as it was they were just wet and a bit cold, as were the milkweed pods.

I was looking for more than just the usual glossy survey of wild edibles, and the class defnitely delivered.  It would be unreasonable for me to hope that a half-day session would have time to delve very deeply into questions of benefits, detriments, and nutrition levels of various plants, how best to acquire a complete, balanced diet at different times of the year, whether or not a specific plant might cross-pollinate in a way that might introduce extra toxins (apparently the various milkweeds might do this), etc.

Why did I take this class?

  • When I was young, I would read books and then try things I found in the yard - much as the class did; I would like to recapture that level of curiosity and experimentation, seasoned with accumulated knowledge.

  • I wanted to see if I could flip the switch or cross the gap, from the average American diet to something else entirely.  This is a psychological switch as much as a physical one.  I think yes (although I spent the next 3 days at Mom's, eating tasty sugar-based foods).  I do feel I can make inroads into adding regular foraged-foods dishes to my repertoire, as a wild-domestic fusion rather than unseasoned survival-style fare.  That sounds fun.

  • I continue to poke at a story where my main character lives wild, and always has lived wild.  I don't feel I can convincingly portray that lifestyle without more research, and this is a first step.

I do intend to look into Sam Thayer's books, as he did what I half-feel I ought to do but suspect I never will:  live off the land for months in a row.  And, this class clarified the scope of the wild edibles book that I would like to write, if I write such a book.
Tags: food/cooking, outdoors
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