Thursday, June 3, 2010

Wild Thing, I Think I Love You

Foraging is seasonal eating at its most primal. It's also a gastronomic dividend for hiking the wilderness. Not only can foraging provide fresh foods at their peak, those foods (if sold commercially), sell for premium prices. Fine dining restaurants pay top dollar for morel mushrooms, fresh brook trout, tender ramps, or wild strawberries. So, for the eager forager, a day's hike and exploration can yield culinary gold.

Fishing and/or hunting provide one of the costliest items for many grocery budgets: meat for the table (or freezer.) Licensing and fuel costs can be off-set by the successful enthusiast who brings home a catch of fish, a brace of fowl, or fresh game. But, these activities aren't for everyone.

For those who don't hunt, nor enjoy flaying the water for fish, there are other foods to forage which don't require a gun, rod or license. Wild vegetables like onions, leeks (ramps), dandelions (roots, greens and flowers,) pigweed (also known as Lamb's Quarters), fiddlehead ferns, horseradish and skunk cabbage are all exotic ingredients which bring powerful flavour profiles to the larder. Various berries and nuts grow in different regions, and are available from spring through fall. Mushrooms, too, have a range of seasons and locales, though you'll want to use extreme caution when picking the wild varieties. Know exactly which mushrooms you're picking – if you don't, they're not worth the poisoning risk. Spruce buds, rose-hips, and other herbage and flowers, fresh or dried, can be used in tasty and nutritious teas and tisanes, or as cooking ingredients. Some have medicinal properties so you'll want to carefully research your foraged foods to be sure of their effects. Wild honey and honeycomb are rare and golden treasures, but only for adventurous scavengers who don't suffer anaphylaxis.

Most local governments (provincial, state, and regional) offer informational web-sites on native foods, where they can be legally gathered, how to properly identify them, when they are in season, and what their ideal environs are. Here's a web-site I stumbled upon (Herbal Odyssey) which offers several books by Jim Meuninck on foraging and other related topics, and provides links to comprehensive information on a wide variety of edible plants. Once the research is done, you can mark your calendar with the various scavenging opportunities you've discovered for your area.

So, if you enjoy the wilderness, enjoy getting out into the back country for a hike, try foraging during your next outdoor adventure. Not every scavenging hunt will meet with success, but when you do find forage, you'll bring home some very exclusive culinary delights for your pantry.