Sunday, March 31, 2019

From the woods

Why do I forage? It's an unanswerable question. But I am as curious now about wild things as I was when I was a very small girl. Walking in the woods, or anywhere else, really, is an adventure. A never-ending Easter egg hunt. On a hill in a city park I might suddenly find wood ear mushrooms where two weeks before there was just a big, dry log. Species of Auricularia, wood ears (also called cloud ear fungus) are prized in Asian cuisines and sold dried by the bagful. Their texture is tender, like soft velvet covered with a thin film of cool, human skin. Yes, very strange.

While they are usually used dried and reconstituted, I find their fresh, cooked texture to be very appealing.

The early spring things that accompany them: field garlic, baby ground elder (invasive bishop's weed), lesser celandine (I dislike the leaves' slightly acrid flavor but use them for garnishes), and some horseradish-hot garlic mustard roots.

And then comes the recipe creation. This one-pot chicken, field garlic and cream stew with rustic potatoes was mouthwateringly good. The mushrooms became sponges, their soft black collars plumping up like oysters to absorb the sauce. They combine that oyster slipperiness with a crunch.

Field garlic (the invasive Allium vineale) is like an assertive chive, and I have been using the leaves a lot over the last week-plus. The soup above, veiled by a melting dollop of whipped cream is lamb, red wine and field garlic; the pesto on the cracker is garlic mustard. Both were leftovers from a forage-picnic in Inwood. I have not cooked with cream for a long time but I bought some for that picnic's chocolate spicebush roulade and had to use up the rest. I had forgotten how good it is.

And the faithful field garlic and cheese bread. It's one of the first snacks I ever made for my forage walks, and I think it is delicious. It is a baking powder bread so needs to be eaten within a day of baking to be best, but it does make outstanding toast. The recipe is in Forage Harvest Feast, and works just as well with normal chives or even thinly snipped scallion greens.

The next walk is on April 6th in Central Park's North Woods. What will the picnic be? Come and see...



  1. Your foraging is a life I dreamed as a kid, sparked by a 2nd or 3rd grade school book story of a young girl finding food in the woods (I tried finding the original with no success). I am so envious, but am afraid. My main worry is mushrooms, which I never touch thanks to some scary news of people going into hospital for mistaken ones.

    My three-cornered leek in potted conatiners is blooming and I plan to make soup soon.

    1. Fear is not a terrible thing. Many mushrooms are very challenging but luckily there is an edible handful that is easy to identify with no poisonous lookalikes. But perhaps there is someone local who leads walk and teaches classes so that you can grow your confidence with plants?


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