A few days ago, Peter and I had the good fortune to participate in a foraging tour of a local park with “Wildman” Steve Brill, an environmental educator who was arrested for “eating” NYC’s Central Park back in the 80′s. Peter and I have been trying to go on his edible tour for the past three years, so I was eager to jump into it. What new gustatory delights awaited me?
Well, I did a lot of this – facial expression and all:
Just so I don’t give you the wrong idea, I had a fantastic time on this tour! Who knew the park was full of such diverse and unusual tastes? In the picture above, I’m chewing the branch of a black birch tree, which besides having analgesic properties, also tastes pleasantly of spearmint – once you get past the prospect of chewing on a tree branch. (Caveat: Please don’t forage in your local park based on what I write on this post, then get sick and come after me, all that and such. If you want to eat your park, go buy a book or go on one of the Wildman‘s tours.)
What else did we try? Here’s a common one: dandelion greens. These greens are best when young, before the flower emerges. You may have tried dandelion greens before – I’ve even bought them by the bunch at a farmer’s market.
Acorns. These tannin-filled seeds are extremely bitter to eat unless you stew them for a long time (like, days), but Wildman Steve has a theory that the long winter months will dampen the bitter flavor. Based on my face while tasting it, this acorn could have used a few more months in Antarctica.
Here I am standing in a field of last year’s Japanese knotweed:
The new shoots are very noticeable amid the dead leaves of early Spring:
Here’s the Wildman himself, cleaning off a specimen for us to try:
The Japanese knotweed shoot should have a sour taste, a bit like rhubarb. I didn’t taste rhubarb, but I did get a pleasant mild taste. In general, I found that the foraged food had a much milder flavor than the conventional produce we buy in the grocery store. I can understand why people chose to cultivate and engineer edible plants over many years to yield stronger and more consistent flavors. Did we lose or gain in the process? I’ll leave that for the agriculturists and anthropologists to decide.
“Urg. You can try this one.”
My favorite find of the afternoon? Field garlic – lots of it!
Wait, Jessie! Don’t eat it raw! This delicious allium that tastes like a mild cross between garlic and onion deserves a special dish of its own!
Cleaned and ready to be chopped:
“Wildman” Field Garlic Stuffed Mushrooms (boring title, yes – all my energy went into cleaning that danged garlic)
Serves 4 for appetizers
1/4 cup chopped field garlic (bulb and white part of the stem)
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and fresh ground pepper
8 large white button mushrooms (wanted to forage some, but it’s too early in the season)
I know this seems like a lot of garlic, but the flavor is mild, I promise!
Peter found this wonderfully fresh and grassy olive oil from California:
Combine field garlic, panko, and parsley. Pour olive oil over all. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Hollow out the mushrooms with a spoon. Stuff with the … stuffing.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 8 minutes, or until the panko is browned.
The field garlic does not have a strong flavor, so feel free to add more if you like a stronger flavor. (Incidentally, this recipe also works great with regular garlic.) For me, the flavor of these field garlic stuffed mushrooms was perfect. Mild in taste, crunchy on the top, soft on the bottom. Anyone want to come over for a dinner party? ;)
Q: Have you ever eaten dandelion greens? How about any other “wild” or “foraged” food? (Safely, of course!)
What’s your favorite party appetizer?