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My Afternoon with the Wildman

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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.

“What now??”

“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

Ingredients:
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!)

and

What’s your favorite party appetizer?

23 Comments

  1. Gives a new twist to spending a day in the park.

  2. Jessie, this sounds like such a fun tour to join. I’ll bet it was much much different than the foraging you did in China with your prof and class huh? Thanks for linking to the definition of analgesic properties. Always love learning through blogging. Who woulda thought that black birch branches would taste so refreshing and be so beneficial. I’ve never tried dandelion greens before, but I’ve heard many people using them in salads. Never tried acorns before, but don’t want to anymore. Haha.

    You’re always so darn cute in all your pics, even in a field of dead knotweed. Oh, I’m with you on leaving plant cultivating and engineering to the agriculturalists and anthropologists. That’s another whole new post in itself and could also start a war on here. So for those reasons, I’m not even going to touch that. Haha.

    Fieldl garlic looks just like onions. If you didn’t say anything I would’ve thought they were green onions. What a great way to use these up. I’ve seen different versions of stuffed mushrooms before, but this version sounds like a winner to me! Great job with the cleaning by the way. Those field garlic almost have a shine to them. Haha. This is another recipe I’ll have to bookmark. I’m a garlic lover so needless to say, I’m loving this recipe. So glad you guys had so much fun on this tour.

    I’m a little chicken, so I’ve never foraged around trying wild or foraged foods. Although, if I had a tour guide like Wildman, I’d definitely love to give these a try. Oh, and I love the mini disclaimer you wrote to Caveat. Too funny.

    Hoping you and Peter and your little furry babies are having a terrific weekend, Jessie.

    Take car!

    LeeQola 😀

  3. Wow, interesting adventure! I can’t imagine eating a lot of raw things like that on a regular basis, but it’s really neat to try I think! And the stuffed mushrooms look delicious 🙂

    In Russia it was quite common to go mushroom picking. My parents still reminisce about those mushroom picking days 🙂 I’ve never really foraged for anything beyond a blackberry though. It would be fun to try.

    Have a great week, Jessie 🙂

  4. Dairy-free stuffed mushrooms? (I feel like there’s always cheese) I’m there! I’ll have to try that some time.

  5. I’ve ALWAYS wanted to do a foraging tour. The only foraging I’ve done is for dandelion greens in my backyard as a kid (I hated them then, but I love dandelion now) and also for vine leaves to make dolmades. Buying the jarred grape leaves is NOT the same… they’re too stringy.

  6. Wow! This is soo neat! What a cool thing to go and do.
    I can’t recall that I’ve eaten anything too crazy. I need to get out and there and try a branch or something. 🙂
    These stuffed mushrooms look amazing!

  7. This sounds like such an amazing experience! And I always love how you and Peter capture such great candid moments, and then you add the commentary on your posts…it’s always entertaining 🙂

    I just tried dandelion greens for the first time at work the other day. They were..ok, but I’m not sure I would use them in my own cooking unless I had a REALLY great recipe.

    Your stuffed mushrooms sound delicious. Way to use nature in your cooking!

  8. What a fun trip! That is really cool that you have something like this near you. I have never had dandelion greens, or at least not that I know of. The mushrooms look great, and I am now very, very hungry.

  9. Jessie,

    Cool park tour. I could go for that. Dandelion greens are great, such an underused green in the kitchen.

    Wild hand-foraged lobster mushrooms were one of the best things I have ever eaten.

    For an awesome party app, I’d go for your stuffed mushrooms.

    Put that duck fat to good use. Then again, if you’d like, I’ll give you my mailing address.

    Be well

  10. Hey Jessie 🙂 Foraging, what fun!! Seriously, I’m not grimacing or anything 😉 I used to forage quite a bit, when I was still in my teens and there were things growing wild all over this tiny, hot and humid island. My mum taught me how to forage for things like fern shoots, wild edible local leaves and roots and bambooo shoots. They were actually abundant enough to give a trip to the market a miss, several times a week. I do miss those days. We’ve become so urbanised in just a few decades, it’s pretty shocking actually. It’s almost all gone now.

    I have tried dandelion leaves – they are delicious, but with a definite bite, kinda like a poor man’s arugula LOL

  11. Whoa this sounds like an awesome tour! Who knew so many edible things existed in the park! I’ve never had dandelion greens before but that recipe sounds delicious!

  12. I love stuffed mushrooms! And these look pretty amazing to me. And, dare I say it, do-able? 🙂

    I really go the easy, store bought route when doing appetizers. I basically forage the frozen section at Trader Joe’s! It’s about all I can handle. 🙂

  13. What a cool tour…I have had dandelion greens on several occasions, but never tried the Japanese knotweed shoots. Your mushrooms look delightful 🙂

  14. Oh what a fun thing to do! My mom was a plant biologist and she did a lot of foraging when she was younger. She sometimes forages Korean greens to put into stews or make into rice cakes. 🙂

    The first pic of you…it looks like you’re eating a Pocky stick! 😀

  15. Lately I had seen a lady make a wonderful chocolate cake with dandelion roots…how interesting that seemed to me and I now have it on my list for adventurous baking. Dandelion greens have been eaten in my family for years…however, I certainly can’t say the same for most of the other exceptional surprises discovered on your tour…how great for you to finally assist on such a culinary adventure ;o)
    This post was wonderful.

    Have a great weekend and flavourful wishes,
    Claudia

    1. Chocolate cake with dandelion roots!! I’ve never heard of it, but it sounds interesting! Please do feature it on your blog when you make it! 🙂

      Have a wonderful day, Claudia!

  16. This is really neat! I didn’t know these edible tours even existed!! I mean, I know you can eat (some!) wild plants but I didn’t know you could actually tour a park and eat them (genius idea). It’s really interesting that everything you tried had a much milder flavor than the produce in stores – but given how long we’ve been cultivating some of these fruits/veggies, it makes sense.

    The stuffed mushrooms look amazing!! And this recipe looks simple enough that even I could master it 🙂

  17. I wish I have an expert when I am doing this !! I love dandelion greens. My grandpa knows how to tell whether they are ‘real dandelion greens” or fake onces. we had them in dumplings or just steam them – M’mmm so good!
    But now you just make me curious about acorn! I want to try some – they look like hazel nuts 🙂

  18. Interesting! I have never seen field garlic before! And have not tried dandelion greens (though I have always seen them sold in grocery stores here)as well.

    Love your mushrooms bites esp the freshness of the ingredients. It’s almost like from field to satisfaction!

  19. Oh, Jessie. How I miss you sorely. 🙂

    This seems like the coolest edible expedition ever! I wish someone would organize one in my community. 🙂 It’s like a blend of taxonomy, botany, the great outdoors, and quirky gastronomy. What could be more exquisite!?

    (Also — how did you get the acorn open?!)

    Well, my only brush with dandelion greens (besides eating them in salad mixes, of course) has been with dandelion ice cream!! Yes, really and truly. It was absolutely delicious, although I was a bit disappointed that it did not taste very different from green tea ice cream. (I suppose it tastes similar because both green tea and dandelion greens are somewhat bitter…)

    Anyways. I wish you a lot of love. I wish I could write you a ginormous letter of love like LeeQ’s, but I’m afraid I could never top her comments! Hehehehe.

    <3 aletheia

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