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Foraging - Into the Woods

Watching Jaime Oliver forage for wild mushrooms last week, reminded me of my grandmother who used to take me on her foraging expeditions. We would pick cherries, wild raspberries, and look for poke sallet. We’d gather black walnuts in the fall, and in the winter she would look for spice bushes for tea. I really hated those walks then, but now I look back in fondness of the things she taught my mother and me. She also gave me a deep appreciation of where food comes from. Does anyone still do this, and if you do, what do you look for?

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  1. Wild Asparagus! Ever since I learned how common it still is along the riverbanks I get obsessed, walking along looking down... The shoots, sticking straight up, are easy to miss. The big feathery plant is easy, but f course by then it's too late and you just have to try to remember where you saw it last year.

    1 Reply
    1. re: missoulagrace

      Wild Asparagus! I'm intrigued, can I find them in the NE, central pa to be exact. We have the Susquehanna River running thru town. What do I look for?

    2. I ignore the mushrooms growing in my yard - I don't know enough to forage safely. But I have black raspberry bushes all over my property and eat myself silly every year. I used to gather tiny apples from the woods, but now the birds and animals gorge themselves before I get any. I love sour green apples!

      7 Replies
      1. re: Catskillgirl

        We too are blessed with wild raspberry bushes on the edge of our back yard. The desire for fresh fruit has to outweigh the thorny pain the bushes can inflict. To enlarge our yield we have planted bushes of our own closer to an easier harvesting area (behind the garage). The full sized apple tree in the other corner of the yard needs serious pruning but it is too high for me so the birds and other critters get to sample the fruit before it decays on the ground.

        1. re: feelinpeckish

          So your wild raspberries are actually good? In my experience they've been so-so and not worth the prickles. Wild blueberries, on the other hand, totally great.

          1. re: Aromatherapy

            I have wild black raspberry bushes all over my property. They are absolutely delicious. Just a bit smaller than the raspberries you see in the market, and a gorgeous deep dark rich red. Very, very yummy.

            1. re: Catskillgirl

              I also have tons of wild black raspberries at both of my houses and they are the only raspberry that I like. They are seedy, but taste so yummy. I make the biggest thickest pie and use no cornstarch to thicken. I just love the natural juice that it produces.

              1. re: thecountryrose

                And they make an awesome jelly! Years ago, my black raspberry jelly won a red ribbon at a harvest fair.

                1. re: al b. darned

                  Fifty years later, I can still taste the tiny wild strawberries we picked on vacations in the Catskill Mountains. The largest weren't more than a half inch long. Popped into my mouth a second after plucking, they were the most delicious thing I've ever eaten. The one and only time my mother made preserves was from these berries - almost as good, and didn't last for long!

                  1. re: greygarious

                    I agree on this topic... Midwest though.

      2. As kids long ago--wild watercress in the streams in the foothills of the Sierras in the spring and diving for edible seaweed near Chinaman's Hat near Kaneohe on Oahu. Later: wild blackberries in the hills around Eugene and small green apples from the trees along Amazon Parkway. In the tropics, guava and banana flowers are always seen as a free good, as are small quantities of sweet potato and cassavas leaves. Where grown, just a couple of taro leaves is OK. Now and then a few green/Indian mangoes from the trees on our research institute campus. And squash blossoms from the vines that now pop up here and there along my running route.

        21 Replies
        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

          Fiddlehead ferns, ramps, mushrooms, rasp & black & blue berries. cranberries too. Mussels & clams, w/ beach pea. And a big garden.

          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

            "In the tropics, guava and banana flowers are always seen as a free good, as are small quantities of sweet potato and cassavas leaves."

            Thats funny.... in California Universities guavas are also seen as a free good. Okay, okay... the truth is that no one else seemed to know the big tree between the Corporate fast food chain dominated food court and the Gay & Lesbian Students Organization office... bore edible fruit. I still remember my starving (90 mile a week Track running) college student classic $2 meal of....

            2 * $1 Famous Stars + 4 Guavas & unlimited drinking water.

            1. re: Eat_Nopal

              Ha! Get a "high" from running and have some CJ's famouses. For me it was Jack in the Box then Krystals came to Dallas.

            2. re: Sam Fujisaka

              Banana flowers? I'm intrigued - what do you do with them? I'm thinking similar to squash blossoms for some reason, but have never come across them.

              1. re: Catskillgirl

                More complicated. You have to clean them, cutting the tip and removing the tougher outer petals like an artichoke. Care is needed to not stain anything with the sap. Then carefully julienne and soak in acidulated water (w/ lemon juice). Can then be used as a salad ingredient or cooked into curries.

                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    I think I've had them in a hot and sour soup too.

                  2. re: Catskillgirl

                    I would estimate the purple flower part to be 12 inches long excluding the flower base or stem. This is what I would guess to be a small banana tree in a greenhouse. Bananas were about six inches long.
                    A lot bigger than an artichoke!

                     
                    1. re: Scargod

                      You want to harvest the flower before it gets that big.

                  3. re: Sam Fujisaka

                    I've been meaning to ask... we have a banana tree in the backyard, of the kind of bananas that aren't necessarily tasty when just peeled and tried. (L.A.) Anything tasty and edible to do with any of the tree's proceeds (aside from banana leaves to wrap other foods in)?

                    1. re: Cinnamon

                      deep fried banana blossoms. Half the bananas, cover w/ brownsugar and grated coconut and broil.

                      1. re: Passadumkeg

                        Just (not) like opening a can! Pass, you are a wealth of information. I hope you're writing all this down for posterity.

                        1. re: Passadumkeg

                          Do you mean half the blossom before bananas appear... or the blossom that remains around the edges after the bananas appear, with the banana fruit (halved) too?

                        2. re: Cinnamon

                          Harvest a young flower, trim off the outer petals, slice thinly cross-wise (you'll get a julienne), and soak in acidulated water (with lemon juice or vinegar). Use gloves or work carefully as the sap stains. The flower can then be used in stir frys or as part of a salad.

                          1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                            I was amazed to see how big these blossoms can get. I would say this was around 12 inches long. Bananas were about 4-5 inches long. Are they always purpleish?

                             
                             
                            1. re: Scargod

                              The older blossoms are purple. The ones to eat are younger, smaller, and still pinkish and purple.

                            2. re: Sam Fujisaka

                              Thanks... I take it you mean when the flower looks like it does in the left-hand pic that Scargod posted (not after bananas have appeared).

                              1. re: Cinnamon

                                Yes, the hanging single flower that appears prior to fruit set. But harvest a lot younger. That old purple one in the photo woldn't be edible.

                                1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                  Thanks... will try to commit this to memory for next flowering season!

                                    1. re: Passadumkeg

                                      Geez, you'll eat anything. Couldn't your mother just color up a few hard boiled eggs and hide them in plain sight?

                          2. Mountains of the Pacific NW for coral mushrooms and fern sprouts.

                            30 Replies
                            1. re: hannaone

                              Fern sprouts as in kosari? My family still goes out every spring to look for these!

                              We also used to forage for acorns for dotori mook (acorn jelly) in the parks of Winnipeg, but now with all the pesticide spraying for mosquitos, it isn't a great idea.

                              I always look for wild raspberries and blueberries. I also like to look for the low-growing wild blueberries in the tundra up north. They are difficult to harvest because they are very low to the ground, but they make a delicious berry pie.

                              1. re: moh

                                Yep!
                                We hit the "secret" places and hope to get there before they are discovered by the other Korean foragers.
                                Every spring is a mad scramble as Korean families from all over the NW go "hunting". For me the coral mushrooms are the real treasure though.

                                1. re: hannaone

                                  Hannaone, if you happen to have a photo of a coral mushroom, I'd love to see it...

                                  1. re: moh

                                    moh, we pick coral mushrooms in Maine too. Will try to send photo. Morel time right now and soon chanterelles!

                                    1. re: Passadumkeg

                                      Ooh chanterelles and morels... so yummy! Bon Appetit Passadumkeg!

                                      1. re: moh

                                        Ah! Why did Montcalm have to lose to Wolfe on the Plains of Abraham! I'd be in Quebec today!

                                        1. re: Passadumkeg

                                          But Passademkeg - borders are there to cross and to give you time to digest between meals! You are always welcome to come and indulge in "le grand bouffe"... It's always better to arrive hungry...

                                      1. re: hannaone

                                        Such beautiful photos! I've never seen these mushrooms!

                                        I assume you use them like other mushrooms, like Enoki?

                                        I wish I was confident enough about my mushroom foraging skills to risk eating them, but I fear I'd be asking for a poisoning...

                                        1. re: moh

                                          According to what I have read, there is no poisonous variety of this mushroom, and they are spread across N America in many forested mountainous areas.
                                          These mushrooms have a very "meaty" flavor and are my favorite mushroom.
                                          This is one way to prepare them:
                                          http://www.chow.com/recipes/11273

                                  2. re: moh

                                    Spent six hours in the North Idaho forests today. Sadly no coral mushrooms yet. But we did score about two hundred pounds of gossari (fern sprouts). By the time we finish par boiling and drying, we will have about 25 pounds of dried gossari.

                                    1. re: hannaone

                                      That's a lot of Gossari!

                                      My parents were foraging last week in Manitoba, and found a fair amount as well. They sent me a bunch of the dried stuff. I forgot how odd the smell is! But it really is one of my favorite dried Korean products, and my favorite topping for bibimbap.

                                      1. re: hannaone

                                        Are we talking the same thing as fiddleheads? The round, rolled up fern sprouts?

                                          1. re: hannaone

                                            "Are we talking the same thing as fiddleheads? The round, rolled up fern sprouts?"

                                            I thought that gosari was a bit different from the fiddle heads that people usually sell in the grocery stores here. The kosari my parents pick has a thin long stem, and a very small head. The fiddle heads I see in the grocery stores in spring in Canada are much larger and thicker, and the stem is not really included, it is cut just below the head.

                                            Here is a picture of the fiddle head:

                                            http://veganyumyum.com/2007/05/fiddle...

                                            Gosari is the bracken fern:

                                            http://flickr.com/photos/pictoscribe/...

                                            So I think there is a difference. There is some issue about gosari and cancer, see Miss Needle's recent post:

                                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/554669

                                            Concerning, but it is very good, and the evidence in humans is not definite.

                                            1. re: moh

                                              My mistake. Here in the NW they are called fiddlehead by many people so I fell into the common usage. If you say braken, no one knows what you're talking about.

                                              http://www.habitatpotential.com/image...

                                              This is the common braken fern sprout, although this picture is a little different than the local variety. The local fern sprouts when very young, before developing the branching leaves, look like a cross between the first picture I posted, and the one in this photo.

                                            1. re: hannaone

                                              I think I've been seeing these in the forest lately as we hunt for mushrooms. We re in South-central Connecticut. I haven't scored any chantrels yet....
                                              We just planted ostrich ferns in hopes of eating some sprouts in the future. I thought there were only three or so edible varieties? Don't you wait for these to get a little bigger before harvesting?

                                              1. re: Scargod

                                                I can't comment on ostrich ferns, as i just buy them in the store...

                                                But Bracken fern, or gosari, is quite different in its preparation than ostrich fern. My parents dry it in the sun on mats, then when they want to use it, they soak it and wash it, then boil it. I have never seen them use it fresh in any way. Hannaone, do you know if it is ever used fresh?

                                                1. re: moh

                                                  I've never seen it used fresh. We always wash, par boil, then dry. When we get ready to use it we wash it again then either soak or boil it, then add to whatever dish.

                                                  1. re: hannaone

                                                    Yes, this is what my mum does as well with the gosari. They like to dry it on big mats in the sun. It sure smells "special"! But it is worth the stink.

                                                    1. re: hannaone

                                                      Hannaone, update from my mother re: fresh gosari. She says there are people who like it fresh. She says you wash it, parboil it, then drain it, and use it in stirfries/sautes. She sautes slices of meat (beef or pork) with onions, garlic and the usual Korean seasonings, then adds the fresh parboiled gosari for another 5 minutes until it is tender. Touch of sesame oil at the end to finish the dish. She also says it freezes pretty well after you parboil it if you want to prepare this dish much later. Apparently my cousin's husband loves it this way.

                                                  2. re: Scargod

                                                    The sprout in this pic is actually a little more mature than we like to get them. They are best before the head begins to uncurl and develop the branching stems and leaves.

                                            2. re: moh

                                              What is acorn jelly? Is it made with European oak tree acorns? I've heard of acorns being used as a coffee substitute during times of hardship (think: World War 2), but never savoured as a treat!

                                              1. re: Gooseberry

                                                Acorn Jelly is actually a savoury dish. It is like a jello made from ground acorn sediment, and served with a soy sauce based sauce. Nowadays, you can buy a powder to make it quickly. But in the olden days, it was a multi-day process involving soaking the shelled acorns, then pureeing them in a blender, leaving them to sit so the sediment settles, and rinsing and resettling the sediment over three days. Then you could boil it until the pectin was ready to let it gel. Once set, you cut it into strands and pour on the sauce. It is like an agar based dish. Very labour intensive!

                                                  1. re: Gooseberry

                                                    Dotori Muk or Mook (Acorn Jelly) has very little flavor. More like a hint of something between nutty and bean like, sometimes with a very light bitter undertone. Most of the flavor of this dish comes from the sauce and add ins that go with it. The texture is similar to silken tofu but more so (if that makes any sense).
                                                    The sauce adds a slightly sweet and salty flavor, and other add-ons like garlic, chives, spring onions, sesame seed, chili powder, etc add their own flavors.

                                                    1. re: hannaone

                                                      I will concede that Mook may be an acquired taste. But I love the stuff. Reminds me of playing in the park as a child with all my friends, catching tadpoles, playing dodgeball and baseball, screeching like banshees. Getting us to collect acorns was one of the tricks our parents used to quiet us down...

                                                      1. re: moh

                                                        I like it as well. Probably should have said subtle or light flavor instead of little flavor, but for some people the flavor is so subtle that they have trouble detecting anything other than that "hint" of something .

                                                        On a side note, many Native Americans would also grind acorns and make a type of flour. I recently ran across this recipe that I intend to try soon:
                                                        http://nativefood.blogspot.com/2005/1...

                                                        Of course I will buy the acorn flour instead of make my own - no clear running streams anywhere close to where I live ;-).

                                          2. Looking for a secret foraging place? Check out Ponkapoag Trail off rt 128 in Milton, MA. Walk down the main trail about 1.5 mi (going from memory here) until you see a sign on your left for the boardwalk. This is an extension, at times floating slabs of wood, which leads through the quaking bog and out to open water at the edge of Ponkapoag Pond. You'll find ripe wild cranberries there in Autumn, among other things...