Take A Walk on the Wild Side
What is it about foraging that brings me so much joy? Last year, during my annual morel and ramp brunch – in which I invite my friends to a ten course “over the top” meal – the conversation turned to why I enjoyed picking morels instead of buying them. My answer was simple: “They taste better”. Big mistake. For the next hour, my friends bombarded me with a variety of dishes featuring tasty little morsels of these delicate mushrooms. Each time they asked me which one was foraged and which one had been bought, I had failed. Really, I could not tell the difference at all.
So, what makes foraging so pleasurable? Is it the find? I love the thrill of finding that old patch of trees flush with ripe apples ready for the picking in the fall. It’s wonderful to come upon an untouched ramp hill when you take a detour because of a newly fallen tree. At this point, though, I already know when and where to find all my favorites.
It’s black trumpet season and the conditions have been just right. I go straight to Lake Taghikanick State Park, start off at my usual trail, and make a right. There they are, in all of their beauty. I find them next to a stream, peeking out of the moss (this took me years to find, by the way). On my way back, I fill my basket with blackberries, gathering only as much as I need to make my pickled ginger and blackberry pie. But the thrill of the hunt is gone, as I’ve have already found them before I barely set out.
So, what is it? Growing up in Colorado, I had a vast amount of land to forage. Every morning I would head to the woods with my dog, Thumper, and look for wild edibles. I would pack only a few items: a basket, a knife, a hand shovel, some string, and a bottle of homemade vin (so that I had a dressing for my foraged green salad). Eventually, I taught myself how to trap rabbits with only what I found in the woods and a ball of twine. I later learned how to gather drunken Quail after feeding them partially fermented berries from the rose hip bush (always a good time.) On my way home I would grab a handful of Juniper berries and two bunches of sage to smoke the trout I would inevitably catch at sundown in the South Saint Vrain River that ran through my back yard. I’d grab a few pheasant back mushrooms, three handfuls of fiddle head ferns, some salsify, and wild carrots from two hills away. I’d pick some wild asparagus from my front yard, and then I’d drag a little wood to the fire pit. And dinner was served.
What was on the menu?
Sage and juniper smoked whole trout with lambs quarters, wild mustard greens, and spring onion vin.
Fire roasted quail with pheasant back mushrooms, salsify, and wild carrots.
Braised rabbit with wild tomato, fiddle head ferns, and lemon verbena flower.
Wild macerated berries with west coast mint, and the neighbor’s goat cheese.
Not bad for a thirteen-year-old kid!
That must be it, then; foraging was embedded in the heart of my childhood. I love the woods – the sounds, the smells, and the peace and serenity it brings me.
So, why am I still not satisfied with my answer? For the answer, we have to go back to the beginning of the story. The annual Morel and Ramp brunch is about being around friends, family, and loved ones and preparing a meal filled with love. Creating nourishment and good times are things we can all relate too, yes? I love the woods. I love the hunt. And even more I love the find. But, more than anything, I love my friends and family, and there is no better way to gather them than around a table full of good intent.