LIFE OF A FORAGER

Keith D. – Director of F&B

Spring is finally here!  For someone who has a passion for the out-of-doors, the winter can be grueling. But even before the official start date of spring, evidence of the woods waking up is all around.  The buds on the trees become red and begin to swell, the grass begins to lose the brown hue and green overtakes it.  At one of the first warm spells, my favorite sign that springs is almost upon us… the high shrill of Spring Peepers from a nearby pond.  Since I was a small boy, the sound of spring peepers fascinated me, and I remember trying to find where that sound came from.

So now that warmer weather is here, I will spend most of my spare time outside, walking in the woods. Not only does it give me some much needed exercise, it gives me a chance to do what I just love to do: forage for mushrooms and plants that end up as dinner.  Yep, I am a forager.  I say it as if it is an issue, and if you ask my wife, it can be.  Foraging can be ever consuming, and it can’t wait for anyone.  Much of the things I go in search for has a season, usually a short season, and as in the “perfect storm”, all things with several factors have to be in sync and aligned, or else you won’t find anything.  Mother Nature waits for no one.  If the conditions are right, you either go now, or risk finding nothing or something that is past its prime.

One of the first things I start to pick after the first of the year is wild chives.  They thrive in the cold temperatures, and are one of the first things to turn green on the ground.  Well before the grass greens, the chives come alive and start to grow.  They grow just about everywhere, in the woods, and especially near tree lines.  One thing to note, they do grow in yards, but if you or a landscaper has treated the area with pesticides or weed killer, then find another spot.  In Maryland where I live, you can start picking chives in late February or March.  They are finer and smaller, but the pungent sweet smell as you snip them assures you have the right plant. Once the warmer weather is steady, they begin to get taller and mature, and when the real summer heats arrives, they pretty much shrivel  up go away till next year.

Freshness from something you forage can’t be beat.  Why pay for something of less quality that could be a week or so old, when you can eat something you have harvested within minutes.  And I love to eat what I forage.  So, Chives are first and have so many uses.  Anything that calls for the use of onions can be uplifted with the use of chives.  I usually don’t cook with them, but sprinkle them on top of fish, pasta, salads, and sauces.  Any left over, put in an airtight container, otherwise your whole refrigerator will smell like them.

Identifying what you pick is key.  If I am not sure of what I found, I may pick it to study and try and identify it, but I certainly will not eat it.  As with all of the articles and blogs I read, your never eat anything you are not sure of, or things can go bad fast.  So how does one start or learn how to forage?  Fortunately, foraging is becoming a much sought after activity, and there are many books, clubs and web sites to source information.

A great place to start is visit http://ouroneacrefarm.com/18-best-foraging-blogs/

To help with id, harvest and use, here is the Field Garlic Plant Map from Foraging & Feasting: A Field Guide and Wild Food Cookbook by Dina Falconi (me), illustrated by Wendy Hollender. Book link ~ http://bit.ly/1Auh44Q