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Foraging: The Next Locavore Fixation

America's forests and fields are full of free food, and chefs and home cooks are determined to find it, eat it, donate it to the hungry and (of course) blog about it.

A friend of mine, a doctor in rural West Virginia, once told me her patients were ecstatic in the spring because every night, they would eat "these strong, oniony things"—ramps. Many of her patients were poor, and the ramps, growing wild near streams, were a delicious accompaniment to inexpensive dishes like potato hash and eggs.

Of course, ramps now fetch top dollar at urban farmers' markets, and foraging (like gardening, preserving and hunting) has become a locavore fixation. Wild foods are so in demand by chefs that professional forager Kerry Clasby—well known among cooks in Los Angeles for pristine ingredients, including wild baby radishes—now gets phone calls from big names like New York City chef Tom Colicchio, asking her to send her finds East.

Tyler Gray of Mikuni Wild Harvest in Vancouver hopes to introduce more of these ingredients to home cooks and is pitching a TV show about foraging. The pilot focuses on a Native American named Running Squirrel, who gathers the incredible salad mix that Gray sells to chefs. One day, Gray imagines, he'll have lots of customers for Running Squirrel's $13-a-pound greens. But for anyone who doesn't feel like paying, the forests and fields are open to all.

Field Guide to Wild Summer Food

Connie Green suggests three easy-to-find summer foods featured in her book, The Wild Table, due out in October.

1. Mulberries

How to Spot These tree fruits are blackberry-shaped. Ripe berries are red-violet.

How to Use Make a sweet jam or a syrup for cocktails or ice cream.

2. Wood Sorrel

How to Spot It grows low to the ground and resembles common clover, but folding leaves are heart-shaped.

How to Use Add the lemony leaves raw to salads.

3. Purslane

How to Spot It sprouts in fields, gardens or sidewalk cracks and has thick, reddish stems and smooth, fat, tangy leaves.

How to Use Stir-fry with bacon.

Great Foraging Tips and Recipes:


Urban Forest

Forage. Photo courtesy of Joanne Kim / Forage

Urban Harvest

At Los Angeles's Forage, Jason Kim used his customers' home-grown produce—until the health department stepped in. Undaunted, one home gardener is working to get certified.

Bringing Wild Foods to the City

Iso Rabins, founder of ForageSF, leads wild-food-finding walks in the San Francisco Bay Area. Using a CSA model, in which customers pay a farm in advance for produce, he also sells boxes of foraged ingredients that can include anything from acorn flour to edible weeds. foragesf.com.

Published July 2010
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