Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Sustainable Eats May Challenge

Over at Sustainable Eats, where you can find the excellent new guide The Urban Farm Handbook, with advice and helpful tips on everything from backyard chickens to container gardens, May has been officially deemed the Foraging Challenge Month. Take the challenge to learn some useful new skills and give yourself a chance to win prizes.

Here's the deal. Make a meal in which all the main ingredients are wild and/or foraged. It's that simple. Then, at the end of the month, leave a comment on the Sustainable Eats blog about your experience to be included in a prize drawing. Even better, include a link to your own blog post about a wild and foraged meal.

Prizes include a copy of my book, Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager; Jennifer Hahn's book, Pacific Feast: A Cook’s Guide to West Coast Foraging and Cuisine; and Hank Shaw's book, Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast. Speaking of Hank, last week over at the Hunter Angler Gardener Cook blog, he offered his own foraging challenge: go find morels.

If you're new to foraging or always wanted to give it a try, this is a good month to get your feet wet. Across the continent, May is bursting with wild greens, spring mushrooms, and, depending on where you live, fish and shellfish. In my neck of the woods, we have the return of iconic runs of spring run chinook, known as springers, considered the tastiest of all salmon because of their high fat reserves. In addition, the Alaska salmon fisheries kick into gear with Copper River sockeye and chinook. May also marks the last razor clam dig of the winter/spring season in Washington as well as the first spot prawn opener. There's usually a tide low enough to dig for the wily geoduck. In the woods, meadows, and city lots, edible weeds are popping up everywhere, not to mention native greens such as fiddleheads and miner's lettuce. And let's not forget those wild spring delicacies, morels!

For my own challenge meal, I joined 14 high school students and two teachers last week to cook a wild feast after several days of foraging around Seattle and beyond. This is the second year I've been invited by the Bush School in Seattle to teach a week-long "experiential" class. Over the course of the week we visited a state forest to forage for native greens, picked weeds in an urban park, went clamming in South Puget Sound, and even hopped over the mountains to find a couple pounds of morels just as the mushroom season was kicking into gear.

On the last day we cooked up our harvest. Or rather, the kids processed and cooked the feast. Our meal is testimony to the varied and delicious menu that can be put together with a little knowledge of one's own habitat and some healthy tramping around in the outdoors. On our menu:

Yours need not be so extensive. Just make sure the main ingredients on the plate are wild and/or foraged. Things to think about after you harvest (or purchase), cook, and eat your wild meal: How did it taste? Anything different? Was it worth your time and effort—and if so, why? Take the Foraging Challenge!


waggie said...

Love your challenge and what a great blog! My husband is planning on going fishing this weekend already. Can you tell me what rivers the spring chinook run in?

My Victory Home said...

I have a few questions... I am VERY new to foraging. So new that I just tried dandelions yesterday. They were delicious! I have a forest behind my home and it's filled with ferns so I'm thinking about harvesting fiddle heads. Are all ferns edible? How can you tell the difference between ferns? I am also going to look for miner's lettuce. It seems like a very easy plant to spot, but are there other plants that look similar that I should be aware of?

Janell Patterson said...

Ahh, your picnic lunch looks magnificent! You have inspired me to create a fabulous Seattle lunch for the family. The location will be key to the ingredients.

My Victory Home said...

Oh my... I have another question. How much fiddleheads can you harvest from one plant without harming it. I don't want to kill any plants in my foraging efforts. That seems it would defeat the purpose... :) Thanks

Langdon Cook said...

Waggie - Check the Columbia system for springer openings and closings. My local UPS guy told me he caught two on the Cowlitz a few weeks ago while dropping off a package.

My Victory Home - The Golden Rule of foraging: Never eat anything you can't ID without 100% certainty. I'd recommend walking your property with a friend/mentor who knows the plants/fungi of your region. For instance, not all ferns produce edible fiddleheads; the main species are the ostrich fern east of the Rockies and the lady fern on the West Coast. Field guides are useful but it's better to examine species with a knowledgeable expert in person. Don't fret! It doesn't take long to learn many delicious wild edibles. Good luck!

Janell - Location, location, location!

My Victory Home - Ecologists refer to the "law of thirds": take a third for yourself, leave a third for wildlife, and a third for the plant/fungus itself. That's a general rule of thumb. Local bag limits apply when on public land.

Elaine said...

That's a pretty talented UPS guy, able to multi-task while delivering packages ;-)