Foraged Flavor: Finding Our Culinary Roots in Wild Food

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that everything we buy or grow to eat now was once a wild species. Our ancestors have done the bulk of the work identifying and domesticating the foods we now take for granted in our gardens and stores. But the world still holds a vast abundance of wild foods that you can enjoy if you know how to find them. Whether your backyard is a small plot of grass and weeds, or Winnie-the-Pooh’s 100-Acre Wood, foraging for flavorful, nutritious and delicious wild foods is a delightful way to reconnect with and experience the bounty of our beautiful planet in the same way our ancestors did.

Of course, you don’t want to just pick any old plant up off the ground and take a bite! When foraging, it’s important to follow some common-sense precautions to make sure what your eating is safe, and that you’re not harming the ecosystem as you harvest. Wild Edible blog provides an excellent list of basic guidelines for foragers, including finding a mentor, learning about habitat, being familiar with poisonous species, identifying companion plants, recognizing seasonal changes in plants, learning what parts are edible, keeping a foraging journal, harvesting safely and sustainably, avoiding toxic areas, leaving rare plants alone, and cultivating wild edibles in your garden. Of course, one of the main pieces of advice is: GET A GOOD BOOK!

Foraged flavor cover. Image: https://www.amazon.com/Foraged-Flavor-Fabulous-Ingredients-Backyard/dp/030795661X

With this in mind, I recommend one of the most exciting books on foraging and cooking in my experience; Foraged Flavor: Finding Fabulous Ingredients in Your Backyard or Farmer’s Market by Tama Matsuoka Wong with Eddy Leroux.  I’d describe it for you, but the back cover says it best.

Forage for wild food and discover delicious edible plants growing everywhere—including your backyard—and how best to prepare them to highlight their unique flavors, with this seasonally organized field guide and cookbook.

While others have identified in the past which wild plants are edible, Tama Matsuoka Wong, the forager for Daniel, the flagship restaurant of renowned chef Daniel Boulud, and Eddy Leroux, its chef de cuisine, go two steps further, setting the bar much higher. First, they have carefully selected only the wild plants that are worth seeking out for their fabulous flavors. Second, after much taste-testing, they have figured out the best way to prepare each ingredient—a key in getting to know these exciting new foods. In Foraged Flavor, they reveal their seventy-one favorite plants, which are easy to identify and can be harvested sustainably across the country (including at farmers’ markets for those without access to nearby fields and forests). Tama helps readers uncover bright lemony oxalis growing in patches of their lawn or creeping jenny, with its unmistakable leaves and delicate green-pea flavor. Eddy then gives simple recipes to showcase the foraged finds, including Cardamine Cress with Fennel and Orange Vinaigrette; Braised Beef, Dandelion Leaves, and Clear Noodles; and Purslane Eggplant Caponata.

With twenty-five botanical illustrations, fifty color photographs of the plants, and tons of field- and kitchen-tested know-how, Foraged Flavor will be an indispensable guide for cooking enthusiasts.

The text is a delight to read, the identifying details beyond comparison—all being ordered by the time of the year! Descriptions on how to forage sustainably, how to harvest the plant optimally, and how to develop a Wild Kitchen Garden are unexpected and very desirable inclusions.

A very few of the succulent, mouth-watering detailed recipes include:

  • Scrambled Eggs with Wild Garlic Greens
  • Wild Garlic Green and Potato Pancakes
  • Pickled Wild Garlic Bulbs
  • Sautéed Henbit with Fava Beans and Cipollini Onions
  • Galium (Fragrant Bedstraw) Potato chips,
  • Chickweed Crostini
  • Anise Hyssop Gazpacho,
  • Wild Herb Ravioli,

and many, many more.

You can begin to understand why Tama was given the Steward of the Year Award in 2007 by the New Jersey Forest Service!

Read this book and give foraging a try. Bon Appetit!

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