Thursday, September 25, 2008

Russ Cohen's Wild Foods Walks

I'd been hearing about Russ Cohen's wild foods walks for some time now, but it wasn't until last week that I finally made it to one. If you're anywhere in New England, I strongly suggest staying on top of his schedule and doing so yourself. Afterwards, for the rest of your life, you'll have the confidence you need to walk through the woods snacking.

The most surprising thing I heard Russ say was this: in New England, with the exception of mushrooms, everything that tastes okay to eat is. If you pick the wrong mushroom you might have a delicious meal and then not wake up the next day, but with berries and the like you can generally trust your taste buds to tell you when something can or can't be eaten. This was great advice for me to hear, because it's what I already do.

Though there are those tasty but fatal mushrooms out there, Russ did point out that there are also several edible species which are unmistakable. Clearly the ones we saw on our walk were all named by protein starved vegetarians: oyster, chicken of the woods, beefsteak. I also learned to identify (and ate) both black and blue huckleberries, Indian cucumber, and an edible variety of viburnum whose fruits dry on the vine and taste very much like raisins. We also had the opportunity to smell a fresh sassafras root and learn about several greens which would be ready for harvest in other seasons, like milkweed, carrion flower (mmm!), burdock, and cat's claw tendrils.

Before we began, Russ handed out this homemade fruit leather made from fall olive berries, an extremely productive shrub that is both tasty and an exotic invasive, thereby fitting into a category I like to call "kill and eat" and which Russ calls "guilt free foraging."

If you are interested in foraging, you do need to know what you're doing, but fortunately this most ancient technique for acquiring food is gaining more popularity, and there are good guides out there like Russ who can help reacquaint us with wild foods. After all, as a species we've been eating this stuff for much longer than we've been drinking orange juice with fish in it.

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Debs said...

I love "kill and eat" and "guilt-free foraging."

Food Is Love/Seattle Local Food

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the beatiful photos !!!
Penny and George

Camille said...

I love walks that focus on urban edibles and wild foraging. Thanks for this post (super exciting to me). If you ever go to Australia, the most interesting "bush tucker" walk I ever did was with a naturalist/artist named Cockatoo Paul in Byron Bay. It was 3 years ago, but last I heard he's still there.
Chag S'mayach v l'shana tovah!

Maggie said...

My parents took me foraging a lot when I was young and I learned a ton from them. The smell of a freshly dug sassafras root is intoxicating! I had no idea you could eat autumn olive fruit. It is extremely pervasive on our property. I've got to try making something from them, instead of just trying to kill and replace them.

Debra said...

I went to one of Russ' talks last year. It's addictive and you want to go and learn more and more. The autumn olive fruit leather was one of my favorites. Now that Fall is approaching, I will make my own fruit leather, as well as autumn olive jam. The berries seem to be ripening a tad early - don't miss them!