Friday, June 24, 2011

Foraging and Finding More Than Food

I keep reading articles and posts about foraging and hunting. I pre-ordered Hank Shaw's Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast. I have to admit, I also got a bit of a laugh over the road kill dinner with trendy San Francisco urbanites at the table. Laughter aside, I felt the pull to go do a bit of gathering myself.

This is, of course, the moment I got The Call. Not the call of the wild; the call of Dutch, one of my best friends. During the months my father was in ICU, I once called Dutch at one in the morning. “I just can’t make it home,” I said. “Can you come get me?”

Dutch drove an hour to come get me. I was a mile from my house when I called. That’s a best friend. I’ve been blessed enough to have him in my life for over 30 years. To this day, I still walk into his parents’ house through the garage door, without knocking. Front doors are for company.

Through all these years, he still manages to show up right when I need him most. “Hey, are we still meeting up this weekend? Let’s take all the kids up to the farm and go mushroom hunting.”

It doesn’t take a second request to get the kid ready for a trip “home.” I’m deeply grateful for this. While most moms may worry about their little girls learning dance and wearing dresses, I love seeing mine learn to get over a barbed wire fence, navigate in the woods, cross a creek, and catch frogs.

As our gathering party of five kids and two adults headed into the woods, Dutch’s son — the same age as my daughter — was stopping along the path to show her what the different animal tracks look like. This is something his father taught me. There is something deeply moving about watching moments in my own childhood with my best friend repeat themselves with our children.

Just a couple steps past the tree line, Dutch spots the first morel. He’s an avid hunter and has that uncanny skill of seeing things in the woods that most folks would miss completely, myself included. My kiddo happily raced over to pick her first wild mushroom. Just six, she has now surpassed my foraging skills.

The rest of the day was magic even though we found only a few morels. Dutch showed me how to find May apples. I picked wild onions to go with the morels. We planted persimmon trees and seed under an oak tree to feed the deer. The same deer will likely end up on Dutch’s table this fall.

To end our adventure — and solidify his rank as the Best Uncle Ever — Dutch puts my kiddo up in the cab of his backhoe and lets her drive the massive thing including digging a giant hole in his farm and then filling it back in. My best friends never excluded me from anything because I was a girl. It’s good to see the tradition continue as they spoil my child rotten. Next trip up, he promises, she gets to drive the bulldozer.

The only adventure was to eat what we’d killed, er, caught, well, gathered. More like uprooted. But this, oddly enough, is where I hesitated. It’s easy enough a six-year-old can spot a morel if she knows what she’s looking for. Wild onions look and smell just like their domesticated siblings. Knowing what I know about food recalls and food safety issues at countless manufacturing facilities … I ought to trust this humble gift from nature far more than one of those plastic-wrapped chemistry sets sold as food.

Have I been domesticated like the onion? So dependent on a food system to provide that I can’t recognize actual food in nature and fend for myself? I brought the knife down hard as I pondered this. Whack! Too hard for just mushrooms. Whack! Nope. Not going to go out like that. Whack. I know what food is — and isn't. Whack.

One morel and Swiss with wild onions on whole wheat coming up.

Morel and Swiss Sandwich

3 oz. morel mushrooms, sliced
1 slice Swiss cheese
1 bunch wild onions, minced
1 tbs. butter
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
½ tsp. balsamic vinegar
2 slices whole wheat bread
Salt and pepper

First, gather your ingredients. Find a bit of yourself you thought you lost.

Melt the butter in a saucepan. Saute the mushrooms for a few minutes until they soften. Add the onions. Saute for another couple minutes. Mix in the mustard and balsamic. Season. Remove from pan.

Add bread to hot pan and top with cheese. Place mushroom mixture on top of cheese. Flip the two halves of the sandwich together.

Eat with unchecked passion that is impossible with, say, a Twinkie off the rack at QT. Live to tell about it. Then go drive a bulldozer.

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