Spring is my favorite time of year because my whole psyche feels like it’s awakening alongside the trees, the wildflowers, and the birds returned from the south. Winter felt especially long this year, so I was itching to get outside and into the woods.
Every year I try my hand at foraging for morel mushrooms and other goodies – usually unsuccessfully. (I haven’t yet once found any morels in the three years I’ve been looking!) I knew about ramps (wild leeks) and fiddleheads but had never seriously tried cooking with them. I hoped that the meet up at Bonamego Farms would teach me something new.
Once there we were introduced to Louis Bonamego, the farm’s owner, and our guide, Nabe (pronounced “knobby”). Nabe is an excitable little Korean woman who learned to forage and cook with wild foods from her mother. She seemed knowledgable about the farm and foliage, and promised that a lunch of delicious local forest weeds awaited us…
We were surprised at how many weeds are actually edible. Beyond ramps, Nabe introduced us to young dandelion, wild chives, spring beauties, nettles, chickweed, garlic mustard, pepper weed, tarragon, sun chokes, and something she called “cham namur” (which looked and tasted to me like wild parsley). We spent the morning filling our baskets and buckets to overflowing.
Foraging, for me, satisfies my annual spring craving to get outdoors and get my hands dirty. I love the musty smell of soil on my hands and the quiet stillness of the forest. Foraging, too, is the ultimate in local eating; you can’t get much closer to home than the backyard.
Seasoned foragers will always tell you to make sure you can clearly identify the plants you are harvesting – especially when it comes to any kind of mushroom – and to have respect for the forest by only taking what you will eat. Conservation is an important part of foraging because it’s easy to destroy whole populations of wild species if you take whole plants and fail to leave enough to propagate new generations.
But the forest floor is a prolific creator of nutritious food. We collected baskets full of various greens and roots. Most surprising were the dandelion roots – split open, they emit a spicy smell. My favorites were the ramps and spring beauties, which we happen to have an abundance of in our own back woods. Spring beauties, in addition to having cute little pink-white flowers, have edible root nodules that can be cooked and eaten just like potatoes. Ramps, too, are delightfully tasty, with a heftier “kick” than I expected from something also called a “wild leek” (since conventional leeks are known for their mild flavor). These are now my favorite to harvest and cook with, and can be used to flavor any kind of cooking, the way you’d use a regular onion, or as an onion-y pesto.
I definitely have a new respect for and fascination with the woods as a result of the morning. We came back to the farm house lawn and feasted on a variety of tasty dishes, from various kinds of kim chi, to miso soup with greens, to sun chokes roasted over the fire.
Will I venture into the woods again to supplement my cooking? You bet I will. Besides… I’m still looking for those elusive morels.
All photography is Copyright of the author, Kathleen Nay, unless otherwise noted.