With spring in full tilt, morels sprouting under elm trees, wild berries growing on vines and watercress leaping to life in creeks, my culinary curiosity kicks into high gear. Maybe I am easily excited, but the season to forage for wild edibles has me delirious with anticipation of what I will find and make.
Foraging is fairly new to me. I moved here three and a half years ago from Los Angeles, where people forage for coins on the ground to pay for gas and mortgages. I began dating a guy with a farm through which a lovely creek trickles. The first thing I came to notice in his Garden of Eden were the plump mulberries growing on trees along fence lines. I had not eaten a mulberry since I was a kid growing up in Tuscaloosa, Ala. I had a friend who lived in the country, and they had a mulberry tree. We would eat mulberries until we couldn’t reach them anymore.
The first year I was here, I made a host of mulberry delights despite my boyfriend’s insistence that mulberries are junk. Perish the notion. For me, they were the Fountain of Youth, taking me right back to 9 years old again.
I had never had fresh morels until we fried them up in butter that first year. I wondered then and there how I had gotten so far in life without once tasting a freshly-gleaned morel adulterated by butter. Then there was the watercress that appears in the creek and for which you pay dearly in grocery stores. Depending on rainfall, it lines the sides of the creek.
I have learned, however, that foraging has its drawbacks. My enthusiasm over nature’s bounty, and the ensuing gorging that takes place, can be tempered by surprising bouts of gastrointestinal distress. One year I was convinced I had a bacterial infection from eating black raspberries. It lasted a good month.
I am not likely to soon forget getting to the bottom of a delectable bowl of watercress salad and finding a huge green stink bug on his back, legs struggling desperately as he died from vinegar and oil asphyxiation. I don’t like bugs. My exit from my chair broke the speed of sound.
Then there was the chokecherry incident. Once I discovered the little black berries were edible, I was on it. Pork tenderloin with a wild chokecherry sauce would be the menu for supper. Out I went in pursuit.
I could barely reach the branches of the chokecherry tree so I stood atop the four-wheeler and gently massaged the little berries into a bucket a few at a time until, an hour and a half later, I had filled my bucket. All the while I sampled the lovely berries with their unique flavor. The pits are large, so very little meat is on the berry, and it encourages you to eat lots to get a good sampling of the fruit.
Then came the cleaning process. They were sticky, and many impurities had to be removed. It was a tedious process, and I ended up washing small handfuls at a time. It took a good hour.
At last, my lovely pot of berries was sitting on the stove, ready to be cooked in a little bit of water. I cranked up the heat. I couldn’t wait to smell the berries cooking and I stood watching the pot.
All of a sudden, a tiny green worm floated to the surface of the warming water. I thought, ugh… I missed one, and I wondered how many more I had missed. I went to get a small sieve with which to fish out the intruder.
By the time I returned to the stove, there were more green worms. My spirits took a dive. Within minutes, the surface was covered with green worms. Horror of horrors. Upon close examination of a spoonful of berries, I could see worms in various stages of wiggling their way out. I instantly flashed back to slow motion images of each berry I had popped into my mouth.
Have I mentioned I don’t like bugs? At all. I am convinced that the most likely scenario for my death will be a roach crawling on me. Out the hard-earned chokecherries went.
And so foraging goes. I know for sure that I will not be killing myself for chokecherries this year, and I clean watercress with a magnifying glass now. I have to admit, if you are going to forage for organic treasures and want to romp through the storybook forest with a Martha Stewart-style basket, it helps to think of bugs as protein. A little. Very little. Grocery stores are good too.