Recipes: Wild Delights

When we forage food from the wild, grow it in our gardens, or obtain it from local farmers or gardeners whom we know personally, we are nourished on multiple levels. Beyond the physical nutrition the food provides, it nourishes relationships. Foraging for edibles strengthens our connection with the wild, and with the friends who join us as we harvest; gardening deepens our bond with the land where we make our home; interaction with local growers enhances the network of social relationships that are the foundation of community life. Foraging and gardening provide our bodies with a bit of the exercise for which they are designed; these activities help to restore the ancient balance between the consumption of food calories and the energy expenditure required to “earn” the food. And I find that, when I eat food procured in these traditional ways, the flavor of the food is enhanced by pleasant memories of how I got it. When I pour maple syrup on my pancakes, I also pour the memory of an April afternoon in a steamy sugarhouse, chatting with the sugar maker as he stokes the wood fire below a tub of bubbling sap. And when I take a bite of cranberry sauce on a frozen winter night, I’m transported back to the golden September day when I paddled across the waters of a wild bog with dear friends to gather the fruit.

A note of caution about foraging:

It’s very important to be certain of the identity of any wild plant you intend to consume. A good guidebook will help novices to identify edible plants and to distinguish them from other plants that are somewhat similar in appearance but may be harmful to eat. However, the gold standard is to learn the art of foraging from a local expert. If you don’t personally know anyone with this level of expertise, there may be nonprofits in your area that offer instructional programs.

Maple-Balsamic Vinaigrette

For Native Americans in what would eventually become New England, maple sap collected in the spring provided the sole sugar supply for the entire year. Maple syrup isn’t just for pancakes and waffles! Its distinctive flavor enhances both sweet and savory dishes. I use it with baked apples or squash, on chicken or pork, in...
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Rowena’s Fiddlehead Soup

In spring, ferns of various species emerge from the forest floor as tightly coiled “fiddleheads” (so called because they resemble the scroll at the top of a violin). The fiddleheads of the ostrich fern are edible. They have a nutty, earthy flavor, and are considered a delicacy by many New Englanders. They may be enjoyed...
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Dandelion Wine

I enjoy the bright sunny yellow of dandelions each spring, then harvest the blossoms to make a strong wine, really more of a liqueur. (I may be the only person in America who has imported dandelion seeds from a neighboring yard, in order to ensure a good crop the following year!) I take 3 cups...
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Berry Cobbler (Blueberry, Raspberry, or Blackberry)

In the Moosehead Lake region, many folks have a favorite wild blueberry field where they head to pick their own fruit in late July or August. Farmers in Maine also cultivate the wild variety of blueberries (small but flavorful berries that grow on low bushes); tempting displays appear in season at roadside stands, farmers’ markets,...
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Maple Cranberry Sauce

On a sunny day each September, I head out in my canoe across the waters of a local bog and park by a cranberry patch. I get out and walk carefully across the spongy mass of peat, bending down to pluck the firm, round berries from the bushes where they grow. When Mother was alive,...
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