Before the invention of agriculture, hunting and gathering was the primary method of putting food on the table. In contemporary post-agricultural society, dumpster diving has emerged as a modern version of this practice. But if jumping into a trash can and scavenging for day-old bread doesn’t sound very appealing, check out the retro practice of foraging. Foraging is the same idea as the gathering part of “hunting and gathering”—going out into the woods, searching for the edible vegetation that nature naturally provides, and bringing it home to eat. Springtime is the best time for foraging, with a cornucopia of wild vegetables sprouting up in all parts of the country. Tender fiddlehead ferns, savory morel mushrooms, wild asparagus, garlicky ramps, piquant watercress and arugula, edible flowers, and many other vegetables are peeking their little green heads out of the dirt, crying out to be found, harvested, and brought home for a locally produced meal. So grab a basket and head out to the woods. It’s spring!
Here are five recipes that feature forage-able produce to get you started eating from the woods:
1. Fiddlehead and Chanterelle Risotto by Barbara Kafka and Chris Styler
Before ferns unfurl into the large-leafed, hardy greens that populate so many woodsy areas, the tiny, tender fronds can be harvested. Each fern plant produces seven fronds, so forage responsibly and only pick three from each plant to make this delicious, seasonal risotto.
2. Morel Mushroom Toasts by Alice Waters
The official mushroom of Minnesota, the morel is a particular spring prize for foragers. Also known as “dryland fish,” “hickory chickens,” or “sponge mushrooms,” fresh morels have a beautiful honeycomb-like exterior and a special, delicate flavor. Alice Waters suggests serving them simply roasted so that their flavor shines, accompanied by a fresh green salad.
3. Garganelli with Spring Onion, Asparagus, and Peas by Frank Stitt
This pasta dish is a forager’s fantasy, incorporating some of the best wild vegetables the season has to offer. Wild asparagus looks almost like a wild grass, with a long, thin stalk and a smaller-than-average head, and is so young and tender. Spring onions, which in this recipe can easily be subbed out for wild ramps, a classic springtime wild vegetable prevalent on the East Coast, are a milder onion with an almost sweet flavor—perfect for pairing with the sweet peas and touch of cream that make up the pasta sauce.
4. Nasturtium and Watercress Salad by Christoper Idone
Edible flowers are a bit of a novelty, but that doesn’t stop them from also being tasty, especially when paired with watercress, nasturtiums’ peppery cousin. A light dressing of olive oil and lemon juice lets the natural flavor of these sharp greens and flowers shine—a major plus if you’ve spent hours out foraging.
5. Rhubarb and Custard Kinda Souffle by Jamie Oliver
One of the first spring plants ready for harvest, rhubarb is a complicated vegetable, for while its leaves are toxic its tart stalks are not. The flavor of rhubarb is bitter, and so the vegetable must be cooked with sugar and other sweet fruits—most classically strawberries—before it is palatable. And in this custardy soufflé the tart flavor of rhubarb is featured at its best.