Found, Not Farmed

The days are getting shorter. The light is fading to winter gray. And in forests all over the Western Hemisphere, mushrooms are popping up beneath burned-out pines and spreading oaks. It’s gotten so that all I can think about is going out and hunting. And I’m not the only one. The BBC News has an excellent video primer on how to forage for wild food (which they charmingly call “hedgerow food”), especially edible fungi. Similar mass-media guides for American would-be mushroom hunters are rare; Yanks tend to be so spooked by the dangers of wild ‘shrooms that no respectable publication would dare run a how-to feature on foraging.

Yet interest in foraging is starting to grow stateside, pushed along by the fresh/seasonal/organic movement. Michael Pollan’s seminal book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, has a whole chapter on foraging that awoke a hunter-gatherer longing in many. But an interview with a Seattle-area forager in food blog the Ethicurean and an entry from personal blog Hoarded Ordinaries illustrate the problem with learning how to forage: You just can’t do it with books. In the Old World, you learned from your uncle or your mom what could be eaten and what couldn’t. In our supermarket age, there aren’t many people around to show you how and where to pick. Is the chanterelle you’ve found the real deal, or the false chanterelle that’ll kill you dead? Are those huckleberries or nightshade? It takes a lot of nerve to trust a picture in a field guide. Probably best to restrict your foraging to organized trips with experienced guides.

If you do manage to get your hands on some wild mushrooms, Sunset magazine has a great compendium of mushroom recipes. The morel-sherry gratin is to die for.