Finders Keepers

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I recently accompanied a local grandmother out to the plains in search of wild mushrooms, which are popping up in droves following the heavy rains. My able guide, Bibi Rashidi, scanned the plains pointing out the tastiest varieties and cautioning against those which can cause sickness on the part of an inexperienced picker. This is just one of many types of foraging done in my community.

Foraging is just the act of searching for food but has come to describe a growing movement with an emphasis on tapping underutilized food resources. Sharing similarities with other practices like freeganism and gleaning, and the localvore movement, foraging emphasizes the thrill of the search for local, free food.

I am not so new to the practice. As a “hunter/gatherer” at my college housing co-op I was always on the lookout for extra-supermarket food sources. In addition to the occasional hunt for mushrooms or wild rapes (not as violent as it sounds, a radish-like weed) or ramps (mini-leeks), our friends dabbled in the urban variety of foraging, taking advantage of man-made excesses. Most often I ended up in the dumpster of a local bakery or health food store whose employees looked the other way. I don’t deny sampling my neighbor’s kale (she used it as a decorative plant in her landscaping) or double-dipping on a number of restaurant promotions offering free meals either. This story about Urban Foraging happened to pop up on BBCNews today.

I recently read another article about the two-time winner of the World’s Best Restaurant title, Noma, and it’s resourceful if eccentric head chef who sources over 95% of the ingredients locally, much of it collected by staff themselves in the countryside surrounding Copenhagen of the restaurant. This is in a country, not exactly know for a particularly plant-hospitable climate or particularly famous culinary tradition. It shows the wealth of underutilized foods available in nature and their potential for great-tasting and environmentally responsible food (no fertilizers, GMOs or transport costs).
The Full Article from the New Yorker

Tabora’s foragers are driven not by fad or principle, just taking advantage of local resources in light of cash and income insecurity. Moreover, the greens, fruits, and fungi available for those who look are delicious and nutritious. Each trip to their maize fields to pull weeds ends with filling a bucket full of mchunga (literally “bitter”), a strong green which is boiled and rinsed to remove the bitterness before cooking to make it palatable and then eaten with maize ugali. Other greens collected are boiled with okra to make a slimy glop. I sat down with some mamas to write down the varieties of wild greens alone and stopped at twenty-two, though I think they could have come up with more. All of them local, free, and abundant. Other foraged foods include wild fruits-common ones like mangoes and guava and more obscure like the fruit of cashew trees, custard apples, and about ten others which have never made it to American supermarkets.

Foraged foods take on greater importance during the “hunger” season, a time when people are most at risk of hunger as the previous season’s maize and income from the sales of maize is running out. While everybody waits for the current crop to mature on the stalk, mushrooms, wild fruits and greens mature more quickly after the rains and are abundant right now, nature’s hors d’oeuvres, helping to hold people over until the maize harvest in June.

While Tabora’s bitter greens and shrooms may not make it on the menu of a Michelin restaurant anytime soon, my community depends on them and I am acquiring a taste. My Dad recommends a 24-hour waiting period (after watching others consume) to assure that I avoid poisoning, but somehow I think I’m safe with this wise granny.

So get out there, be resourceful and creative, find a guide for local (edible) plants, dumpster dive, and liberate yourself of the check-out lines and carts (or buggies as they are called in Tennessee) once in a while.  You might be impressed with the variety and quality of what is up for grabs.

 

 

I recently accompanied a local grandmother out to the plains in search of wild mushrooms, which are popping up in droves following the heavy rains. My able guide, Bibi Rashidi, scanned the plains pointing out the tastiest varieties and cautioning against those which can cause sickness on the part of an inexperienced picker. This is just one of many types of foraging done in my community.

Foraging is just the act of searching for food but has come to describe a growing movement with an emphasis on tapping underutilized food resources. Sharing similarities with other practices like freeganism and gleaning, and the localvore movement, foraging emphasizes the thrill of the search for local, free food.

I am not so new to the practice. As a “hunter/gatherer” at my college housing co-op I was always on the lookout for extra-supermarket food sources. In addition to the occasional hunt for mushrooms or wild rapes (not as violent as it sounds, a radish-like weed) or ramps (mini-leeks), our friends dabbled in the urban variety of foraging, taking advantage of man-made excesses. Most often I ended up in the dumpster of a local bakery or health food store whose employees looked the other way. I don’t deny sampling my neighbor’s kale (she used it as a decorative plant in her landscaping) or double-dipping on a number of restaurant promotions offering free meals either. This story about Urban Foraging happened to pop up on BBCNews today.

I recently read another article about the two-time winner of the World’s Best Restaurant title, Noma, and it’s resourceful if eccentric head chef who sources over 95% of the ingredients locally, much of it collected by staff themselves in the countryside surrounding Copenhagen of the restaurant. This is in a country, not exactly know for a particularly plant-hospitable climate or particularly famous culinary tradition. It shows the wealth of underutilized foods available in nature and their potential for great-tasting and environmentally responsible food (no fertilizers, GMOs or transport costs).
The Full Article from the New Yorker

Tabora’s foragers are driven not by fad or principle, just taking advantage of local resources in light of cash and income insecurity. Moreover, the greens, fruits, and fungi available for those who look are delicious and nutritious. Each trip to their maize fields to pull weeds ends with filling a bucket full of mchunga (literally “bitter”), a strong green which is boiled and rinsed to remove the bitterness before cooking to make it palatable and then eaten with maize ugali. Other greens collected are boiled with okra to make a slimy glop. I sat down with some mamas to write down the varieties of wild greens alone and stopped at twenty-two, though I think they could have come up with more. All of them local, free, and abundant. Other foraged foods include wild fruits-common ones like mangoes and guava and more obscure like the fruit of cashew trees, custard apples, and about ten others which have never made it to American supermarkets.

Foraged foods take on greater importance during the “hunger” season, a time when people are most at risk of hunger as the previous season’s maize and income from the sales of maize is running out. While everybody waits for the current crop to mature on the stalk, mushrooms, wild fruits and greens mature more quickly after the rains and are abundant right now, nature’s hors d’oeuvres, helping to hold people over until the maize harvest in June.

While Tabora’s bitter greens and shrooms may not make it on the menu of a Michelin restaurant anytime soon, my community depends on them and I am acquiring a taste. My Dad recommends a 24-hour waiting period (after watching others consume) to assure that I avoid poisoning, but somehow I think I’m safe with this wise granny.

So get out there, be resourceful and creative, find a guide for local (edible) plants, dumpster dive, and liberate yourself of the check-out lines and carts (or buggies as they are called in Tennessee) once in a while.  You might be impressed with the variety and quality of what is up for grabs.

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