Beginning in April, we had met together every month throughout the year to harvest seasonal wild foods, then used them to prepare dishes and herbal remedies.
Suburban Foragers had taken seven students with little or no foraging experience, and introduced them to the fascinating world of wild foods and medicines. Now, at the end of a year, we were mustering our combined knowledge and skills to create a wild food banquet, much like the early settlers may have done for their Thanksgiving celebrations, using what was available and what they had grown.
We started arriving around 10am, at the house of our hosts, Dale and Kim, who had generously offered us the use of their home for our feast. The day before, Dale and I had dug a hole in their yard, and had lined the bottom and sides with rocks. I wanted to be sure that the pit was ready in advance, as the first thing we needed to do when we arrived, was to start a fire in it, to heat the rocks. Our intern Kevin used his bow drill to start the fire and soon had a good blaze going.
There was a lot to be done in preparation for the meal, but one of the most intensive jobs was to remove all the little tubers from among the daylily roots that I had dug up during the week. So, while some of us sat and removed and cleaned the tubers, others did other jobs, such as cracking and picking black walnuts, (which required using a vice) and cleaning, peeling, and slicing vegetables, including some sun chokes that I had gathered and pickled ahead of time.
We didn’t actually forage that day, as many of the ingredients required gathering and preserving before hand. We had harvested wild greens, walnuts, sun chokes, and various other wild foods throughout the previous months, in order to ensure that they’d be available for the feast. Most of the greens were blanched and frozen, while other foods were pickled, dried or refrigerated. However, during the days leading up to the celebration, we went out to see what remained to be harvested. We found plenty of bittercress for the salad, some wild carrot roots, and enough field garlic (onion grass) bulbs to make a wild garlic bread pudding.
We needed meat and so we asked among our hunter friends, to see what they had to offer. They were able to come up with 6 squirrels and about 4 pounds of venison. Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, we accepted them gratefully.
Our chef Lisa had planned an extensive menu, and we had worked out all that needed to be done in order to help things run smoothly. We worked in two groups; the outside group, who sat at the picnic table doing most of the preparation and tending the pit fire, and the inside group, who spent their time in the kitchen, creating the dishes. There was a regular flow of people between the two groups. My own kitchen time was spent concocting a large pot of stinging nettle soup and making chicory “coffee” from the roasted roots.
The dishes had been planned according to what we were able to forage or acquire, and recipes were adjusted each time we encountered new ingredients. After several revisions, we wound up with the following menu:
Creamy Nettle Soup
Bittercress Salad with Red Clover Vinaigrette Pickled Sun Chokes and Fiddleheads
Roasted Daylily Tubers with Sorrel Pesto
Garlic Cream Sun Chokes with Goat Cheese
Sorrel with Garlic Mustard, Chicory, Pears & Paneer
Wild Garlic Bread Pudding
Bacon wrapped Fire Pit Squirrels
Venison Pot Pies with Acorn Crust
Black Walnut Torte with Fresh Whipped Cream
However, with such a creative crew at work, several other dishes magically appeared. Before our day was through, we had also created Venison Charcuterie with Wild Herb Salt and Honey Mustard, Teriyaki Venison Meatballs with Autumn Olive Crabapple Sauce, hand-cranked ice cream, and a large pot of chicory root coffee that everyone drank as they worked on the meal.
To accompany the meal, Elana had brought along various bottles of her home made dandelion wine. Some vintages tasted like fine sherry, while others like dry champagne.
There were several accompanying dishes, including Kathy’s home made cranberry sauce, garlic mustard root sauce (similar to horseradish), acorn bread, acorn muffins, rose hip infused honey, and a delicious tasting vinaigrette dressing that Lisa had made by infusing vinegar with red clover flowers. Adrienne, our student of fermentation, made a delightful paneer cheese that we crumbled into the salad.
After the pit fire had heated the rocks sufficiently, we scraped out the remaining coals, lined the pit with damp grass and greenery, wrapped squirrels in bacon and then large leaves, and laid them on top, along with some root vegetables (including sweet potatoes from Cropsey Farm). After covering them all with more grass and foliage, we shoveled the soil back into the pit, burying everything, and creating a natural pressure cooker.
We left the pit oven to do its job for a couple of hours, then we carefully uncovered the cooked food and lifted it out of the pit.
Everything came out tender (from the steam), and flavored by the smoke (not to mention the bacon) – a perfect balance. However, the squirrels were rather pasty looking, so we finished them off on the BBQ, which gave them a nice golden brown color. Along with the squirrels, we also barbecued some hand made venison sausages that Adrienne had brought along.
Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Lisa had a large pot of venison stew on the stove and was working on preparing the vegetable dishes. Others worked on the dessert dishes and the pastry crusts for the two venison pies.
It seemed like the oven never stop working. It went on first thing in the day, to roast the chicory root, which left a delightful chocolate chip aroma in the air. Then, one dish after another took its turn in the oven, until everything was baked and laid out before us.
Back in the yard, they had assembled an old hand cranked ice cream maker. We filled it with ice and the necessary ingredients and were busy taking turns at the handle. It wasn’t long before we had a tub of creamy, delicious ice-cream to go with the desserts.
The whole place remained a hive of activity throughout the day. Everyone moved from one job to the next, chatting, sharing and collaborating as they went. Everything flowed so smoothly that it seemed almost intuitive. I was really impressed at what I saw, and felt more than a little proud that I had been a part of making this all happen.
It took about five hours to complete the preparations and the cooking, but around 3 o’clock we brought everything to the table. With such an elegant presentation and so many unique dishes, this was truly an occasion to remember. Fifteen of us sat at the table, and for the next hour or so we ate, and talked, and laughed. Even though none of us there were related, we had become a family of foragers, who would always share a special connection that we celebrated that day.
Makes about 3/4 cup
1/4 cup red clover vinegar
1 T honey
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1. Mix all together in an empty jar. Add more sweetness or vinegar to your tastes demands.
Makes about 1 cup
1 1/2 cups packed sorrel leaves
1/2 cup carrot greens or parsley or cilantro. . .
1/4 cup sunflower seeds, unsalted and toasted
sea salt and pepper to taste
2 T olive oil or more if desired
Foraged roots such as sunchokes, daylily tubers and/or wild carrot tubers. . .
1. In the bowl of a food processor, pulse sorrel, carrot greens and sunflower seeds a few times to
2. Add seasoning and turn processor on.
3. Add olive oil slowly through feeder tube and process until a glossy paste forms.
4. Wash roots very well and dry with a towl. Place in a large bowl and toss with pesto.
5. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 30 minutes, mix and then return to oven to roast another 15
minutes (45 minutes total).
3/4 cup heavy cream
6 cloves garlic, minced
8 oz fresh goat cheese
2 T ghee or olive oil
1 large or 3 small leeks, trimmed, cut into half moons and rinsed well
8 oz mushrooms, sliced
4 cups sunchokes, cut into bite sized pieces
sea salt and pepper
1. In a high sided, large fry pan, saute leeks in ghee or oil for 3 minutes.
2. Add mushrooms and cook until liquid released is evaporated – about 5 minutes.
3. Add sunchokes and cook until tender – 5 to 10 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, heat cream and garlic in a small pot and cook, for 5 minutes, or until slightly
thickened. Careful not to boil.
5. Add goat cheese to cream mixture and cook until disolved.
1 onion, chopped
1 firm pear, peeled, cored and sliced
2 packed cups of sheep sorrel leaves, rinsed and drained well – or a tablespoon or two of pesto
1 cup of stock (beef, chicken or vegetable)
2 cups packed chickory and garlic mustard leaves, chopped, rinsed and boiled in 2 changes of water.
2 T butter
Sea salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup pecans, chopped and toasted
fresh paneer cheese, cut into bite sized wedges
1. Heat a medium saute pan over medium-high heat. When hot, add ghee and coat bottom of pan.
2. Add onions and saute for 3-4 minutes or until soft and translucent.
3. Add pears and cook 2 minutes.
4. Add sorrel or a scoop of pesto and cook until wilted and it darkens in color.
5. Add stock and cook until reduced by half – about 3 minutes.
6. Add boiled chicory and g.mustard and mix all very well.
7. Add 2 T of cold butter to emulsify and thicken the sauce and season to taste.
8. Add pecans and cheese just before serving – giving the cheese a little time to melt slightly.
Softened butter for greasing the dish
2 cups whole cultured milk
6 large eggs
6 cups 1/2- to 1-inch sourdough bread cubes (about 10 ounces bread)
6 strips good bacon, preferably thick-cut, minced or chopped fine
1 large shallot, sliced
3 garlic cloves, smashed and roughly chopped
A cup of cheese – 1/4 cup goat cheese and 3/4 cup cheddar cheese
Preheat the oven to 400Åã. Rub a 9×13 baking dish with a generous amount of butter
Whisk together the milk, eggs, and 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
Put the bread cubes in the baking dish and pour the egg mixture over them.
Cook the bacon, either in a skillet or in the oven (10-15 minutes at 400 degrees, depending on the
thickness of the bacon). When it is crispy, drain it on paper towels and then crumble.
Pour about a tablespoon of bacon fat into a 12-inch skillet, and reduce the oven temperature to 375
Heat the fat over a medium flame and then add the shallots. Saute about 5 minutes.
Scatter the bacon and cheeses over the custardy bread crumbs and then stir them in.
When everything is evenly mixed, cover the dish with parchment and aluminum foil and put it in the
oven. After 30 minutes, remove the foil and bake 10 minutes more uncovered.
2 lb. boneless venison, cut in 1 inch cubes
flour or arrowroot for dredging – seasoned with sea salt and pepper
2 T butter, ghee or lard – plus more if necessary
1 large onion, chopped
24 mushrooms, sliced
1/2 tsp. crushed dried rosemary
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1 tbsp. finely chopped parsley
2 c. beef stock
1 c. red wine
1 bay leaf
1 (16 oz) pkg frozen peas, thawed
1 pie crust (bottom and top or top only)
1 egg yolk, lightly beaten with 1 T cream
1. Dredge venison in flour and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Melt butter, ghee or lard in heatproof
casserole and quickly brown meat evenly. Remove to a plate once browned.
2. In same pan, saute onion until limp – about 4 minutes.
3. Add mushrooms and herbs and cook another 2 minutes.
4. Return venison back to the pot and add stock and wine.
5. Bring to a boil and then cover and simmer gently for 1 1/2 hours (alternatively, the stew may be
put in a 350 degree oven for this time as well).
6. Meanwhile, place crust in pie plate and blind bake at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes. Once
cool, spread bottom and sides with dijon mustard and set aside.
7. Allow the stew to cool slightly, add the frozen peas and then place mixture into pie shell, top
with second crust and cut vents into top.
8. Brush pie top with beaten egg yolk mixed with cream and bake in 450 degree oven for 30
minutes, or until crust is golden brown.
1 per person
Skinned and cleaned squirrels
sea salt and pepper to taste
thick, center cut bacon – 1 per squirrel
large leaves to wrap squirrels in
toothpicks to secure, optional
1. Lay one large leaf on a cutting board.
2. Season each squirrel liberally with sea salt and pepper.
3. Wrap each with a slice of bacon in a candy cane stripe fashion.
4. Fold package together in the leaf and secure, if necessary with a toothpick.
5. Place squirrel packages into pit oven and cover with vegetation.
6. Cook 3-6 hours.
7. Remove squirrel from leaves and, with bacon in tack, crisp and finish on a charcoal grill.
5 eggs, separated
1/2 cup honey or maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon celtic sea salt
1 cup dark chocolate chips
2 cups walnuts
1. In a food processor, pulse the chocolate until it becomes a coarse mixture, the consistency of
2. Pulse in the walnuts, briefly, until they are coarsely chopped -bigger chunks than the chocolate
3. In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks until pale in color, then gradually beat in the honey
4. In a separate large bowl, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks, then beat in the salt
5. Fold the chocolate-walnut mixture into the egg yolk mixture
6. Then fold the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture
7. Place in a well greased 9-inch springform pan or pie plate
8. Bake at 350Åã for 20-40 minutes or until center is still a bit jiggly, then turn the oven off and
leave in for 10 more minutes, until firm to the touch and golden around the edges
9. Cool in the pan, then serve
1 tube pan, feeds 10
3 cups unbleached flour, spooned and leveled
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/4 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups packed light-brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 large eggs
2 cups crabapple sauce
Coconut oil for greasing pan
Organic confectioners’ sugar, optional
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and cardamom. Set aside.
3. In another bowl, beat butter, brown sugar, and honey until light and fluffy.
4. Add eggs, one at a time, beating until combined.
5. Gradually add flour mixture; beat just until combined.
6. Beat in applesauce.
7. Generously coat a nonstick 9-inch tube pan with cooking spray. Spoon batter into pan; smooth
top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean (but slightly wet), 50 to 60
8. Cool on a wire rack 10 minutes. Turn out of pan onto a cutting board or baking sheet; invert
cake onto rack, top side up. Cool completely. Dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving, if
2 cups chilled cream
1 tsp. Cream of tartar
1. Add cream to a large mixing bowl and beat until soft peaks form on surface.
2. Add cream of tartar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form.
3. Serve on top of cake or pie.
Want to be part of a Forager’s Thanksgiving? RSVP here: http://www.meetup.com/SuburbanForagers/events/92059762/