Hunting and Foraging for Dinner│ Chef It Up!
Springtime is an ideal opportunity to wake up your winter-dulled taste buds. The woods and fields are bursting with new life, all waiting to be harvested, cooked, and compiled into a gourmet forager’s feast. It’s also a chance to showcase your culinary skills, so get out in the woods and start foraging, using this article as your guide. That being said do not pick and consume any plant foraged from the wild unless you are absolutely certain of its identification. Study a couple ID books and go out with some experienced gatherers first. With that token warning out of the way, let’s begin.
One of the first woodland foraging opportunities of spring is maple season. Sap in maple trees freely flows when temperatures are above freezing during the day and plummet below freezing at night. Obviously, sugar maples have sap with the highest sugar content, but other maples (or even birch) can be used. “Tap” a tree by drilling a small hole and inserting a spile (i.e., a short tube that funnels sap out of the tree). After collecting the sap in a bucket or bag each day, you have a few options. You can simply drink the filtered sap, which tastes slightly sweet and has many nutrients and trace minerals to act as natural vitamin water. If that doesn’t float your boat, you can also boil it down until it turns into maple syrup. Or continue to boil it further to get maple sugar. It’s up to you.
Next on the foraging schedule is likely to be wild onions, also known as wild leeks, ramps, or wild garlic. Wild onions grow in woodland settings, sprouting long leaf blades through the leaf litter. Attached to these leaf blades is a small onion bulb. You’ll know if it’s a wild onion by their unmistakable onion scent. Be careful to only pick 10 to 20 percent of a given patch, so as not to over-harvest. Rough chop young leaves to add to a salad for a potent kick or dice them thinly to use like chives. You can also cook the small bulbs like green onions and add as a side dish.
While out foraging for wild onions, also keep a keen eye out for morel mushrooms. Morels are one of the choicest springtime edibles. They typically grow in moist soils near or around dying elm or ash trees. They have a very distinct, brain-like texture that is easy to identify, but not always easy to spot on the forest floor. Especially with mushrooms, you should go with another gatherer first to be sure of your identification before eating. Do not simply pull the mushroom from the ground, as you will disturb the soil and ruin your chances at foraging more next year. Instead, cut the top portion off using a knife. Also, carry your mushrooms in a mesh bag (e.g., onion sack) as you collect them. This will allow them to breathe and any spores that fall out may start new morel colonies. They are enjoyed best just fried in some butter with some salt and pepper, but you can get as creative as you want!
Let’s recap. Up until this point, you have a drink, some greens, and mushroom side dish, but no main course. What’s the best option in the springtime? Turkey, naturally! Though not technically foraging, it’s close enough.
There are many methods for turkey hunting, including using decoys, afternoon hunting, etc. Luckily, there are just as many turkey recipes to experiment with. A solid starting point to go with your wild edible feast is a marinated and grilled turkey breast. Simply breast out your turkey, and marinate each one in vegetable oil, soy sauce, lemon juice, a little honey, garlic cloves, and some of your favorite spices. After marinating for about a day, sprinkle on some sesame seeds and grill over medium heat until ready to eat.
There you have it. A full meal simply from foraging wild edibles from the woods. Beats fast food any day, I promise you. Invite some friends or family over and serve your wild turkey breast alongside your other side dishes. Your only remaining challenge will be to accept all of that praise with even an ounce of humility.