Wednesday, May 9, 2012

raised to forage

in my childhood, it wasn't unusual for my mother to slam on the brakes as we sped down a lonely south dakota highway because she'd spotted some wild asparagus in the fence line. tho' we had a garden full of plump, well-fertilized asparagus at home, the thrill of finding some free food could not be passed up.

we had places that we checked every year - the cemetery in salem, south dakota yielded a big handful of asparagus every year as we went to decorate the graves (her words) with my grandmother.  out in the little abandoned, falling down town of bovee, which slowly began its inevitable dissolution when the train line skipped it, there were hidden caches of rhubarb and patches of asparagus in the tall grass, where there had once been tended gardens. the added fun of poking around the old bank and looking at the big unmoveable safe that was there, as the building crumbled around it more and more with each passing year, was always a thrill.

there was another old homestead place, tucked down in the river hills. there was little evidence of the house there anymore and sometimes we had to steer clear of cattle, but it always yielded a good bunch of tender now-wild asparagus. i remember wearing shorts and flip flops and wishing i had worn long pants to keep the tall grasses from tickling my legs.

spring also brought with it the wily morel. the spring when i was in the second grade was our best morel year ever - there had been plenty of rain we found what i can only characterize as chernobyl morels - they were enormous! i can still see them, all laid out on a board beside our garage, as we gloated about them to the game warden, refusing to tell where we'd found them. it was imprinted in our child brains by my father that one must NEVER reveal one's morel hunting grounds.

picking chokecherries down by the golf club with my grandmother, who made dark, moorish jam from it, was worth the inevitable jigger bites. those few pans of morels, fried in butter and served with a juicy steak were a sure sign that spring had arrived. the slender spears of wild asparagus tasted so GREEN after the long winter. they were the very embodiment of spring. later in the summer, we spotted wild plums by the roadsides and grandma made jam of those as well. out at The River (the missouri, it was), we plucked wild onions and popped them in our mouths as the hot summer winds blew over us. we could spot them by the little purple flowers they had. looking back, i suspect they were more little wild garlics than onions, but i can almost taste them now, just thinking about them.  i hope my daughter, who has eaten bucketloads of nettle pesto this spring and still demanded more, will have fond memories of foraging from her childhood, as i do from mine.

growing up foraging means that tho' i spent a lot of years not doing so, it comes back to me naturally. denmark has entirely too few abandoned farmhouses, so i've not seen any wild asparagus. when we moved to our falling down farmhouse, we found some rhubarb struggling to poke up through the grass and i was momentarily transported to bovee. now we've moved those plants and they're in straight, fine rows, growing robustly under plenty of good horse and bunny poo. but there's something that's just not the same about cultivated versus found food. you feel satisfied about it in a different way. there's no little thrill of discovery of finding something for nothing.

i'm american, but have lived in denmark now for nigh on 15 years. i live in a crumbling old farmhouse in the middle of denmark with my danish husband and 11-year-old daughter. we have 17 acres and one end of a small lake in jutland, the middle of the bit of denmark that's attached to germany. if you've seen the new yorker or the nytimes or time magazine of late, you'll know that denmark is being billed as a veritable hotbed of foraging coming out of the new nordic cuisine movement (with rené redzepi and his #1 restaurant in the world NOMA leading the way). in our yard, stinging nettles abound, as do dandelions and violets, so those are the things we've been eating this spring. in the coming days, i'll share my recipes for nettle pesto, hummus and gnocchi, among many others. i'm intrigued by NOMA's use of hay and foraging from the seashore, so you can expect some of that from me as well.

my partner, amy, who was first a real-life friend (kind of unusual in this bloggy world), lives in colorado and we'll also be comparing and contrasting what's forage-able in our climates in the various seasons. we hope as well to have lots of guest experts and interviews, as we have loads to learn about foraging.  we hope you'll come along for the ride and share with us what you know!


  1. Looking forward to your new adventure in blogland together with Amy.

  2. Your new venture is off to a great start. Can't wait to see what's in store.

  3. Very nice intro to what looks like will be a very interesting blog read. I grew up in the country and did a wee bit of foraging so I will look forward to your experiences. Now I mostly forage at farmers markets and whole foods!