After my wife and I stumbled upon a morel mushroom near her parents’ house years ago, I subsequently showed her the basic ropes of foraging for those delicacies, but I couldn’t have guessed the obsession it would spawn.
Not that I was ever an expert, but now I’m decidedly the pupil. She’s the sensei, consulting her bookshelf of mushroom literature, conducting spore prints, studying the Facebook comments in various foraging groups she follows and continually honing both her skills and locations.
I’m writing this before Memorial Day, but I feel confident saying that when you read this, we will be sorting through our mushroom bounty, however small or large, procured over the holiday weekend. My wife will have guided us to the promise land.
I grew up foraging for wild treats such as morel and oyster mushrooms and asparagus, which complemented the elk, deer and antelope our family hunted. While I no longer hunt, I cherish not only the opportunity to harvest goodies from nature with my wife, but to also pass it down to our children.
At 4 years old, Fisher has a keen forager’s eye, one time identifying a morel right before I stomped on it, and he gets excited every time we head into the woods. He’s learning to identify the leaves of wild onions, which he tends to eat without cleaning off all the dirt, and can consistently spot wild asparagus in tall grass.
But Gus, 2 years old, needs a little practice. He prefers to point out deer poop and gather sticks for his “stick collection,” an ever-expanding pile of random wood fragments accumulating in our yard. Still, he loves the adventure.
Given that foraging typically requires bushwhacking, the kids’ ever-expanding sizes increasingly limit our harvesting endeavors. I occasionally end up as the mule, setting aside my searching and picking duties while I haul 70 unwieldy pounds of wiggly boys through a forest obstacle course.
We’ve enjoyed all-foraged meals in the past, including one memorable dinner of trout, asparagus, wild onions and chives. More often, the bounty serves as a complementary dish, although it’s always the star.
Numerous headlines over the past year have trumpeted the explosion in foraging across the U.S. and world, as both a response to the pandemic and a continued outgrowth of the broader sustainable-food movement. The trend is most pronounced in urban settings, as National Geographic noted that people stuck at home last year were learning to explore their backyards.
“Urban foraging is an intimate study and interaction with the living world around us,” Nat Geo stated.
In Northwest Montana, foraging is popular among a number of professional chefs as well, as our own Tristan Scott detailed in a 2017 Flathead Living story. Chefs featured in the story identified usual suspects like huckleberries and morels, but also mushrooms such as boletes, chanterelles and the prized matsutakes, as well as edible plants that include cattails and watercress.
Fiddlehead ferns and wild onions are among the local foraging options growing right now. Summer and fall will bring cycles of all sorts of different tasty plants and mushrooms, not to mention the extensive lineup of plants used for medicinal purposes.
Growing up, my family made dandelion and chokecherry wine, as well as meals from overlooked plants such as stinging nettle, and I recall frequently munching on riverside mint leaves while fishing. From generation to generation, I’m happy continue passing along the foraging family tradition.
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