Most Americans fear pretty much everything! The fear of being poisoned by nature with things such as wild mushrooms is very common here, but not so much in other parts of the world.
So, as an instructor, my biggest challenge is to give “newbies” confidence in their abilities by teaching them the basics: “Don’t eat anything that you do not already know,” and “Don’t mix things you know with things you don’t know.”
As a longtime forager of wild foods in Northern Utah, I am always excited about the arrival of fall.
Depending upon the timing of the late summer and fall monsoon thunderstorms, edible mushrooms of many kinds come popping out of the ground. With this year’s heavy spring rains, many of the wild fruits and berries should do well. Many of us are hoping for a good pine nut year because nothing is more yummy and versatile than pine nuts.
The interest in foraging has grown dramatically over the past few years based on the growth of students who take my foraging class. I teach the class twice a year, and signup has almost doubled since I taught the first class almost five years ago. Many claim that they are just curious. Others are the obvious result of a commercial American food system gone awry, along with the desire to eat more healthy natural foods. Others just want great tasting meals. As a longtime student of nature and avid home gardener, I agree with all of them. However, I like to add that I always appreciate being out in nature, whatever the reason.
I also try to expose people to eating new things by providing wild food in a group setting, where folk don’t want to be perceived as “wimps” by the other peers present. I usually bring something yummy to virtually every class I teach.
I like to focus on getting people out in nature, or at least out in their own neighborhoods where so many tasty, healthy things are available. I take my foraging classes on at least one field trip, although I almost never go looking for any specific food. Rather, I prefer to be the ultimate “optunivore.” For example, yesterday I was out with a buddy scouting elk and stumbled over a huge patch of currants just waiting to be harvested later this fall. I’ll probably pack out a bunch for canning when I help him pack out his bull.
You say you haven’t foraged wild foods before? No problem.
There is now more great information about the topic than ever before–everything from the Internet to some great books with photos, recipes and all the how, where, and when info.
Looking back, I find that I have learned far more from my hundreds of students than students in any particular class can learn from me. That aside, you can sign up for my fall Wild Foods Foraging class through West High School’s Community Education Program to learn the basics, gain some confidence, and eat some truly wild meals.
Dan Potts is a local wild foods foraging instructor.