In the restaurant world foraging is the latest buzzword. I would love to get on a flight to Copenhagen to sample Rene Redzepi’s menu at Noma. However, I don’t think my kids would enjoy tasting deep fried moss or elderflower salad as much as I might. Since I’m always looking for ways to teach my kids about real food and food sources, we decided to do some foraging in our own backyard and see what we could find.
Our search began right on our front lawn where we harvested several acorns. Acorns can actually be ground into flour or used as nuts in cookies. But it was hard to find any that our neighborhood squirrels hadn’t already started eating. So we decided to branch out to some local walking trails to see if we could discover anything edible along the paths. There were several bushes growing berries but it seemed long past the season for any ripe fruit.
A few days later we were at a local park and looked up to find a tree filled with colorful berries. We excitedly picked a few and looked them up in our foraging book. Sure enough, we had stumbled upon a kousa dogwood tree. We tasted a bit of the orange flesh inside the tough exterior but the kids were put off by the small seeds and strange texture.
Next, I tried boiling the berries and used a mesh sieve to extract the juice, tossing the skin and seeds. I cooked the juice down with some sugar, cinnamon and lemon. The resulting “jam” was sticky, sweet and slightly bitter. Each of us tried a tiny bit but the verdict was lackluster:
Matthew (age 7): “Not good, too bitter, yuck”
Liam (age 5): “We found that in nature?”
Dylan (age 5): “Did I pick those? It’s not so bad”
Then we made an unexpected discovery near New Rochelle H.S. where we encountered two women foraging for crab apples high up in trees along the walking path. They had amassed quite a few and generously offered us the largest and best of the bunch so the kids could try them. The apples were just as good as any we had ever picked in an orchard.
From there we made our annual trip to Wilken’s Farm where we foraged for more apples. Although we did have to pay for the privilege we decided picking fruit in an apple orchard could technically be called foraging as well. And the apple cider donuts were a well-deserved treat for our hard work.
A few rules for novice foragers:
– Consider foraging with an experienced guide or do your homework before you go.
– If you are not 100 percent certain of what you found – don’t eat it!
– Do not forage near busy roads, manufacturing plants or where people walk their dogs.
– Make sure your children know not to eat anything they find until you have identified it as safe.
– Steer clear of mushrooms, leave these to the experienced forager.
– Thoroughly wash any foraged foods before ingesting them. Boiling is even better.
Even if you don’t eat what you discover (looking is half the fun), foraging with your kids is a wonderful way to connect to nature. The processed food we eat today is so far removed from its original source. By seeking out some wild edibles you can teach your children that our food does not grow in fluorescent colors and is not from a box. You will be amazed by what you find growing right in your own backyard!