(wild flowers perhaps eatable they did not have a bitter flavor)
There is no doubt we have becomes an epicenter for food in the US. We have mastered molecular cuisine and made the impossible possible. Culinary artists have fused meats and fish together with meat glue, combinations of foods are born which we chef’s hardly could have dreamed of even 20 years ago. Flavor combinations were made possible with hydrocolloids a/k/a gums such as agar, alginate, guar, locust bean, xantham, starch, etc. Creations such eggless hollandaise and fried mayonnaise were not possible before. We can infuse smoke into food and have it continue to smoke when it arrives in front of a guest. Instantaneously freezing food with liquid nitrogen has been a rage for a few years now as well.
(I call it sourleaf because of it's tart flavor. I can imagine incoporating it in a salad blend)
So what’s next?
We have arrived at a time when foraging is the hottest thing - something totally forgotten becomes nouveau again. Grasses, edible flowers, barks, fungus, and seeds we have overlooked in the past are superstars on contemporary plates. I like to call foraging of herbs and grasses free weeding since many plants are vegetating throughout the season and most people don’t know that some chef will be psyched to incorporate them in their daily special menu. Some items I have been using recently in cooking are milkweed, thistles, fiddlehead ferns, basswood, ramps, dandelion, amaranth greens, elderberries, epazote, lamb’s quarters, purslane, sassafras, wild strawberries, violets, wood sorrel, nettles and lavender. All of these are found in the wild and are not cultivated – look carefully as they may appear like weed to the untrained eye.
(this had the most fragrant scent I think it's a variety of elderberries)
Then and now
In prehistoric times hunter-gatherers were chasing animals with spears, and stones or scared them, so they would fall off a cliff. Later on bow and arrow came into the picture which made hunting a lot more efficient. These hunters were foraging animals such as buffalo, deer and fish from the ocean. Mushrooms, grasses, herbs, grains, seeds and edible leaves were a part of their daily foraging routine.
Nowadays food supply works differently of course. Most of the food we eat is domesticated and produced in controlled agriculture. If it’s not organically grown the DNA of plants is often manipulated to withstand draughts, winds and other climatic conditions and non organic crops may be sprayed with synthetic pesticides that can maximize yields and assure “ideal” appearance. The majority of animals we eat today grow up in CAFO’s. (concentrated/confined animal feeding organizations) unless it’s organic and grass-fed and enjoy fat green pastures on the field. CAFO animals are brought up in a commercialized highly efficient manner to get maximum yield results. The confined upbringing requires a threshold of antibiotics in the diet of the animals, which serves as insurance that no animal sickness can disturb the scheduled slaughter. But times are changing and the average consumer wants to know where their food comes from and realizes that it is not as wholesome and pure as they would have imagined. That’s where a forager comes in.
(wild rose buds - let's brew some tea)
Creating a New Job
I suppose foraging can be called a profession since some restaurants focused on local, natural cooking actually have foragers on the payroll. A forager establishes a supply chain between the green market and its sources including the wilderness, local farms, wild plants, and well-bred animals. Foragers are culinary researchers and need to understand flavors since they’re the liaison between cooks and nature or the immediate supplier. Foraged plant products are organic and sustainable in a sense that they are not controlled and grow wild in the woods. With foraged goods you’re certain you get the highest quality for a lower cost since such items are purchased at the source or in other words from the person who picked or raised it without middleman. Foragers are the eyes and ears for a chef.
(juniper berries great for a game dish)
Next time you happen to be in a forest look out for wild berries and herbs -- it’s quite interesting what’s out there that is edible. But leave it up to the trained forager to pick such goodies since some plants are poisonous and harmful.