"Morels can't be trusted. They'll be nowhere in sight when conditions are just perfect. You'll hunt in all the ideal places and end up scorned with nothing but an empty basket. Then another day they'll throw themselves at your feet, carpeting the ground before you. They are fickle, wily tricksters. But Got help us, we're totally shameless in our passionate pursuit of these little dimpled darlings."After reading that, it's no surprise that I actually wondered where my billy boots were. Truthfully, the closest I come to foraging is the few times a summer that I go to a blueberry or apple U-Pik farm with the family - and that's mostly because the little boys are so cute. And I consider going to the farmers markets - the second best way to get local, seasonal, not to mention delicious food and at least get to hang out with those who actually do toil in the fields. But my daughter on the other hand, is already eager to actually get out there and forage for real. We have eaten some wild blackberries and raspberries found right on their property. Naturally, she can't wait until I finish writing about the book so she can take it home and devour it from cover to cover.
Back to the book...The Wild Table is written by Connie Green, better known as the "Mushroom Lady" who lives in California and has been foraging mushrooms, berries, greens and other wild foods for thirty years.... way before it was fashionable to eat them at fancy restaurants. Along with Connie, Sarah Scott is a culinary consultant and chef. Between the two of them, a beautiful tale is told of hunting and cooking, with the most spectacular photos that take us on a magical journey through the seasons. There are tips and techniques to finding mushrooms and other wild fruit, vegetables and herbs - with a serious focus on safety and a reminder to find a local, seasoned forager to go with as well as at least two identification books...some deadly mushrooms look very much like their friendly cousins.
I spent a fair bit of time at the back of the book - the sections on techniques for cooking and cleaning wild mushrooms, and my very favorite - The Wild Pantry with recipes for porcini powder, wine forest mushroom rub, mushroom stocks,.. and more.
While the bulk of the book focuses on mushrooms (I'll have to get mine at specialty shops or local purveyors of wild mushrooms when I can find them), there are also sections on other wild foods - like elderberries and ramp, just to mention two. Recipes for pestos, pickles and a Black Trumpet Mushroom Tapenade (which, I'm assured would taste lovely with my rehydrated wild mushrooms).
The book is divided by seasons, naturally:
Spring focuses on Morels, Ramps, Fiddleheads (true harbingers of Spring for me), Stinging Nettles, Wild Spring Salad Greens and Elderflowers. The Spring Fry: Fritto Misto of Fiddleheads, Ramps & Asparagus with Meyer Lemon Aioli has me eager for Fall and Winter to be done.
Summer is filled with, not only mushrooms, but wonderful recipes for wild fennel and naturally, berries including Fresh Mulberry Ice Cream and Blackberry "Caviar" Blini with Creme Fraiche.
Indian Summer is the time for chanterelles, puffballs, rose hips and huckleberries. Even if I do buy my chanterelles, I know I'll be making some Louisiana-style Chanterelle Hash.
Autumn brings us porcini, juniper berries, cauliflower mushrooms (that I've never seen before but look spectacular), to name a few species and wonderful recipes for hearty flans, panini - and who can resist the Porcini dusted Rib Eye with Porcini Butter!
Winter may be bleak in the North East, but persimmons and exotic mushrooms with names like black trumpet and hedgehog mushrooms sound wonderful and I bet the Hedgehog Mushroom & Caramelized Onion Tart will be wonderful with whatever kind of wild mushroom you can find.
Bottom line: For the forager among us - it's a wonderful guide, although it does focus on North America and the West Coast, in particular. It will inspire you to get close to your own region for foraging opportunities. For the arm chair forager - the recipes are wonderful, even if we BUY our "wild" produce, rather than hunt it. For the rest of us - it's a beautiful picture book to leaf through and be transported.