Saturday, August 9, 2014

Urban Foraging

I don't normally think of the city as a great source for foraging, but my eyes have been opened after talking with friends about their experiences in different cities around the world. When I think about it, and consider the number of beautiful flowering trees planted all over cities to make them more beautiful in the springtime, I should have thought about this before. Now it's starting to make sense!

Sue's beautiful blackberries
Not to be mistaken with the "freegan" lifestyle, which includes dumpster diving for food, rather urban foragers find free edible plants such as fruits and leafy greens. My friend Sue, for example, who lives in Rotterdam, normally shares pictures of her incredible curries and Asian style dishes, all homemade and flawlessly executed. Today she shared a couple pictures of pears and Damson plums she found IN THE CITY! So that started our conversation. 

Damson plums Sue found in Rotterdam

Sue called these stone pears. Aren't they gorgeous?
Not only does she find these beautiful fruits, but blackberries, raspberries, hazelnuts and more. I was immediately inspired to find out more. Foraging is nothing new to me- I live in the country, but in the cities? 

My friend Kevin, who lives in Des Moines, picks black raspberries, mulberries and elderberries in the city. Vivian, also from Des Moines, found an apple tree at a nearby business and had picked apples. Brianna found a fig tree at Georgia Regents University in Augusta, Georgia. More mulberries have been picked by Laura in Clarinda, Iowa, from a tree on a vacant lot. She says she has picked pounds of berries from that tree. Crab apple trees line many parking lots all over the city and people are picking them! It's pretty amazing when you think about how many sources there really are for free food if you know where to look, and carry a plastic bag with you of course!

Of course, if you are an experienced forager you already know you have a virtual salad bar right in your own lawn. Young dandelion greens and plantain leaves make great additions to salads. Many flowers, such as violets and roses, can be steeped as used for teas, jellies and more. 

Plantain, the menace of yard freaks everywhere.

Most of us know at least one homeowner in the city whose lawn is overrun in the fall with black walnuts strewn about, and their smelly and oily black shells decaying all over. My friend Ronda, who lives in Alabama, has a similar "problem" with pecans. I wish I had a pecan problem actually!

So what do we do with all these foraged finds? Let's make a simple salad using plantain.

2 cups young plantain leaves, washed and chopped
2 cups mixed baby lettuces
1/2 red onion, sliced
sliced cucumber or grape tomatoes, if desired
chopped herbs of choice
1/4 olive oil
2-3 tb white balsamic vinegar
1 tb dijon mustard
salt and pepper 

In a large bowl combine all the vegetables. In jar, mix oil, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper, shake vigorously. Pour about half the dressing over the vegetables; toss well. Add more dressing if needed. Serve on chilled plates.

NOTE:  There are lots of sources for foraging information online and in books. Make sure you know what you're eating. Pick from unsprayed, untreated areas and if permission is needed, make sure you get it. NEVER eat a berry or mushroom or plant of any kind unless you are absolutely sure it is safe.

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