Friday, June 17, 2011


Foraging for your own ingredients can be a dangerous practice. Many edible plants have poisonous look-alikes that can be lethal. Even some of the edible plants can remain toxic until treated in a certain way, at which point they become the delicious products we see on our plates everyday. Please exercise caution while foraging; we encourage the enlisting of a trained expert to guide you in the right direction.

Right then.

It's an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem. For instance, on the planet Earth, Man had always assumed that cultivated product was the most delicious product occupying the planet, instead of the *second* most delicious. The most delicious products were of course wild which, curiously enough, had long hidden in plain sight on planet Earth. They had made many attempts to alert mankind to their presence, but most of their communications were misinterpreted as amusing attempts to write an original menu or project one's food into the stratosphere of food elitism. So they eventually decided they would inspire Earth by their own means. The last ever message was misinterpreted as a surprisingly sophisticated attempt to exclusively conjure multiple Michelin stars, but in fact the message was this: We have arrived, and food will never be the same.

~ Adapted from the opening lines of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

by Samuel Thayer
I'm going to go ahead and declare The Forager's Harvest the best foraging book we have available, in terms of it's versatility and also portability (believe it or not, but the Noma cookbook is a very disagreeable fit with the back pocket of, oh, pretty much every human being on the planet). Though it's still a bit larger than a pocket book, it fits conveniently into a shoulder bag, and contains a huge volume of information, not just for it's size, but also in terms of foraging books in general. Each profile contains photographs of the specific plant as well as habitat locations and preparation instructions. The introductory section also details proper and efficient harvesting techniques and includes a great chart that breaks down the harvesting season in months as opposed to the more popular seasonal divisions. The Forager's Harvest also remains neutral in terms of foraging regions; the book covers wild plants that grow worldwide instead of concentrating on a certain region.
Softcover, $24.95

by Pamela Michael
One thing that instantly sets Edible Wild Plants and Herbs apart is the use of hand-illustrated photos of each plant. It's a question of trust, I suppose; do you trust the artist's interpretation of what a plant looks like when it comes to putting it in your mouth? Nevertheless, I can't deny that the illustrations are quite nice and an appreciated change of pace after leafing through the other books in this guide. Choosing to gear towards those just entering the foraging field (which, let's be honest, most of us are new to this plant-picking business), information is limited to more basic profiles instead of diving into the lore and history of each plant. Another neat feature of the book is that a large chunk of "recipes" are actually for more household-ish preparations such as Carragheen Bath Gel or Chamomile Hair Rinse. While this might not be everyone's cup of tea, it's nice to know that the author has chosen to include medicinal recipes in addition to those we eat just because they taste nice. Because of it's greater emphasis on being a recipe book as opposed to a field guide, the fact that the book is quite large compared to others mentioned isn't as significant an issue because it's not meant to be brought in a foraging bag.
Hardcover, $45

by John Wright
The smallest book in this guide, RCH7 is the closest to a "pocket guide" that we have available (then again, I think foraging suffers from Laser Eye Surgery Syndrome; how cheap are you really willing to go with surgery and how vague are you really willing to go with foraging notes?). With a concise and well-organized layout, RCH7 avoids a common pitfall of guidebooks in information bombardment. While the guide is written to accommodate the regions of Britain, one of the stand-out features of this book is that it includes a section in the back that profiles toxic plants that can be easily confused for edible ones. While this may seem obvious to include, none of the other books have a section dedicated to harmful plants (the pages are even headlined in red, in case you didn't get the message). It's one of those things you hope you never need to use, but you appreciate them being there. Similar to the other books in this guide, a calendar is provided detailing the peak points in each season at which to find specific plants. The writing is also executed in classic River Cottage style, appearing simultaneously Oxford and personable.
Hardcover, $25

by Connie Green and Sarah Scott
For foraging along the Western coast of North America, Connie Green's The Wild Table is a great recommendation. Known in the food biz as "The Mushroom Lady", she's supplied numerous fine dining restaurants with delectable wild ingredients. Thomas Keller even offers his ringing endorsement in the foreword he provides in the book. Though the majority of products detailed in the book are indigenous to the West coast, there are a few ingredients that grow elsewhere, and with today's network of international purveyors, it's not difficult to have terrific ingredients shipped to your door. One must also acknowledge the recipes included with the book, all of which take tremendous advantage of the seasonal bounty that foraging provides. While providing immaculate instructions on how to properly harvest and prepare foraged ingredients, her tone remains light-hearted and not as dry as some of the other guides that focus more on academia while Connie Green includes relevant anecdotes that shed light on the charm of ingredients that many people experience unfamiliarity with.
Hardcover, $50

by Rene Redzepi 
Credited by many for popularizing the use of foraged and wild ingredients, Rene Redzepi's Noma was named the top restaurant of 2010 and 2011 in the global San Pellegrino rankings. It should be fitting then, that his cookbook be released that same year. While it's not a foraging guide by any stretch of the imagination (and many argue it barely qualifies as a cookbook due to sheer difficulty of recipe execution), Noma: Time And Place In Nordic Cuisine serves it's purpose as a piece of great inspiration to the professional cook. While I risk redundancy in mentioning that the ingredients in this book are all sourced from Copenhagen, where Redzepi runs his operation, I feel it's my duty to bear the bad news that 95% of the ingredients in this book are nigh impossible to come by on the plains of North America. Don't let the rarity of Danish ingredients hinder you; use Noma as a pool of ideas to draw from. Picking up the book and flipping to any given page is guaranteed to set off sparks of imagination instantly. Chef Rene Redzepi is creating some of the most innovative and original plates on the planet. Yes, I agree that most of the recipes are impossible to execute word for word, but hey, that cook-your-egg-at-the-table idea seems pretty cool...
Hardcover, $55 ON SALE for $30.25 (45% savings!)


No comments:

Post a Comment