Huntress-gatherer cuisine

Huntress-gatherer cuisine

Wild mushroom hunting friend Greg Kirrish holds a hen-of-the-woods mushroom he foraged (WBEZ/Louisa Chu)

After Tuesday night’s storms — of winds and words — we felt the season’s change ahead. Apple-picking has already begun, but with less fruit and profit because of this spring’s tempestuous weather, as WBEZ’s Lauren Chooljian reported. Pick-your-own-fruit farms, even with ready-made rewards like cider and pie, have been one of our last traditional connections to finding our own food.

But what about those of us born-and-bred city-dwellers who really want to forage our own food? It’s one of the hottest trends in the food world today, from “World’s Best RestaurantNoma in Copenhagen, to ramps at our local Whole Foods. Mulberries were everywhere this year, but a lot of beautiful ripe berries went unpicked. So I often wonder, is there a relationship between the difficulty and danger of foraged foods and their desirability?

Mycologist Dr. Gregory M. Mueller blows on mushroom during Illinois Mycological Association foray (WBEZ/Louisa Chu)

With the fall wild mushroom season coming up, I feel the first rule of Mushroom Club bears repeating: Not all mushrooms are edible. And the second rule of Mushroom Club: NOT all mushrooms are edible.

In my own, slow, yet survivable method of city dweller learning foraging, the most important thing I’ve found is that you need friends to show you the way, literally and figuratively speaking.

Mushroom deviled eggs, post Illinois Mycological Association foray (WBEZ/Louisa Chu)
Foraging can be quite a serious business. Not only with the safety of the food you might eat, but the turf you might be intruding upon. It’s one thing to pick abundant mulberries in the middle of the Chicago, but in some parts of the country and world, it’s a whole other thing. In fact, one of the most valuable foodstuffs in the world right now can only be found by foraging: truffles. I used to work daily with pounds of French black and white Italian truffles in season while in Paris, and sign off on invoices for the latter that listed them for roughly $2,000 per pound. Moto’s Homaro Cantu is hoping to change that by trying to grow his own black French Périgord truffles in-house. Sound crazy? Then consider the shiitake, which I remember being smuggled in as treasured gifts from China, when they were grown, but only through traditional methods. That is until 1982, when Gary F. Leatham cracked the code for commercial cultivation in the U.S..
Wild huckleberries in Sitka, Alaska (WBEZ/Louisa Chu)
In the meantime, make friends, join clubs, or take a class with Chicago’s best known foraging expert Nance Klehm.
Wild blueberry in Sitka, Alaska (WBEZ/Louisa Chu)
A lot of the foraged foods you’ll find in Chicago restaurants come from Dave Odd, professional forager and comedian (no, seriously).
Wild huckleberry, top, and wild blueberry, bottom, in Sitka, Alaska (WBEZ/Louisa Chu)
Except for the upcoming restaurant Elizabeth. Chef/owner Iliana Regan currently forages her own food, for what she calls New Gatherer Cuisine. Through her preview incarnation as One Sister, Regan served stunning modernist, farm-to-table, and foraged multi-course dinners, in her own apartment. I wonder if she’ll have time to forage her Indiana home lands when the restaurant takes off, and by word of mouth, it seems it will. I hope so, because the rewards of foraging transcend the food itself.
Wild Alaskan nagoon berry jelly (WBEZ/Louisa Chu)