I loved reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan. But I have to admit that I skimmed with some degree of boredom over his chapters about foraging.
I don’t eat mushrooms (I don’t like them), so I couldn’t empathize with the foragers’ joy upon discovering morels. “You stumbled upon some fungus! Better you than me!”
But, more than anything, I just didn’t think that foraging applied to me.
First, I’m entirely too practical. I couldn’t imagine spending all day looking for something I might never find. Second, I live in a suburbia. No one forages in suburbia. Aside from some honeysuckles along the edges of my elementary school yard (whose nectar I used to enjoy during recess) I have never, ever foraged for anything. I didn’t think there was anything to find. “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” convinced me that it was possible to forage in fertile, hippy places like California. But I didn’t assume it was possible in Maryland, where I live.
I WAS WRONG.
I was out playing with my kids in our backyard last weekend. Playing in the grass with a one-year-old and a three-year-old is perhaps the most relaxing and wonderful activity in all of humanity. It’s a license for a grown adult to lay down, roll around, smell the earth, enjoy the breeze, and listen to the rustling of trees overhead. [When we’re stuck at work in our cubicles on a beautiful day, isn’t that all we’re dreaming of?]
It was during such a frolic that I noticed something unusual just a few feet away from where we were playing, in a spot where the grass gives way to trees. Is that a…strawberry?
Once I saw one, I saw dozens – a whole patch of wild strawberries – so many, in fact, that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t ever noticed them before. My three-year-old went nuts. “Dada,” she called, “WE FOUND STRAWBERRIES!”
As an inexperienced forager, I knew I needed to confirm the edibility of the berries before I just dove in. Especially with the girls. So, I went inside and consulted the wisdom of the Internet.
I learned (from various sites, as I looked for confirmation from multiple sources) that what I had found were “wood strawberries.” I learned that I should not expect them to taste as sweet as a cultivated strawberry, or to be as big. I learned that they’re entirely edible and, in fact, that there are no poisonous berries that resemble strawberries at all. So, the Internet told me, if you have wood strawberries, go ahead and eat them before the birds do. But don’t expect them to be particularly tasty.
I grabbed baskets for the girls and off we went to forage. I have never been so excited. Hyper-local wild strawberries! Michael Pollan, I get it now!
The girls had a blast filling their baskets with the easy-to-pick berries. My little one is only fourteen months old, but she immediately knew what to do. [I would say that we must be born with a hunter/gatherer instinct, but she also knows how to swipe the screen of an iPhone; I suspect that is more nurture than nature.]
Most of the strawberries never made it into the baskets – we ate them right off the plants. In truth, they were not as sweet as cultivated strawberries. But they were still good. Of the ones that made it into the baskets, most never made it into the house.
But a few did.
And because they didn’t have much sweetness of their own, I decided to macerate them to add a touch of sugar and bring out the natural sweetness and juices of the berries.
Handful of wild/wood strawberries
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
½ teaspoon of fresh lemon zest (grate the outside of a lemon)
½ cup of non-fat Greek yogurt
Put the strawberries, honey, and balsamic vinegar in a bowl and stir them, mashing the strawberries slightly. Allow them to sit in the refrigerator for a few hours.
Serve the macerated strawberries over yogurt with a sprinkle of lemon zest.