Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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Eating wildly is the new food frontier. If you could forage wild foods on your next family hike and make them part of your evening dinner, wouldn’t it be an absolute hoot? My friend Heather and I have lots of passions in common, not the least being good food and knowing where your food comes from. In this guest post, Heather writes about a foraging expedition with her two children and how foraging can brighten up a family walk and your evening dinner. From you San Francisco peeps, she also organizes an Eating Wildly dinner this weekend (details below). You can find Heather’s awesome recipes on her blog, Eating Dirt, adventures from An Urban Kitchen Garden.
My good friend Laure, aka Frog Mom, and I have shared many adventures harvesting food with our children: collecting chestnuts at the historic Skyline Chestnut Orchard, shucking corn at Ardenwood Historic Farm, gathering nearly no strawberries at one of many U-Picks in Half- Moon Bay. We’ve camped, hiked, gardened and visited other places together as well, most recently swimming in the very cold Serpentine River in London’s Hyde Park last spring.
Back in San Francisco, my month has been all about foraged wild foods food, which got me thinking about Frog Mom again. It all started with reading Ava Chin’s Eating Wildly for Food Lit, the book club I coordinate at San Francisco’s 18 Reasons, then being gifted a giant bag of purslane weeded from a local farm, and finally diving headfirst into ingredient sourcing and prep for a wild dinner featuring local foraging chef Iso Rabins. And as usually happens when people like me (and Laure) discover a new passion, I wanted to share it with my children.
Sardines with charmoula and slaw? Greens pie with Ricotta? Campari Eucalyptus Jello shots? It all sounded delicious, but as a treat for me, not for my kids. They’d do better with a romp in the woods and fresh-caught fish cooked over a camp fire than an evening event in our city’s hippest food neighborhood. The purslane didn’t go over too well, either.
“This isn’t my favorite,” my one salad-eating child told me, using her very best manners, while enthusiastically pushing her plate clear over to the other side of the table. So I asked Iso Rabins, the man behind forageSF and the underground supperclub The Wild Kitchen, what he would recommend for an introductory foraging hike with elementary school-age children.
“The easiest, I’d say, are wild greens and wildflowers. Nasturtium flowers, wild radish flowers, also oxalis flowers and petals. Those are probably all fun for kids,” he told me. I already knew that Rabins was right about that. My two children routinely snack on nasturtium and oxalis at home in our garden. While a great suggestion, going out on a hike in search of something we had growing in our own backyard was risky. I worried it might lack the motivational power needed to get shoes on feet and bodies out the door.
So I continued thinking. Something sweet would work best…blackberry pie! A promise of ice cream on top got them moving, pulling on long sleeves, pants and loading the car with gardening gloves and our biggest unbreakable bowl, a giant stainless steel item larger than a child’s booster seat. Off we went, to Fort Miley, the most blackberry laden part of San Francisco’s Golden Gate National Recreation Area.
Luck was with us. We found two giant bushes with ripe berries atop the first hill we climbed. A very few ripe berries, however. But as we clambered down the steep hillside seeking more, I could see that what I’d learned from Ava Chin’s book was true even for my children: the thrill of the hunt was more compelling than actually finding the food itself.
Even though we’d obviously missed the height of blackberry season by a mile, scrabbling through bushes and climbing dusty hills with a mission in mind still held enormous appeal. Whether we found enough berries or not wasn’t really the point, it was all about getting into the outdoors with more on our minds than simply walking. We were on a quest, an expedition, in hot pursuit.
For two additional hours we searched, peering through countless berry thickets in search of fruit, exploring abandoned military barracks, climbing trees and finally back-tracking down to the car only to take off again in the opposite direction, on another trail altogether. Later, on the way home, we stopped by the market to buy blackberries, so that we would have enough to make pie. Dirty, sweaty and exercised, the hike had been wonderful fun.
You can learn more about foraging for wild foods from author Ava Chin at her Eating Wildly dinner with Chef Iso Rabins, this Saturday night at 18 Reasons in San Francisco. Tickets are available here.
You can see more about blackberry pie, and other deliciousness, on my blog Eating Dirt.