Fall Foraging with Children – Tips and Recipes For An Autumn Nature Feast
Of all the nature activities autumn has to offer, fall foraging with children is guaranteed to be a winner. My girls love the idea of picking berries and plants because of the edible feast that follows. Imagine walking up a trail, reaching out with your hands and eating something right off the plant? Or bringing it home to be cooked? Besides the edible feast, foraging is a great opportunity for kids to learn about wild foods. My girls are usually nuts about pretty much all fruit and vegetable picking activities, but foraging tickles a wild bone in them. Since we live mostly urban lives, adding a dose of My Side of The Mountain or Hunger Games foraging to our weekends is a healthy back-to-nature activity. Here are four wild foods ideas for as long as the fall lasts under your skies.
Walk along Hedgerows and Make Blackberry Jam
Blackberries are the first signs of fall foraging, coming towards the end of the summer and ripening all through the autumn months. You can find them along hedgerows, roadsides or most semi-urban environments. Plump, shiny and black, they’re real wild jewels so easy to pick it’s almost impossible to say no. My girls are always to first in our family to stop at blackberry bushes and “snack” before we even think of foraging. They have learned to step on thorny brambles with big shoes so they could go deeper inside and pick harder-to-reach berries. Oh the clever little famished ones, they do love their blackberries and their clothes always show evidence of blackberry picking.
If you can manage to forage blackberries faster than your kids eat them, blackberry jam is the easiest jam to make in the world.
Blackberry Jam Recipe
- Pick 8 cups of blackberries in the wild. That’s a small basket-full. At home, sort them and remove all stems, insects or the add grasses. Set a small plate in the freezer.
- In a large heavy-bottomed pan, combine the blackberries with 4 cups of sugar and the juice of a lemon (this will help the jam set, blackberries don’t have much pectin).
- Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and and let the mixture simmer 15 to 20 minutes while stirring with a wooden spoon regularly.
- Remove the plate from the freezer for the jam test. You’ll know that the jam has set when a drop of jam drips slowly on the plate at an angle.
- Ladle into sterilized jars and let cool. Apply lids. You can keep unsterilized jam jars up to 3 weeks in the fridge or sterilize them and eat all winter.
Hit the Mountains and Roast Sweet Chestnuts
Ah, chestnuts – a very French love affair with nature that resonates well with countries such as Italy, Korea, China or Portugal. Whenever my girls know we’re nearing Halloween, they dream of roasted chestnuts as after-school snacks. Hopefully you live near a few sweet chestnut trees but if in doubt, here’s how to tell them apart from horse chestnuts (inedible). The sweet chestnut has much finer and sharper spines than the horse chestnut which tends to show coarser and blunter spikes. Inside the hull, sweet chestnuts have one pointy end while horse chestnuts are rounded. Note that if you don’t live in a sweet chestnut region, you can find them at most Asian stores in the fall. We love to gather sweet chestnuts in late October or early November, then come back home for a cup of tea and roasted chestnuts.
Here’s how to roast sweet chestnuts, it’s ridiculously simple:
- Go on a chestnut foraging hike with your kids and pick chestnuts, preferably an inch wide and bigger.
- At home, admire your chestnuts in the kitchen and make a pot of tea. With a sharp pointy knife, carve a cross in the thick skin of each chestnut. You should go through both the outer skin and the inner membrane.
- Cook over an open fire if you have a chestnut pan with holes or if you’re like me, cook in your kitchen. I usually go for a non-stick frying pan but chestnuts can be oven-cooked too. Over a stovetop, just heat a large non-stick frying pan until it’s very hot. Add the chestnuts and stir with a wooden spoon.
- Keep stirring until the skin around the flesh curls up and the chestnuts are tender when pierced with a knife.
- Remove from the pan and ask the kids to wait a few minutes to enjoy the chestnuts.
- If you’re not eating them immediately, peel them while hot and keep in an empty jam jar until snack time.
Go On a Fungi Foray and Make a Wild Mushroom Omelet
Wild mushrooms are so divine that you would almost forget how careful you have to be around the porous rascals. I’m lucky that my in-laws are mushroom fanatics and whenever we visit them in the Loire Valley in the cold season, we always go on a wild mushroom walk. They know their mushrooms and I always eel safe around their guidance. Lucky for us, their woods are replete with porcini and chanterelles, true delights of the gods. They’re so plentiful that we use big tote bags to harvest the mushrooms. Back home, we lay them out on a table to clean them and proceed to chop them for dinner.
Here’s how you too can make a wild mushroom omelet for dinner if you have edible mushrooms in your area.
- First, you need to go on a fungi foray. If you don’t know anything about mushrooms, I would suggest you contact your local mycological society – or your local rangers – so you can go a guided walk and learn about mushroom identification.
- For a 6-egg omelet for 2 people, you will need 4 ounces (or 100 grams) of mushrooms. It all depends on the size and variety of mushrooms you pick but roughly, once cleaned and sliced, the mushrooms will fill a cup.
- Heat 6 tablespoons of butter in a non-stick frying pan until butter bubbles. Add two cloves of garlic thinly sliced and 1/2 an onion, sliced. Stir until brown. Add mushrooms and cook until they are golden on all sides.
- Beat 6 eggs in a bowl and pour over the mushrooms. Work quickly, stir constantly to make small curds.
- Serve hot with chopped parsley.
Explore the Woods and Make Elderberry Syrup
If you walk along hedgerows, the edge of fields or woods in the fall, you’re bound to fall elder trees literally bending under the weight of these dark plump berries called elderberries. Used as a folk remedy for centuries to fight off cold and flu, elderberry syrup is much better homemade than store-bought. Rich in vitamin C amongst other nutrients, elderberries have this particularity that they are toxic when raw but edible – and super healthy – when cooked. So whenever you forage elderberries with children and however tempting the berries look, don’t let the kids eat them raw! They’ll have to be patient on that one. We foraged elderberries on an early October hike and as we hadn’t planned for them, used a paper bag to store our berries. If you have a plastic container I would suggest you use it because elderberries are juicy and stain quickly.
Elderberry Syrup Recipe
Here is how to make elderberry syrup so you can fight off the cold season in good health.
- Forage enough berries to yield 12 ounces – 340 grams – of cleaned berries without the stems at home. You can use a fork to pluck the berries but fingers may be more efficient.
- Place the berries in a pan with 1 cup of water and bring to a boil. Let it simmer during 10 minutes and crush with a potato masher or a spatula to get as much juice out of the berries as possible.
- Strain the resulting mush over a cheesecloth or a fine sieve overnight. You should end up with 2 cups of juice but if not, add enough water to reach 2 cups in volume.
- Mix the juice with 1 lb – 450 grams – of sugar in a pan and bring to a rolling boil, stirring frequently. Simmer for roughly 10 minutes until the syrup on the back of a wooden spoon is thicker.
- You can pour the syrup in hot sterilized jars or bottles and sterilize to keep them in your cupboards.
- You can use it as a cold “medicine” by drinking 2 tablespoons – sweetened with honey – each day or you can try it as an ice cream or pancake syrup.
One thought on “Fall Foraging with Children – Tips and Recipes For An Autumn Nature Feast”
What a great article! Thanks for sharing all these tips! Now I have a question for you: you mention “hitting the mountains” to find sweet chestnuts, could you be more specific? I am French and I grew up foraging chestnuts and mushroom in the woods. Now I live in the East Bay and have been looking for chesnut trees without success for years. I understand they are almost exitinct except for the farms but I’m sure there are a few left here and there…Could you be a little more specific? I’d be very happy to bring you some chesnuts as a thank you or share my mushroom spots with you.