Outdoor activities with a healthy dose of curiosity, brought to you by Laure Latham
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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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
Here is how to make elderberry syrup so you can fight off the cold season in good health.