On Sunday September 22, we tried something new! Local forager and chef Steve Allen led nine of us on a hike through the orange trail as Steve offered informative commentary about the food that is in literally in our own backyard.
Steve is a foraging enthusiast, and awfully enthusiastic! He told us about growing up in Cape Breton where his mother and grandmother found all kinds of wild things that ended up on the dinner table. He gave us words of warning about eating anything we weren’t sure about, but also told us where to find good information about mushrooms and wild plants. then we were handed wicker baskets with handles to carry as we set out from Maclean Hall.
Just as we started out past the barn, we found wild grapes—purple, tart and full of seeds. I’m sure if I’d walked by them myself I would have bypassed them completely, because the small fruit was hidden among the leaves that clambered up the low bushes and over an old farm fence. A few volunteers picked handfuls of them before we headed deeper into the forest.
The trails at Crieff are well marked and dedicated volunteers keep them clear for walking, but today that didn’t matter much. Steve ducked off the trail and out into the pine forest. “Look at this one!” he said, crouching on the ground nearby as the twigs and branches caught my hair. “This is called a fairy ring…and this is a hexagonal-pored polypore….”
I confess that I had trouble keeping track of all the names and shapes of mushrooms he pointed out. But I remember clearly the little white one called Destroying Angel. Steve described in vivid detail just what happens to your body if you eat them (here’s hint: it ends in death!). He is a cautious forager.
It was a hot day and everyone was glad to stay in the shade. We got back on the trail and made our way to deciduous forest where there was talk of honey mushrooms, indigo milk cap and something called ‘chicken of the woods.’ We passed large swaths of wild ginger, which was followed by a lively discussion about how it’s lovely as a tea but perhaps not as a snack. A sharp-eyed guest spotted some lion’s mane mushrooms that really looked like they sound.
We were a little sweaty and flushed when we arrived back at the kitchen where our resident Chef Damien had been cooking all afternoon. Steve spread out our treasures, plus some he had found earlier: puffball, chanterelles and crab apples among them. Some volunteers got purple-stained fingers as they took grapes off the vine and we all had the chance to look into bubbling pots on the stove. Many questions were answered.
Once dinner was ready, we sat down to a glorious feast: three courses of fresh, beautiful food. First there were salad greens and flowers from the garden with grape vinaigrette. Next, beef sous vide with wild mushroom risotto. And finally, crepes with crab apple compote and crème brulee. A mason jar of orange calendulas from the garden and great conversation among new friends made the meal even more delicious. And it couldn’t have been more local!
It was a beautiful day of getting up close and personal with God’s edible creation. We learned and we laughed together, too. Even better, Steve and Damien have promised a return engagement. Stay tuned for the details of a Spring Forage and Feast!