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Learning Where Our Food Comes From: Foraging for Blackberries

05/23/2011

I was delighted to discover that there are wild blackberries growing all around my mother-in-law’s farm. Over the past couple weeks our family has enjoyed some really lovely evenings picking blackberries and eating them right off the plant. Even the dogs joined us. (Not sure how they were doing that without their noses getting pricked by thorns, but they didn’t seem to be bothered.) I’d never even seen a blackberry plant before. I actually thought I didn’t like blackberries very much, because the only ones I’ve had have been fairly tart or previously frozen. After eating them fresh off the plant, I can now say that they taste amazing. It’s getting really hot here now,  and we’re in the middle of a drought, so I think blackberry season is almost over—they’re starting to shrivel up instead of ripen.  It’s been a glorious couple weeks, though, being able to walk out and pick berries whenever we wanted to.

100_2330 Freshly picked blackberries with Black Bean Brownies—it was delicious! (Yes, even the brownies were good.)  Watch for the brownie recipe on Friday!

Is there any place where you could forage for food? So far I’ve found fennel, chives, and now raspberries all growing wild on the farm. Lots of people enjoy looking for morel mushrooms in the spring. I actually did this once, but I was little enough to be clueless, and wouldn’t eat them because it seemed icky. Now that I actually want to try some morels, I don’t know where to look. My kids really enjoy “eating plants” when they can go outside and pick things and just eat them. Obviously, I explain to them that some plants are edible and some aren’t. We even have a book about edible plants in North America, which my daughter considers an absolute page-turner. Really.

blackberries

I mentioned previously how I want my kids to have the benefit of knowing where their food comes from and how it grows. Plus, I think children are more willing to eat food that they have had a hand in providing—whether picking it or helping to prepare it. (Pay no attention to my morel story above.) Both of my kiddos have been willing to try basil, chives, and zucchini so far (and hopefully many other things once my garden starts producing more!), because it was fun. If you can’t get out in a forest or field, even dandelions are edible. Just don’t spray them with crazy chemicals first. When the honeysuckle was blooming in our yard, my husband showed the kids how to get the nectar from the flowers. They spent over an hour one evening hunting those single drops of ‘honey.’

Even if you don’t go out and look for edible plants, foraging could be as simple as asking for some apples from your neighbor’s tree, or making friend’s with someone who has an over-productive garden, perhaps in exchange for working in it for a bit. I know I’d be willing to trade some of my future harvest for some help with the weeding right now! *Hint hint.*

All of which leads me to…

omnivore imageThe book that got me thinking about where my food comes from: Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. If you haven’t read this, I highly recommend it. It was eye opening to me and my husband to see exactly where the ingredients in our food come from and how they were grown and produced. At one point, Pollan sets out to prepare a meal using only ingredients that he has hunted, gathered, or grown himself. Fascinating to my kinda crunchy self—probably because I’ve never eaten a meal consisting completely of things that I knew where they came from and had a hand in getting them to my table. I may actually be able to pull it off once my garden’s in full swing.

So, why does it even matter where your food comes from? As long as it’s on your plate and it didn’t cost that much, who cares, right? There are lots of reasons why it matters, I think. You’ll know what, if any, chemicals were used on the plants. You’ll know which food is in season and which food isn’t—it takes a lot more time and fuel to ship something across America or the world.

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My first harvest of the season—2 organic Black Beauty zucchini, some organic basil leaves, and the blackberries we picked.

While buying local, organic produce is pretty expensive, growing it yourself is way cheaper. And I personally find it deeply satisfying to have worked the ground or took the time to gather this and that to feed my family. It’s hard to explain. I get a huge sense of satisfaction knowing that I personally helped in a very tangible way to get our food on the table. I think that reason alone is enough to continue gardening after this experimental year.

Does anyone else feel this way about food? Or have I read too many of Michael Pollan’s books? :) Have any of you foraged for food before?

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