ISSUE 81  |  Weekend Getaway

Foraging for Dessert: An Afternoon with Tama Matsuoka Wong

July 16, 2013 1:00 PM

BY Yossy Arefi

Tama Matsuoka Wong is a self-described weed eater. She is also an expert forager, conservationist and author of the cookbook and field guide Foraged Flavor (Clarkson Potter June 2012) which she co-wrote with Eddy LeRoux, chef de cuisine at Daniel Boulud’s eponymous restaurant, Daniel. I recently had the pleasure of visiting Tama at her home in Hunterdon County, New Jersey for a foraging adventure.

Photographs by Yossy Arefi for Gardenista.

Above: Tama Matsuoka Wong foraging in the meadows around her Hunterdon County home. Her approach to foraging? Tama has said that more than wanting to know which plants in her meadows are edible, she also hopes to discover which of the wild plants actually taste good. 

Above: On the day that I visited, Tama had a house guest who just happened to be the pastry chef at Canada’s Langdon Hall, Sarah Villamere. Tama walked us through the meadows near her home, where we gathered all kinds of edible plants and weeds including honeysuckle, mugwort, green juniper berries, wild garlic bulbets, elderflowers, stinging nettles, and lambs quarters. As we foraged, we had dessert on our minds.

Above: Tama foraging for elderflower to be used in syrups and cordials.

Above: Asian honeysuckle is considered an invasive in this part of the world, but that’s no reason why we shouldn’t be eating it. Tama makes cordials and syrups with honeysuckle flowers.

Above: A wild sumac bush that Tama forages from to make a tart jelly. For a savory treat, sumac is also lovely sprinkled on meats and salads.

Above: Sarah took advantage of this mugwort patch to dream up a mugwort and ginger ice cream.

Above: Wild roses also grow in the meadows surrounding Tama’s house. You can find the recipe for Tama’s famous wild rose petal jam in Foraged Flavor. 

Above: Fittingly, Tama’s home itself is nestled into a wild patch of meadowland. After we returned to Tama’s kitchen, Sarah took the bounty that we gathered and set to work creating recipes.

Above: First up was a green juniper berry granita made from immature berries from the eastern red cedar Juniperus Virginiana.

Above: Mature, dark purple juniper berries are often harvested for other culinary uses, most notably to flavor gin, but in the granita recipe below they are used in their immature and beautifully green state.

Above: The flavor of the young juniper berries is light and citrusy with surprisingly tropical undertones that make the dessert a refreshing treat on a summer day.

Green Juniper Berry Granita by Sarah Villamere

This icy dessert is only slightly sweet and highlights the citrusy evergreen flavor of the immature cone of the easter red cedar. This granita is delicious on its own, but would also make a wonderful addition to a summery gin or vodka cocktail.

  • 1 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups plus 2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup green juniper berries, lightly crushed
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 3 tablespoons vodka


In a small pot, combine 1 1/2 cups water and sugar. Bring to a boil, add the juniper berries and turn off the heat. Let the mixture steep for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, add 2 cups of water, lemon juice, and vodka to the juniper berry syrup, then strain out the berries.

Pour the mixture into a 9-by-9-inch baking dish, cover and slide the dish into the freezer to chill for one hour. Remove the dish from the freezer and scrape the granita with a fork to break up the mixture. Cover and return to the freezer. Continue to scrape the granita every 30 minutes or so until it is frozen and the crystals have formed. 

To serve: spoon the granita into small dishes and top with a squeeze of lemon and a splash of prosecco if you are feeling festive.

Ready to forage in your neighborhood? For ideas, see Foraging with Vicomte and The Forager’s Kitchen.