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A Forager’s Year in Review: Looking Back to Look Forward

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A Forager’s Year in Review: Looking Back to Look Forward

January 2, 2024

For foragers (and anyone whose spirit is entwined with day-length) facing down a steel-bleak Northern January can be daunting. The brighter days of spring’s promise lie far behind the winter months to come. There is good news, though: Every night is now a little shorter, every day, a little longer. And a small therapy that counters the seasonal gloom can be helpful: Looking back encourages us look forward. It is easy to forget, or dismiss, the good things past. But taking a moment to review your year will reveal episodes of delight. Every person’s retrospective will be different, and the pictorial glimpse below is a small taste of what makes my forager’s heart beat more strongly, just when it needs a boost. An image recalls a rainstorm, the scent of flowers, the sound of laughter. Even the cold months offer solace and surprise.

Photography by Marie Viljoen.

January

Above: Dinner plate-sized oyster mushrooms gathered from a log on a frozen January day.
Above: And…inhale. Fir sugar made from our organic holiday tree’s needles, destined for pistachio cookies.
Above: A winter breakfast of sugar-broiled grapefruit with a whisper of chopped fir needles.

February

Above: Intrepid New Yorkers gathering with me for a frigid February forage picnic. Photograph by Jenny Hamp.
Above: Chickweed’s corn-silk-tasting tips and ground ivy’s herbal leaves atop eight-minute eggs.
Above: Smoked sardines under a comforter of winter-hardy field garlic.

March

Above: The first daylily shoots, destined for blanching, and bruschetta.
Above: Optimistic deviled eggs with the earliest cherry blossoms (Prunus x subhirtella).
Above: Magnolia buds infusing white wine vinegar with their gingery flavor.

April

Above: Fresh and pickled rounds of Japanese knotweed with dandelion flowers and burrata.
Above: Edible forsythia illuminating tiny tartlets.
Above: A mugwort salt-cured egg yolk with chickweed spaghettini.

May

Above: Peppery wintercress flower butter and fresh sourdough.
Above: Snap pea-tasting red bud blossoms on shoyu-dressed steamed sticky rice.
Above: A lilac-bedecked supper table in the endless evening light of late May.

June

Above: As the clock strikes June, the serviceberries (a.k.a Juneberries) ripen.
Above: Check before you gather—ladybug larvae and succulent lambs quarters.
Above: A midsummer treat of steamed yucca (Yucca filamentosa) buds, with ramp leaf mayonnaise.

July

Above: Steamy July wakes up the black trumpet mushrooms on forest floors.
Above: Chanterelles and black trumpets make July’s humidity almost worth enduring.
Above: Invasive wineberries are sweetly tart.

August

Above: Elderberries at last, and enough to make a year’s-worth of syrup.
Above: The end of daylily season means plenty of spent flowers to collect, dry, and eat.
Above: Pungent American burnweed (Erechites hieraciifolius) in a boldly-spiced salad with mango and radish.

September

Above: Beach plums on Long Island, gathered in a thunderstorm.
Above: Chicken of the woods, like that rainbow’s pot of gold.
Above: Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas) preserves.

October

Above: Brooklyn neighborhood figs are ripe.
Above: Invasive autumn olives are also called Japanese silverberries, and are loaded with lycopene.
Above: In New York City, October is hen of the woods o’clock.

November

Above: The aroma of hardy oranges is captured in a Korean-style cheong, an uncooked, fermented marmalade.
Above: The New Jersey Pine Barrens have all kinds of magic, like turquoise waters and matsutake mushrooms.
Above: Mukitake mushrooms fruit every November at a Catskills stream.

December

Above: December wind storms drop dead branches frilled with edible amber jelly fungus (like mushroom gummy bears).
Above: And it’s field garlic season, again. Toast, beer hall-style.
Above: The year ends as it began, with welcome winter oyster mushrooms.

It’s 2024. Seek and ye shall find. It might not be what you were looking for, and it might not be what you were expecting. But it will be food for thought, and perhaps for dinner.

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