Updated: Mar 1, 2021
Believe it or not, there is food all around us. Growing up in the Upper Midwest there were very few wild foods I had ever heard of people eating beyond fish and hunted game. Morel mushrooms and wild raspberries were the exceptions. After spending a year near the coast of Oregon, in my 20th year on the planet, I was turned onto hunting various mushrooms. I thought, "O how lucky people in the Pacific NW to have such a bounty of amazing, diverse fungi." I moved back to MN and lived more than a couple years before I discovered that in fact here in MN we have our own bounty of delectable mushrooms beyond the famed morel. Come to find out, there is a whole world of wild foods beyond mushrooms and it is everywhere!
It takes some work to gain the knowledge and confidence with wild foods, but the rewards are worth it. I am most familiar with our own biomes here in the center of the continent, but I assure you there is a world of food no matter where you live on this continent. We are very lucky to have the diversity of biomes here, and there are plenty of practical options for bountiful harvest. All of these foods are seasonal delights that many of us wait for the rest of the year similar to the dedicated morel hunters. The difference is that beyond morels we can harvest foods year round. I enjoy beginning every growing season with the retreat of the snow and the harvest of maple sap, and weeks of boiling the sap batch after batch. When the cleanup from maples is complete we begin to harvest wild leeks (ramps) and soon nettle on the south facing slopes and in the garden. By the time morels begin to pop we have enjoyed an entire early season buffet. As the season progresses Asparagus, juneberries, cat tail shoots, cat tail pollen and rhizomes too, oyster, chanterelle, and chicken of the woods mushrooms, various greens, wild strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, edible flowers and so much more begin to grace our table. The season goes on until it seems to take a turn at wild rice season, and begin its next journey through the Autumn harvest of seeds and nuts of all sorts, wild grape, high bush cranberries, aronia berry, puff ball and maitake mushrooms and alas I feel I have hardly scratched the surface before the snow falls and the lakes freeze once again in such perfect beginning to the next season.
I found wild foods, and all the incredible people who have devoted their lives to them, about the same time I decided I was meant to be a farmer. I have been discovering and learning from wild food for over a decade and I am by no means an expert. It is an ongoing journey that I am grateful to be on. I have had the good fortune to attend wild food summits and meet incredible people in this community. I will give you a good list of resources to get you and your family started. There is only so much you can learn from a book on this subject, but luckily some of our wild food family here in the Midwest have published some incredible resources.
1. Some truly inspiring folks in Wisconsin lead by Melissa Price and Sam Thayer have created https://www.foragersharvest.com/
Where you can find their publications, products and community of thoughtful harvesters. They hold events that you will want to sign up for a year in advance. They sell handmade and hand crafted wild products and tools. We are fortunate enough to have this team leading the way for wild foods. (I also just realized that they have a bookstore on their website that has every one of my recommendations and more!!!)
2. Mike Krebill's newest publication, "A Forager's Life", is one of our member books that come with an UFDA major membership. He has devoted 70+ years to this art, and has made a huge impact on wild foods. Again we are fortunate that his home is here in the Midwest.
3.Teresa Marrone and Kathy Yerich have produced the only must have mushroom book for our region, "Mushrooms of the Upper Midwest". This is why this why it is included in our member books that come with an UFDA major membership. Pocket sized, unquestionable instructions, reliable and detailed descriptions, laid out for usability, and now in its 2nd edition. This coupled with connecting with your local foragers will be your fastest way to start finding delicious mushrooms safely and effectively. THE WRONG MUSHROOM COULD KILL YOU. Be careful and confident out there.
There are more resources than you will ever be able to get to on this subject, so I am going to stop at these three that have been influential on my journey. We have started a Facebook page that has been a lot of fun called, Mushrooms of the Upper Midwest, and if you are in our region please check us out. There are great resources out there and in your local community if you look. A few quick tips.
Pack it in pack it out. Give a hoot don't pollute.
Don't over harvest, leave some for the other critters.
Field dress your harvest. A clean harvest makes a skillful forager.
Be gentle, kind and patient. We all live here together.
Below is a quick harvest of two varieties of wild plumbs. The yellow variety has a tender skin and a sweet mellow flavor and enjoyed fresh or juiced, the red variety is tart with a tougher skin making it great for jelly, juice and wine.