After a week of foraging (and many bloody mosquito bites), I'm happy to be back in the kitchen, although it was indeed a nice break. The scents of the forest linger in my brain and nasal passages, that heady mix of ramps, crinkleroot, damp earth and bug lotion. We collected our legal quota of 50 ramps apiece, and then moved on to crinkleroot, big leaf stinging nettle (the best kind), ailliere (garlic mustard leaf), as well as a variety of wild flowers. See photos below. For the pictures, I uncovered the top layer of dirt to show how the ramps (wild garlic) and crinkleroot (wild horseradish) grow. The crinkleroot, ramps and nettle grow together, often in a happy menage a trois.
Since I operate like a machine with tunnel vision when I pick, going after one plant at a time, I kept getting nailed by the burn of the nettle when on a crinkleroot mission. In a Bart Simpson like routine, I eventually learnt to stop falling into the trap of the prickly leaves hiding next to my prey. The forest can be a dangerous place for a city girl like me, but thankfully, I won out and it was only enchanting after that.
Notice the abundance; carpets of these valuable plants stretch for miles and miles in these forests. Bent over, digging underground with our fingers (to delicately break off the stems, leaving some root intact), you can barely make a dent in the supply before you are over-tired and dirty, sore, and eaten alive. After hours of picking, we don't even leave a trace. It seems shameful to not make use of more of this, to leave so much behind. I can't help but think that if everyone picked respectfully, there would be plenty to go around forever. Unfortunately, this is unrealistic, so our forests are better off underexploited; we need the limits and laws, and for misguided people to stay away. We also need our governments to preserve more land like this from development.A couple of days of hard physical work close to nature is grounding and only makes me more appreciative of everything: nature, my life, and especially the preciousness of my fresh ingredients. I am more inspired than ever. So, now it's time to get cooking and process all this stuff. I'll be making crinkleroot oil, some ramp and crinkleroot butter and pesto, and more stinging nettle soup, the mainstay of our spring menu. I've set a little aside of each for some play time when I find the time. I need to riff some more, to try some new things with this holy trio. To feel satisfied, I always need to really treat an ingredient right while it's around, to take it all kinds of places to get to know it better or just to show my love. And I need to feel like I've exhausted the possibilities with a seasonal ingredient before moving on to the next.
Chop-chop! Because time flies, especially when the season is in full swing. The pace has picked up, the bookings are coming in.. Soon enough, I will be chained to the stove, with no more time for escapades in the woods .. To see our menu for the next couple of weekends, go to http://soupnancy.squarespace.com/menus/jardins-sauvages/ or visit François' website www.jardinssauvages.com.