One Wild Potluck

Rhus typhina L. (staghorn sumac)
Rhus typhina L. (staghorn sumac)

Written By

Diane Grenkow

Written on

June 01 , 2011

The Peterson Field Guide Edible Wild Plants has a recipe for clovers that says clovers are not very digestible but can be soaked for hours in salty water to make them so. Christopher Nyerges book Guide to Wild Foods and Useful Plants tells you that the seeds of the plantain, a common weed around these parts, can be soaked in water until soft and then cooked up like rice. It goes on to say that the result is slightly “mucilaginous and bland.”

If you’ve ever read wild edible recipes in a field guide, you know that they don’t generally make your mouth water. Surely the recipes in these guides couldn’t be the pinnacle of wild food cooking, could they? Is it possible to make a delicious meal from what can be found taking a walk through the woods or the fields right by your house?

The answer is: absolutely. Our wild edible potluck in Hardwick was born when Rachel Kane of Perennial Pleasures Nursery in East Hardwick suggested in the Buffalo Mountain Bullsheet (the Buffalo Mountain Co-op’s newsletter) that people interested in wild edibles get together. When the group started up in the early summer of 2009, everyone talked about how they wanted to learn more about the wild food around them not just by identifying it, but by actually eating it.

And so, in the spring, summer, and fall our potlucks are usually preceded by a walk for foraging purposes. When everyone is back together at the host kitchen, something will be made out of what was just found. People bring dishes that they’ve made ahead of time, as well. We’ve eaten noodles tossed with a pesto made of lamb’s quarters, sunflower seeds, and garlic scapes; purslane that was dipped in egg and cornmeal, baked, and then dipped in a cider vinegar and maple syrup sauce upon eating; a wild green salad including purslane, amaranth, lamb’s quarters, and sorrel; scrambled eggs with leeks and daylily buds; a selection of iced teas including mint, sweet gale, and sumac; black raspberry crisp, wild blueberry fritters, and a mint and chocolate cheesecake with cacao that was wild picked in Trinidad by one of our members. (Alright, that cacao wasn’t local but it was awfully good!)

The potlucks happen in the winter, too, and they are just as delicious. There are foraged root foods that can be kept in cold storage, such as burdock and Jerusalem artichokes. There are canned jams and jellies made from wild blueberries and rosehips. There are still tea fixings from last summer that use dried mint and comfrey. Nettles and stewed Japanese knotweed frozen months ago are used in lasagna or a crisp, respectively. There is the venison and duck that were taken in the fall.

The purpose is not to leave cultivated foods out of the mix, but to figure out what else we can eat that’s right there if we know where to look for it and how to see it. It’s a happy medium to be able to use the best of our gardens as well as the bounty that just happens.

One thing I love as much as a potluck supper is a tall glass of pink lemonade on the porch in the summertime. Here’s the wild version:


Fill a gallon glass jar with bright red staghorn sumac “berries.”* They look more like tiny flowers than berries to me, but are actually seeds covered in hairs. The berries grow in large clusters that are shaped like flames, and when you find sumac you usually find a good deal of it in the same place. The more sumac clusters you can stuff in your glass jar, the tastier the brew will be. Add cold water to cover. Mash it all around with a spoon and then let it sit somewhere to cool. The longer you let it sit the stronger it will be, but a couple of hours will do. Strain the tea into another container. If you want to sweeten it, add maple syrup or honey. Delicious.

* If you’re unsure what staghorn sumac is, consult a wild edible field guide. Always consult more than one source before picking a new-to-you wild edible, as some wild edibles are poisonous. Better yet, find someone who knows what sumac looks like and ask him or her to show it to you.

About the Author

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Diane Grenkow

Diane Grenkow lives with her family and 25 chickens in Hardwick.

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