Up until recently, I lived in an apartment complex that had a wall of package lockers right in the lobby and my midday dog walking schedule linked up with daily deliveries. This coincided with a time when I was receiving a lot of random ingredient deliveries via mail.
After delivering a couple of these oddly-shaped packages, Lee, the neighborhood mailman, began to playfully inquire about the contents. I liked Lee a lot; he was an older man with a slow, honey-dipped accent from his time working on his family's farm in eastern Kentucky and a shock of white hair. "Whaddya got coming today?" he'd ask while passing me a padded envelope. "Don't tell me they're shipping liquor in manila envelopes now."
This ongoing guessing game continued for a few months, through deliveries of hot sauces, yuzu koshō, a baggie of dried persimmons, corn husks, a, yes, a bottle of bourbon or two. Then one day, in early spring, Lee held an insulated envelope that was still cool to the touch. A vague smell of alliums wafted through the air as he waved it in my direction.
"Now, I don't even need to guess what's in here." Lee said. "You got yourself some ramps!"
Indeed I had. As I wrote in May, ramps are wild leeks that can be foraged from damp woodlands. They have a garlicky, onion flavor and enjoy something of a cult following. Many regional farmers' markets have a "ramp man" whose stall will cause a line around the block, while potential foraging locations are shared in whispers and annual secret group chats.
That season, however, I let someone else do the foraging — specifically an Etsy vendor named Susie — and had the ramps shipped straight to my door. I plan on doing the same thing this year, too.
Foraging is one of those activities that became part of the early pandemic zeitgeist, as master foragers like Alexis Nikole Nelson (who is often recognized by her Instagram handle @blackforager) and Megan Howlett (whose hunt for a witch's egg mushroom garnered over 240,200 views on TikTok) became household names. Much like baking one's own bread or starting a backyard garden, the concept of foraging quite literally fed our collective, COVID-fueled desire for increased self-sufficiency as supply chain disruptions resulted in flurry of bare grocery aisles and purchasing limits on steaks and toilet paper.
And while you can absolutely go out and forage yourself — after educating yourself about what's safe to eat and where to look, of course — I'd encourage you, in this new year, to support your local and regional foragers, much in the way people support their local farmers. Whether done in-person at local shops or farmer's markets, or via online shops like Etsy and Goldbelly, sourcing unique products for your kitchen has never been easier.
What types of items should you keep an eye out for? You can start by simply Googling "Wild edibles in [Insert your state or city name]." When I lived in Kentucky, for instance, the list looked like this: Blackberries, persimmons, pawpaws, dandelions, acorns, mushrooms and, of course, ramps. From there, dig around to see who in your area forages and sells their finds!
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Use some basic caution. You'll obviously want to find someone who has a good reputation and knows what they are doing (preferably they are certified or teach well-attended foraging classes), especially if you are ordering your items online. If you ever feel uncertain about the product you've received, be safe rather than sorry. Put it in front of a reputable local forager or toss it.
But using foraged ingredients in your kitchen is a really easy way to feel more in touch with your local food systems — and sometimes it's even better when elements of that local food system are delivered straight to your front door.
Simple recipes from Salon:
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- This riff on a classic Southern pie is comfort in a bite — and the leftovers taste great for breakfast
- French-inspired lentils are the easiest cure for your winter blues — and they're impossible to mess up