Five Foraged Foods You Probably Have in Your Backyard: Adventures in Learning Not to Starve on Sundays

by: Sara on 09/08/2014

Today's blog post comes to us from Wendy Brown, author of Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs and co-author with her her husband Eric, of Browsing Nature's Aisles, A Year of Foraging for Wild Food in the Suburbs. This post fits in with our Meatless Mondays post, even though it's about, as Wendy and Eric's daughter refers to it - Starving Sunday.

Let's join The Brown's on their adventure of foraging for their Sunday meals...or just venture as far as reading the blog if that suits you better!

On Memorial Day, Eric decided that every Sunday until Labor Day he was going to eat only what he could forage, and because I am a very supportive wife, an avid locavore and a lover of food challenges, I agreed to join him. 

Unfortunately, we have very busy lives.  Eric works a full-time, outside-the-home job, and I work part-time from home.  In addition, we homeschool, and even though it is summer, our daughters are still very busy with lessons and activities that do not follow a school-year schedule.  Our oldest teen walks dogs at the local animal shelter every Thursday and needs transportation there.  Our youngest takes horseback riding lessons year round.  All three of our daughters, and Eric, have weekly music lessons.  Complicate the issue by adding our involvement in our local community theatre, our nanofarm, and the fact that we heat with wood, and what you have is not a lot of time left to forage.


Photo by Greg Hume

We have read that the average hunter/gatherer spent three hours per day procuring food, which, we always thought, should be easy.  Three hours a day does not seem like that much time, until one is faced with a very busy modern life.   Unfortunately, we are also limited by laws that prohibit hunting certain animals in certain areas at certain times of the year, which means that our food options are that much more narrowed, often to just what we can gather.    

Foraged Sundays has turned into an interesting project.   Ideally, we would be able to find time to get out during the week for food that we could enjoy on Sunday, but that is not always what happens.  Our daughters call it Starving Sundays, and while we have not, ever, come close to starving, there has been more than one Sunday morning when we have hauled ourselves out of bed wondering what, and if, we would be eating that day.

As luck would have it, we have a few stand-bys that we have been able to count on eating – no matter what else we find.  These are plants that are growing very close to home, many of them in our yard.  Most people would consider them weeds and work very hard to eradicate them.  On more than one Sunday over the past two months, we have been incredibly thankful for them, and even if we never thought much about it before, we now know that these plants will always have an honored place in our landscape.

In the spring, two of the first flowers we see are the dandelion and the common blue violet.  Both plants have edible flowers and leaves.  Very early in the season, we ate them raw in a salad.  As the plant ages, however, the dandelion grows bitter and the violet leaves become tough and stringy.  We still use the dandelion leaf in sautés and salads through most of the season, and we have been incredibly thankful to have it.  The violets were relegated to lovely ground cover after the Summer Solstice.

Another garden pest that has filled our empty bellies over this project is wood sorrel.  It has been added to salads and as a garnish for fish to add a rich lemony flavor, and on days when there has not been fish and not very many other greens that are still tender enough for salad, we have made a soup out of wood sorrel.  With a little butter and salt and some curry powder, wood sorrel makes a wonderful soup.

We discovered the third extremely nutritious and delicious wild weed a few years ago when our daughter noted this odd looking plant growing in her garden.  Much to her dismay, it competed – and won – for space against the pumpkin seedling, but once I figured out what it was, I would not let her pull it.  The weed was purslane, and it has been favored by savvy gardeners for centuries.  Over the past few months, we have been incredibly thankful for this weed, and our favorite way to prepare it is coarsely chopped and stir-fried.

To round out the five foods that we have depended on when there was nothing else we could find is berries.  In fact, most people not only recognize berries when they see them growing, but they will also have some experience with foraging berries, either as a childhood treat or as a trail nibble. 

With a limited number of excepted items (cooking fats and spices), the berries that have filled our plate on Sundays have mostly been raw (and completely delicious), but occasionally, we have tossed the berries into our purslane stir-fry, and the sweet berries added an interesting depth to what would otherwise have been a salty, savory dish.

Eric has become quite accomplished at mushroom foraging, and he and our oldest teen have been learning to fish.  Thankfully, August and September promise more food options with additional berries (blackberries are ripening as I type), apples, and milkweed pods.    Luckily for us, no matter what other fruits and flowers might be ripe for the picking, we will still have wood sorrel, purslane, dandelion, violet and berries, and so far, those five have been enough to keep us alive … at least for one day a week.



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