In short, I haven't found a single foraging book I loved... Until I got my hands on this book by Pascal Bauder, The New Wildcrafted Cuisine: Exploring the Exotic Gastronomy of Local Terroir.
When I opened the book and started reading the introduction, Pascal put my thoughts about the standard foraged fare into words that were so eloquent and a pleasure to read- I literally read the entire few page introduction to my husband, intending to share just a few choice snippets but it was so good that I didn't want to stop and have him miss out on any of it.
Let me just share a bit of it with you.
"...[S]ome instructors would teach about edible wild plants, and [we'd]... make very basic dishes with local plants... [V]ery often the resulting flavors and textures were in the realms of "I would eat that in a survival situation if that's all I had." ...I became intrigued by the possibility of ... using our local... plants beyond creating... survival food... This was the first time I realized that wild food could be truly gourmet food and should be approached with that perspective."
In a nutshell, that sums up why Pascal and his partner, Mia, are my main inspirations in the kitchen, and what my issues were with most of the other foraging recipes and cookbooks that I've seen.
I'm a foodie. I like good food. But I like my variety. I can't handle eating the same foods over and over again, even if they were tasty the first time.
Much as I love foraging, most of what I am able to forage is leaves -- various kinds, of course -- but when I am relying on foraging to be my main source of produce in the kitchen I needed ideas how to make things beyond "greens salad" and "sauted greens".
The cookbooks I have seen have pretty much the same variations repeated ad nauseam. Foraged greens with eggs. Foraged greens cooked with lemon.
Watching Pascal share his foraged creations over the years, I've discovered so many different possibilities of things to make with foraged foods -- many more different ways of making wild plants, sometimes in very unexpected ways (palettas -- Latin American ice pops anyone? plant "jerky"?), and always delicious and inspiring.
Fortunately, thanks to their inspiration, as well as others, and exploring cuisines around the world and using my own noggin, I've figured out enough varieties of foods to make with wild greens that, even when my diet is heavily based on them, I don't find myself getting bored. I love being able to make fancy, high end foods with very cheap or even free ingredients- just because you're living frugally doesn't mean you have to eat like a charity case. I love that foraging means that you can have classy things, delicious things, even if your budget would generally not allow it.
I've gotten so inspired to get creative with my foraged goodies that I've come up with a bunch of wonderful recipes and am even writing a foraging cookbook, Penniless Foodie in the Wild, that has enough varieties of recipes with foraged greens that even the easily bored foodie can enjoy, and it is coming along wonderfully.
Here's the cover I have already!
Therefore, when I heard Pascal's book came out, I asked for a complimentary review copy, since I desperately wanted to get my hands on the book written by my foraging role model, as well as be able to tell you all about it.
I certainly wasn't let down.
You would think that, having seem much of Pascal's work throughout the years, much of the book would be things I already know, but that absolutely was not the case- I had so much to learn!
To start off, as I mentioned before, the writing is phenomenal, and reads almost like a novel. I love my fiction books, but must admit that I have so many non fiction books that I bought since I want to read them and gain the knowledge imparted within, but I just can't make it through them -- slowly slowly I plod through them, never reaching the end, often stopping before I get even a fraction of the way through, because I'm a little bored and not engaged. This book, on the other hand, I was 'literally' devouring, not stopping until I got through to the end. I enjoyed every one of the 400 pages.
His love of nature and what he does radiates off the page and his enthusiasm is so contagious!
I never expected to laugh out loud from this book but Pascal managed to do that to me as well when he describes his "sacred" drinks that he makes.
On top of that, the photos are breathtaking. Not only are they high quality and beautiful, they are so artfully arranged that you wish you could be there at Pascal and Mia's table, eating their terrific looking food. You can definitely see how Pascal's background as an artist affects his truly wonderful cooking.
Pascal writes about the plants in his area, the Los Angeles, California area, and while we do have many similar plants growing where I live, a lot of them do not, and a large amount of the recipes in it aren't things I can make. However, that doesn't make the book any less valuable, as the main thing this book does is get you to look at what you have to work with in completely different ways, opening new doors and realms of possibilities. Even if you're not a forager, there is what to learn from this book!
I will admit, this book is not for the novice forager. It's not for people who want to spend as little time in the kitchen as possible. It's for people, like myself, who love good food, love different things, and are willing to experiment and play around and make an effort in the attempt to come up with a unique masterpiece.
Another thing worth mentioning is that Pascal has a car and no children at home, so he is in a very different situation from myself, who can only forage places that I reach by foot or public transportation, and then any foraging and kitchen experimenting I do has to be fit into my life with my kids. I can't dedicate my life to foraging and preparing what I forage, the way Pascal does, but that doesn't mean it is any less helpful, because more than anything, what this book does is give you a paradigm shift in how you view the potential and uses in wild plants, and then with that, you can do what fits into your lifestyle.
Not only are many of the things time consuming, some are very extreme. Pascal talks about cooking in dirt and decaying leaves, and he even has an entire section on edible bugs. I'm not going to do everything in the book, that's for sure, but what it did do was inspire, inspire, inspire.
Pascal proves very well what he set out to do -- that foraged food can and should be above mere survival food, but can truly be made into absolutely gourmet meals.
Here are but some of the ways I got inspired to change up and do more with my plants than I already have, after reading the New Wildcrafted Cuisine:
Pascal dehydrates and grinds various plant materials to use in spice mixes, infused salts, and flavored sugars.
He also makes wild plant kimchi, dehydrates that, and grinds it to use as a spice.
Inspired by the book, I already made some flavored sugars with redbud, lavender, and green almonds, flavored salts with rosemary and lavender and green almonds. 'I also dehydrated some ferments I had at home, some wild, some not, and some partially wild -- fermented carrots, and fermented tomato and wild fennel frond salsa, and fermented fennel fronds, and used them to make these different and delicious spice mixes!
I still want to try making my own wild kimchi, both as a condiment and dehydrated as a spice mix, and I want to try flavored sugars with wisteria blossoms and clover, and flavored salts with rosemary and pine, as well as fennel and mustard.
Pascal has lots of different wild meads/sodas/beers, some made with raw honey. I want to try making wisteria, redbud, wild fennel, and maybe some other flavors of meads. I recently saw that he wrote about making a wild yeast starter using green pine cones, so that is on my to-do list.
I want to try dehydrating different foraged plants, such as nettle, chickweed, henbit, and cactus paddles (already tried dock and wild fennel) and use them to do a variety of things, among them, making wild soup mixes, and using as flour additions in various recipes like crackers and gnocchi and breads. I already got inspired to make homemade soup mix using dehydrating store bought vegetables I had at home, which worked decently, but needs a little tweaking first. (I need to cook the vegetables before dehydrating next time.)
I'd like to freeze wild greens in olive oil- a combination of wild garlic, sage, wall rocket, and eryngo sounds like it would be divine.
Pascal talks a lot about coming up with a meal that reflects the local "terroir", made with things only native to the area, to get a true "taste of the area". I don't know of any local meats here that are truly native to the area, but I would love to come up with a spice mix or two only made with local plants. The other day I was using a sumac based "lemon pepper" made with sumac, black peppercorns, garlic powder, and salt, and I realized that I can easily make that truly native by replacing the black peppercorns with chasteberry seeds and/or wild mustard seeds, wild allium flowers, and local sea salt. For a while I was thinking of maybe making an "herbs de Provence" type spice mix with eryngo, lavender, rosemary, wild carrot leaves, hyssop, wild fennel and wild thyme. And wild mustard seeds... hmm, I have to think what exactly would combine well with them that grows locally, but I'm thinking fennel seeds, mustard seeds, and sorrel powder would probably taste wonderful.
In The New Wildcrafted Cuisine, Pascal talks about a local plant, rabbit tobacco, that he was experimenting many different ways with it, trying to make the food made with it to taste just right, and in the end he discovered that tying it in a bundle around meat was the perfect solution. There is a local plant that smells divine, in my opinion, but the taste? Well, it's way too bitter. I want to try cooking poultry or beef wrapped in that plant- maybe it'll infuse the food with the smell while leaving out the bitterness? Who knows? I can only experiment.
Since reading this book, I've also used lavender stems and rosemary stems as skewers for my chicken, and while I'm not sure it infused much of a flavor to my food, it was a cool idea.
There's a page in the book that talks about dehydrating prickly pear cactus fruit peels, and I think that is awesome. One of the reasons I don't forage prickly pears so often is because so much of it ends up in the trash, as much of it is skin. Pascal dries the skins into a sweet and crunchy snack, or grinds them up to make a sweetener or garnish for desserts!
Speaking of prickly pear cactus- they also make a delicious looking drink with prickly pear juice and chia seeds, something I want to try, but mine won't be nearly as beautiful as theirs as our prickly pears are yellow/orange while theirs' are a gorgeous magenta!
Those palettas I mentioned before? Made with cactus paddles!
And he dehydrates the paddles as well to use as a thickener.
I'm excited to try all these as its prime prickly pear cactus foraging season locally!
Other things I want to do inspired by the book -- hot leaching acorns and then candying them. We have acorns all over here but I wasn't successful in cold leaching them in the past, but Pascal's method of hot leaching them seems doable, and makes me want to try them again.
I'd also like to try his method of preparing candied unripe figs- trees right now are covered in unripe figs which sounds like an exciting variation to try.
Pascal makes wild vinegar using fruit flies, something that I want to try out, and he makes wild vinegar from his fermented wild drinks. Pascal writes about infusing vinegars, both homemade and store bought, with wild plant matter. I got inspired to do that and have some infused vinegars in my fridge now- rosemary vinegar, green almond vinegar, and lavender vinegar. I have to figure out what to do with them to best showcase their flavor, but so far tried shrubs with the lavender vinegar and that was terrific.
If I have to give any criticism of the book -- I mean, you can't have a review without even a little bit of criticism -- it is that parts of the wording can be repetitious. There are certain phrases and visualizations that Pascal obviously loves and feels strongly about, and those came up more than once when I was reading it, so I felt a little bit of a sense of deja vu occasionally. But that honestly was the only negative thing I could come up with about this book. And it wasn't enough to turn me off the book at all. Its quite possible that if I read through the book bit by bit I wouldn't have even noticed it, that I only saw those parts as repetitious because I read it all in one day.
The book isn't so cheap, I'll admit it, however, when buying from Amazon.com it costs only $26.50 instead of the list price of $40. It is worth the money though, it is a long book, 400 pages, chock full of useful information,. On top of that, following his tips and recipes will allow you to dine on fancy food worthy of high end restaurants, without that hefty price tag.
I highly, highly, highly recommend this book.
Even if nothing else, as a coffee table book, as it is just so beautiful.
Have you read The New Wildcrafted Cuisine? What were your thoughts? Did you get inspired to make any things after reading the book? What were they? How did they come out? Do you have other suggestions of foraging books that aren't just "survival food", but are varied, delicious, and classy?