There is a book by Italo Calvino that still speaks to you, still has something to teach, something to say.
It is the story of Marcovaldo, a simple man of rural upbringing who scouts the city where he migrated for work, in search for that natural connection that he left behind.
The book, Marcovaldo or the Seasons in the City is a collection of short stories about disconnection and search for meanings. One particular story talks about how our anti-hero finds mushrooms growing in a city park. Marcovaldo recognise them as the edible sort he was used to, only to fall sick after eating them.
There is lots to be said about knowledge, how you acquire it and how do you transplant it into the situations offered to you as you travel through life.
Sometimes to ‘know’ is not enough, as little details unbeknownst to you hide away behind the complacent feeling of ‘having enough information’.
To question all the times is important, it might come across as pedantic at times, but surely can save you indigestion, in the case of mushrooms.
It’s raining in Sydney, a lot, and that is bringing forth what some already hail as “biggest season I’ve seen” [in 30 years of foraging].
Indeed mushrooms and toadstools are sprouting everywhere, like the ones above.
Beware of lookalikes, as the one above, easily mistaken for a (edible) Parasol mushroom -Chlorophyllum rhacodes-, but rather is a False Parasol mushroom (posoinous) – Chlorophyllum molybdites -
The way to tell them apart is via spore print, and that is by placing the mushroom on a piece of white and black paper for a few hours so that the spores can drop on it, and you can then assess the coloring: white spores= edible ; green spores= poisonous.
The season is on and Wild Stories is now offering workshops on how to recognise and prepare wild harvested mushrooms, see here for details. Whether willing mushroomers come with us or go out alone, never bypass the golden rule: if in doubt, go without>>
That’s one of the reasons why you go in pine plantations for mushrooms, as there there are a couple of varieties that you cannot mistake. Polish and Ukrainian know that, and have been safely harvesting for generations. That’s where we go, to fetch Saffron Milk Caps and Slippery Jacks>> Yum!
We went over the mountain via the Bell Line. There were severe fires there about 6 weeks ago, and then it came the rain 4 weeks ago, for 2 weeks.
We eventually went all the way to Newnes, a deep valley on the other side of the ranges, untouched by fires, historic sites with industrial architecture remnants. It felt like stepping into Mordor 100 hundred years after the defeat.
We launched a pozible campaign, a crowd funding exercise that would help to raise the profile of #WildFoodMap.
The idea is simple, you get asked all the time where is this wild food and how do I know if it is clean to eat, so together with Adrian O’Doherty and with the help of Boris Gordon, we developed and launched #WildFoodMap, an Instagram x Google Maps mashup facilitating a community-driven wild food and medicine plant identification and social mapping service. We’ve set out to provide a platform to locate sources of free food and medicine plants (native or not) living in the landscape sharing locations and related knowledge through social media interaction.
The coding of it is very exciting, integrating social media possibilities while looking at a plant on location gives the chance of an heightened learning experience, empowering people and facilitating peer-to-peer exchanges.
For the campaign we have been incredibly lucky to draw in some great partner, like Studio Neon, with chefs Aaron Teece and Richard Robertson, or Trolley’d, with mixologists Byron Woolfrey and Chris Thomas, and more, like Mirra Whale with her amazing artworks, Big Fag Press, which printed the artworks and FEIT, who offered handmade shoes and wallets..
The rewards are awesome, sumptuous dinners, fun parties, workshops and books, prints and thank yous, select what you like and help create a reference platform, an environmentalist argument, a foodie heaven>>
Here’s a video from the guys at Studio Neon, yumm-y
Check the map here>> wildfood.in (you will need instagram to access it)
Support the campaign here>> www.pozible.com/wildfoodmap (so that you will be able to access it even if you do not have instagram
This is the poster presented by Anna DuChesne at the 2013 annual meeting of the Society for Economic Botany, held in Plymouth, England.
Anna is a Master of Science (Ethnobotany) student at Southern Cross University, Lismore. Her research focus on the home gardens of Italian migrants in the Northern Rivers -assessing the plants growing in it but also the practice of collecting from the wild- and hope to demonstrate that wildcrafting is alive and well in Australia, focusing on the Italian community as an example.
In Anna’s words:
Within ethnobotanical literature, the gathering of wild food plants is recognised as a practice that is central to traditional plant knowledge, use and belief in Italy.
In the academic literature, there is an overwhelming lack of recognition of the traditional ecological knowledge of Australia’s diverse migrant groups. However there is a growing interest in traditional methods, foraging, etc in the popular media. The recent popularity of foraging in cities may be seen as reclamation of Traditional Knowledge practices.
I wonder if the public perception of “the forager” – based on the Australian media’s celebration of high end European chefs (eg Rene Redzepi from Noma in Copenhagen) has blinded us to the everyday practice of collecting wild vegetables that has been quietly taking place in the Italian, Polish, Lebanese, Macedonian, Serbian migrant communities through out Australia?
below is Anna presenting the poster at the conference:
It’s all happening down at The Rocks Windmill. The sails are turning, wheat is being ground into flour, Diego Bonetto is telling some fascinating weedy stories, Costa Georgiadis is getting very excited about our daily bread and kids are loving the school holiday workshops.
The Rocks Windmill
The Rocks Square
12 April – 12 May 2013
9am – 5pm daily (plus most evenings for programmed events)
For information and a full program of events, visit here>>
Anne Fullerton was on a mission. Enticed by the latest culinary crave for wild food, she decided to take on the challenge of preparing a dinner entirely sourced from urban wilderness.
To do so she needed a guide to take her through the abandoned areas of Sydney and to point at the edible possibilities under her own feet.
Anne contacted you, and with trepidation followed you amongst nettle, blackberries and wild fennels to discover fields of dandelions, plantain and dock, turkey rhubarb and wood sorrel, and more that she could digest (metaphorically) on her crash course.
She was way out of her market-ready comfort zone, but eager to listen.
She was out of season for most of the things offered too, but as an eager (stoic) adventurer she followed you, like Little Red Riding Hood >>
The dinner was challenging, the guests unaccustomed to most flavours, but she succeeded in recounting her experience and experimentation in this lovely article below, published in Marie Claire, soon in the news stands.
Sydney-based foraging expert Diego Bonetto was involved in last year’s Wild Chef Challenge, part of the Sydney Morning Herald Crave Sydney International Food Festival.
“I grew up on a dairy farm in Italy and foraging is something everybody does from an early age, knowledge passed on from generation to generation,” Bonetto says.
When not conducting foraging tours, Bonetto collaborates with chefs who want to work with foraged ingredients on specific occasions.
“What I teach is just recycled information already,” he says. “It’s knowledge that our ancestors knew by heart, but got lost during the industrialisation of food and agriculture.”
The good news is it doesn’t take long to rediscover, according to Bonetto, but adds as an aside that there are some common sense rules necessary when foraging.
“Firstly, positively identify everything,” he says. “Don’t just go around with a PDF you printed from the internet trying to guess which are the plants. It’s pretty hard to get food poisoning but it’s not
impossible. Many taste bad so you wouldn’t eat them anyway, but in terms of mushrooms you can pay with your life if you don’t make the right decision.
“Best of all go with someone who knows. Foraging is something that you learn through action so you need to be taken to see what it looks like in its environment and get to familiarise with the plants.
I collaborate with a lot of indigenous people and they say once you do the story you own it, but you need to do it first. It’s not enough just to read about.
The smells, the colours, the colony and how they grow in conjunction with other plants – all these details help you identify species with confidence.”
Rule number two is to forage in your own backyard. “Especially in urban environments where you don’t know what’s safe, what pesticides have been used, and what the history of the ground is where they are growing. In your own backyard you know what’s happening,” he says.
The third and final rule is simply tread lightly. “Never over harvest,” he says. “Be sure you don’t crop all of the flowers and all of the seeds so it is there for you to come back to.”
So does this spell the end of farming as we know it, with chefs simply gathering what they need for the day from the side of the road as they come to work? Bonetto thinks not.
“We are not talking about survivalist skills, we are talking about gastro entertainment and enjoying something new and something special,” he says. “It’s not about surviving the apocalypse.”
Bonetto’s pick of wild plants in Australia
Amaranth – leaves in soups and casseroles, seeds in breads and cakes Fat hen – leaves in stir-fry, seeds as flour for bread Dandelion – leaves in salad, roots as coffee substitute Wood sorrel – leaves in salads, flowers as garnish Chickweed – young leaves used in salads or as garnish Mallow – young leaves in frittata, seed pods as finger food Wild fennel – young fronds as herb, seeds as tea Nettle – young shoots in soups and tea Rambling dock – leaves as pot herbs and baked with fish Scurvy weed – young shoots in casseroles and risottos Warrigal greens – leaves and stems in curries and as a pot herb Sowthistle – young leaves in salads or sauteed in oil with lemon