Foraging creates unique encounter with Brookline’s nature

Lizzy Filine and Sofia Tong

Sagamore staff members Sofia Tong and Lizzy Filine foraged around the high school, and used what they collected to make an edible meal. Disclaimer: This is not an official guide to foraging. The Sagamore is not responsible for any injuries caused by any reader’s attempts to forage.

The Process of Foraging

As beginner foragers, we decided to look for basic greens and acorns, products that are easy to distinguish and are of low risk in case of misidentification or poor preparation. We remained in the high school area, drawing most of our ingredients from our very own Cypress Field.

Our plan was to make acorn flour from scratch, then use that to make acorn pancakes with a side of foraged leafy greens. According to foraging sites, acorns contain high level of tannins, which give acorns their bitter taste when raw. After shelling the acorns, we boiled them to try to rid them of this bitter taste. After about an hour and a half of boiling, the meats were still bitter, but we decided to proceed with the meal-making.

We blended the boiled acorn meats until they were a coarse meal, and then used tissue paper to filter and rinse the meal with water. This made the meal slightly less bitter, though not completely.

Next, we beat an egg into the acorn meal (unfortunately, this was not foraged), and whisked the mixture until it became (somewhat) smooth. This batter we used to make an attempt at pancakes, which turned out to be a little bit more like scrambled eggs than flat cakes.

As a side, we sauteed freshly picked dandelion greens, wood sorrel, and some plantain seeds with garlic.

The foragers' first attempt at creating meal was a mix of picked greens and acorn cakes. The experience foraging in their normal living environment brought the foragers closer to nature. SOFIA TONG/SAGAMORE STAFF
The foragers’ first attempt at creating meal was a mix of picked greens and acorn cakes. The experience foraging in their normal living environment brought the foragers closer to nature. SOFIA TONG/SAGAMORE STAFF

The Reactions of the Foragers

Lizzy Filine:

When I envisioned foraging, I don’t think I anticipated how much time everything would take. I read about how boiling tannins can take hours, but I didn’t believe that it would be labor intensive for me, until I actually started boiling, pouring out the dark water, boiling again. If I gave someone the final product to try, they probably would have refused to finish it, because honestly, the product was kind of gross. My own taste buds seemed to have dulled during the experience, though, making the food taste average, maybe even edible.

The appeal of foraging comes from people finding food for themselves, and pooling their resources together to make an energy-giving product. I’m not sure if there is any appeal if one person gives someone else a product that they foraged.

For example, Sofia picked the greens for our meal, we both shelled the acorns and I boiled the acorns. I feel like the greens for me were less appealing than for Sofia, and conversely, the acorns were maybe a little less appealing for her than for me.

I would recommend trying to forage for people because it is a test of patience and is rewarding to make a mostly foraged meal, but I would not recommend it for the food itself. Logically speaking, foraging doesn’t really make sense. It’s energy and time consuming, and the product is questionable in taste and nutrition.

However, human beings are illogical. There is something about knowing where the food came from, about touching the ground that grew it, about spending, or maybe wasting, hours for a single experience which makes the process worth it. It also feels really good to be alive since after eating the meal, we started having second guesses about whether or not the whole thing was a good idea.

Sofia Tong:

I first foraged as a spur-of-the-moment idea in August. It was a lot of fun going to Pierce School Park and stuffing leaves in my overalls, but I was also pretty scared and for about an hour after I ate what I cooked I was waiting to die, or at least throw up. This time, I was pretty comfortable with the greens, since I had done it before, but the idea of tannins and their possible health detriments freaked me. As for taste, our dishes weren’t great, but they definitely weren’t inedible either.

Although I didn’t invest nearly as much time in the acorns as Lizzy did, I actually found the acorns more or less edible. In fact, the second batch of acorn cakes was probably the most edible thing of our whole meal. I agree that the process is pretty much the only reason why we ate all of what we cooked. A lot of “edibility” is mentality: to me, the acorns and greens more or less balanced out. The acorns felt safer because they had gone through so many levels of processing from us, but the tannins still bothered me, whereas the greens didn’t have innate toxins, but came from the ground and went through much less processing.

It was striking to me that we are so removed from the food cultivating and gathering process that simply taking food from our environment seems so risky, almost unimaginable. Our labor-intensive processing also reminded me how much work it takes to make food taste good. Little things like cooking oil, salt, honey and spices each take such effort to produce, and we took them for granted even in our attempt at creating our own meal from scratch.

Foraging reminded me that the ground is not just a place to walk on. Foraging is a way of noticing things you have always seen. You suddenly remember what it was like when you were little and you would pull apart plantain leaves during recess.

Obviously, foraging connects to the current nationwide discussions of food and what we should and should not eat. It is pretty clear that foraging is not a sustainable way of living. However, it is a way of thinking that is important in an age of plastic-wrap and grocery stores. I personally think food fads like veganism and raw or “paleo” diets are kind of silly. To me, foraging sends this message: eat your meat and eat your processed goods. Eat a little dirt while you’re at it. It’s okay to eat just about anything in moderation. Every once in awhile, think about how your food got to you, but there’s no point in worrying about it. It’s already so incredibly difficult to get any food at all. [/fusion_text][/one_full]