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Fruits of the Forest: Foraging for a Meal

  • Chef Michael Ehlenfeldt, of the Inn at Weathersfield, left, hands a burdock plant to "urban forager" David Craft while teaching class on identifying and cooking wild edibles in Perkinsville, Vt. Saturday, September 10, 2016. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Marilee Spanjian, owner of the Inn at Weathersfield, reacts as some burdock tea escapes the jar as David Craft pours off the water used to boil the edible root of the common plant during a cooking class at the inn in Perkinsville, Vt., Saturday, September 10, 2016. Sandy Von Unwerth and Bill Sjogren serve themselves at right. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • David Craft, of Cambridge, Mass., distributes a bunch of daisy greens to be tasted by participants in a wild edibles class he taught at the Inn at Weathersfield in Perkinsville, Vt., Saturday, September 10, 2016. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Participants in the wild food cooking class at the Inn at Weathersfield taste seeds from the jewelweed plant for their walnut-like taste with chef Michael Ehlenfeldt, right, in Perkinsville, Vt. Saturday, September 10, 2016. From left are Keith Barthelmes, of Ludlow, Ashley Greenfield, of Chester, Robin Imbrogno, of Chester, Dave Greenfield, of Medford, Mass. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • After tasting lambsquarters, a common edible garden weed, Samantha Holmberg, of Ludlow, Vt., tosses the plant over her shoulder Saturday, September 10, 2016. Holmberg, and her fellow participants tasted the weed, and later sauteed its leaves during a class on identifying and cooking wild plants and mushrooms at the Inn at Weathersfield in Perkinsville, Vt. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • From left, Robin Imbrogno, Nickie O'Toole, Mike O'Toole, and Bob Greenfield pick, peel and prepare wild grapes, apples and sheep sorrel for cooking during a cooking class for wild edibles at the Inn at Weathersfield, in Perkinsville, Vt., Saturday, September 10, 2016. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • After eating a lunch of wild edible plants prepared under the direction of chef Michael Ehlenfeldt, left, foraging expert David Craft speaks about identifying common edible mushrooms at the Inn at Weathersfield, in Perkinsville, Vt., Saturday, September 10, 2016. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Michael Ehlenfeldt holds a stem of jewelweed as David Craft touches a seed pod, causing it's hull to explode and send seeds shooting out during a wild edibles walk in Perkinsville, Vt. Saturday, Septmeber 10, 2016. The seeds of the plant are edible and have a walnut-like flavor. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • David Craft cuts a cross section of an Inky Cap mushroom found near the Inn at Weathersfield during a class on finding and eating wild food Saturday, September 10, 2016. The mushrooms, though edible, react with alcohol to become poisonous. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Clockwise from left, Burdock roots, apples, acorns, and evening primrose root sit ready to be washed and cooked during a wild edibles cooking class at the Inn at Weathersfield, in Perkinsvill, Vt., Saturday, September 10, 2016. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Mushrooms, gathered ahead of the class by David Craft, sit ready to be washed and cooked at the Inn at Weathersfield, in Perkinsville, Vt., Saturday, September 10, 2016. Clockwise from top left are a peppery milky, a pink bolete, meadow mushrooms, and inky caps. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • David Craft scrapes ground acorn meat into a pot of boiling water while preparing a meal of edible wild plants at the Inn at Weathersfield in Perkinsville, Vt., Saturday, September 10, 2016. After cracking the nuts, scooping out the meat and grinding them into a meal, they need to be boiled and have the water changed two or three times to remove the tannins that cause an extremely bitter taste. After being drained the nuts were combined with butter, cinnamon and sugar to be drizzled over an apple and raspberry galette. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • A meal of wild edibles is ready to be served in the Hidden Kitchen at the Inn at Weathersfield in Perkinsville, Vt., Saturday, September 10, 2016. From left are sauteed curly dock, wild mushrooms, burdock root, evening primrose root with onions garlic and heirloom tomatoes; sausage with wild grapes and caramelized onions; a salad of purslane, lambsquarters, sheep sorrel and wood sorrel; pickled crabapples. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Saturday, September 17, 2016

Perkinsville — What’s for dinner generally isn’t a mystery at the Inn at Weathersfield, which posts its menus online. But at a foraging and cooking class held there last weekend, that wasn’t the case.

The meal would “tweak and twist,” based on what they found, Marilee Spanjian, who co-owns the inn with her husband, Richard, said earlier this month. And that’s part of the deal.

“This is a class for the adventurous cook. Picky eaters will not enjoy this,” a description on the inn’s Facebook page warned. But for those who bit, it offered a guarantee: “You will learn, laugh, have fun and eat things you probably have never tried.”

That was true for Sandy von Unwerth, of Woodstock, one of 10 participants who spent the Saturday morning searching for wild edibles and then returned to the inn to prepare and share a meal.

Sampling the wild plants was fun, and it was interesting to learn how to use them to add new flavors to food, said von Unwerth, who attended the class with her partner, Bill Sjogren, as a gift. “It was just so new and innovative.”

And she enjoyed the colorful, flavorful results, including the “delicious” wild grapes and onion, served with veal sausages, and the pickled crabapples, which “still had some crunch,” she said. “I loved them.”

Von Unwerth came to the class knowing “nothing” about wild food. But she left with plans to do some foraging of her own for two new favorite plants, purslane and sorrel.

When it comes to knowledge of wild food, it seems she’s in good company.

“For the most part, people are 100 percent unaware that most plants they walk by have some edible part to them,” said David Craft, who co-led the class with the inn’s executive chef Michael Ehlenfeldt. Of all the plants one might encounter while strolling around outside, “only a couple are poisonous.”

A medical researcher and author of Urban Foraging, Craft said people are often surprised at how excited he gets about certain plants, such as the nutritious and ubiquitous lamb’s quarters, which the group tasted. The appeal of the leafy green is hard to convey in the field, where it might be sampled raw, but saute it with garlic, olive oil and salt, and people realize, “that’s a pretty good vegetable.”

In addition to plants commonly considered weeds such as sheep sorrel and burdock, the group identified and cooked mushrooms — in short supply, due to the abnormally dry weather — crabapples and wild grapes.

The grapes, which were plentiful, were “kind of a surprise to me,” said Craft, who lives in Cambridge, Mass. “They’re not something I see all time.”

To supplement whatever they would find that morning, he brought with him some “preforaged” ingredients.

Actually feeding 10 people requires lots of foraging, which is pretty difficult to combine with teaching a class, where the goal is to point out a variety of plants, he said. To prepare, he usually forages in advance by himself, bringing along his bike, shovel and bags.

It’s the sort of task he enjoys.

“For me, going out and spending a few hours biking around natural settings and gathering plants is not really a chore,” he said.

A longtime forager himself, Ehlenfeldt is well at ease with the puzzle-like process of impromptu menu-making.

While the meal isn’t charted out in advance, he has an idea of what’s available locally, “due to the topography and weather,” he said. For instance, he knew they’d be able to find wild grapes, and he’d just made the sausage, so the Northern Italian dish that combined those ingredients, along with a little onion and balsamic vinegar, was “a no brainer.”

And having pie dough onhand sparked the idea for the apple and blackberry galette, said Ehlenfeldt, whose menus at the inn often feature ingredients foraged by him or his friends.

But much gets decided along the way. Even as he’s picking, he’s asking himself, “What am I going to with (this)?”

The first time he’d ever worked with Craft, it was “a lot of fun,” Ehlenfeldt said, “because he was more than happy to fly by the seat of his pants.”

Aimee Caruso can be reached at acaruso@vnews.com or 603-727-3210.