Book Review

The Wild Table: Seasonal Foraged Food and Recipes

By Connie Green and Sarah Scott
2010 / ISBN 978-0-670-02226-7 / 343 pp.
Viking Studio (a member of the Penguin Group)
$40.00 (hardcover)

When first author Connie Green learned that it was I who would review her book, she commented in an e-mail message, “Oh Steve, I do wish you ate mushrooms.” Truth be told, I do eat mushrooms, although admittedly only on occasion and usually without much enthusiasm, unless of course they are candy caps in mycochef Patrick Hamilton’s bread pudding—no coincidence that my favorite mushroom dish is a dessert. Nonetheless, Connie need not have been concerned, as I don’t think one needs to be a confirmed mycophagist to evaluate a book about wild foods (it isn’t just about mushrooms).

Connie is the founder and “head huntress” of Wine Forest Wild Mushrooms, a Napa-Valley area enterprise that provides wild-gathered foodstuffs to the restaurant trade. Thus, she is, among other things, (gasp!) a commercial picker. Second author Sarah Scott is a highly regarded chef, who has been associated with Robert Mondavi Winery for many years.

In general, this is a large-format compilation of commentaries on 34 wild food items, including many mushrooms, and recipes that incorporate them, organized by five seasons—spring, summer, Indian summer, autumn, and winter. A brief introduction and even briefer but important discussion of foraging fundamentals and etiquette precede the main part. Wild pantry, wild calendar, brief lists of resources, and three indexes—one listing vegetarian recipes, a general one for all of the recipes, and a third for miscellaneous stuff—complete the book.

The spring foods include morels, ramps, fiddleheads, conifer shoot tips, nettles, salad greens (purslane, chickweed, miner’s lettuce, etc.), and elderberry flowers. As is the case in all five seasonal sections, each of the foods receives a general introduction—its scientific name(s), general information about where it can be found and when, and interesting tidbits of natural history and folklore. This concludes with “kitchen notes” that provide guidance on cleaning, storage, preparation, and so forth. All of this is written in very lively and entertaining fashion and accompanied by attractive color photographs. The spring recipes range from rather simple (basket-grilled morels) to more complex (twice-baked ramp and goat cheese soufflés) and seem to me to be quite followable. For vegetarians, there is a spring fry of fiddleheads, ramps, and asparagus with Meyer lemon aioli and buckwheat waffles with spruce tip syrup. For obligate carnivores, Mateo’s roasted veal chop with morel and cacao sauce.

Summer foods include lobster mushrooms (those “blazing orange floozies of the mushroom world”), meadow and fairy ring mushrooms, gray morels (Morchella tomentosa), fennel, nopales, sea beans (the saltmarsh plant, Salicornia, widely known as ‘pickleweed’ before the chefs re-named it to be more pleasing to diners’ ears), and summer berries. Examples of recipes are “breakfast of champignons”: lobster mushroom and rock shrimp eggs Benedict with dazzling hollandaise, bacon-wrapped duck-stuffed morels, auntie Nemo’s sea bean and potato salad, and fresh mulberry ice cream.

Indian summer foods include chanterelles, puffballs, corn smut, blewits, rose hips, and huckleberries. Examples of recipes are Louisiana-style chanterelle hash, cuitlacoche and squash blossom quesadilla, rose hip and pistachio baklava, and huckleberry lemon pudding cake.

Autumn foods include king bolete, maitake, matsutake, Sparassis, juniper berries, elderberries, candy caps, and black walnuts. Examples of recipes are porcini3: porcini-dusted rib eye with porcini butter and grilled porcini, foil-wrapped matsutake with white soy and ginger, cauliflower mushroom and king trumpet spring rolls, and butternut squash and candy cap mushroom crème brûlée.

And, finally, winter foods include black trumpets, hedgehogs, winter chanterelle (yellow foot), dandelions and curly dock, persimmons, and cactus fruit. Examples of recipes are black trumpet mushroom and Yukon gold potato gratin, hedgehog mushroom and turkey pot pie, milk-braised pork shoulder with yellow foot mushrooms, and persimmon praline trifle.

In the wild pantry section you will find recipes for a variety of basics such as spreads and condiments like ramp pesto, pickled sea beans and chanterelles, porcini powder and Wine Forest Mushroom rub, mushroom stock, infused vinegars, porcini butter, syrups, candy cap sugar, wild booze such as chanterelle vodka, and a variety of techniques for preparing wild mushrooms. Wild calendar shows month-by-month occurrence of the various foods in both eastern and western North America.

Given the preponderance of the NAMA membership who delight in eating mushrooms, this ought to be a popular book. It’s attractive, engagingly written, contains good advice, and could well expand mycophagists’ horizons from wild fungi to other wild foods. I can certainly recommend it even though I am not likely to be preparing porcini3 any time soon.

— Review by Steve Trudell, Seattle, WA
— Originally published in ???