Berkshire chefs and home cooks are taking farm-to-table sourcing and sustainability to a new level of culinary inspiration, preparing locally available wild edibles in sync with the seasons.
Whether collecting ramps and fiddleheads on a mountainside deep in the Berkshire forest or searching for watercress along the banks of the Green River, expert and amateur foragers are on the hunt for local food long before the spring harvest of regional farms.
The gathering of wild edibles is as much an ushering in of spring as it is a restorative awakening. Ramps are the first green edible to emerge in our region and are harvested at a time when many farmers are still putting in their crops. They are potent in vitamins and minerals and revered for their revitalizing power. Throughout history, including Native American folklore, people have created spring tonics with ramps. Also known as spring onions and wild leeks, if harvested at the right time, ramps are aggressively full of flavor giving off the scent of garlic and a taste like spring onions with an earthy overtone.
At Guido’s Fresh Marketplace in Pittsfield, co-owner Chris Masiero handles the ramp foraging for their produce section. He has a few secret spots where he harvests ramps, making sure there are plenty for future years. Wild and Cultivated, a small farm in Sheffield, supplies the Great Barrington store with ramps. Fiddleheads and wild mushrooms come a little later in the season from local foragers. These special, fleeting produce items are only around for a short while, so contact Guido’s produce managers to confirm availability.
At The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, farmers and foragers arrive at the kitchen door with wild tastes of the spring season from our rich Berkshire terroir. First come the ramps, then fiddleheads, stinging nettles, Japanese knotweed and lambs’ quarters with a hopeful scattering of mushrooms in every delivery. Chef Brian Alberg prepares Hudson Valley Duck Confit with Wilted Dandelion Greens, Braised Lentils and Charred Ramp Gremolada as a first-of-the-season entrée. A vegetarian dish of Braised Lambs’ Quarters and Farro Risotto with Housemade High Lawn Farm Lemon Ricotta, Roasted Garlic and Heritage Pinto Beans offers a true taste of a Berkshire Spring.
Chef Nicholas Moulton and his team at Mezze Bistro + Bar in Williamstown have been harvesting young garlic mustard, wild carrots and watercress over the past few weeks and are now visiting their favorite haunts for sustainable, leaf-only ramps to craft dishes such as Fried Housemade Cavatelli with Mushrooms, Rye Berries and Ramps. In mid-May, the kitchen team will hike with a regional foraging expert to learn more about the three acres of wild plants on the Mezze property and how to use them on the ever-changing seasonal menu.
The wild watercress salad with lemon-olive oil vinaigrette at Gramercy Bistro at MASS MoCA in North Adams relies on a local forager’s bounty before it hits the menu. Another expert forager supplies ramps to Chef Alexander Smith, which he pickles in drinks or includes in housemade chicken liver mousse. Fresh hen-of-the-woods mushrooms are a long-awaited wild ingredient for a local mushroom ragout served over polenta.
Foraging is not only for chefs and expert foragers. It’s a great way for home gardeners and cooks to combine a love of nature, gardening and cooking. But, before setting out on a foraging expedition, there are basic guidelines to ensure a safe experience. Finding a mentor is always a good start. Lots of wild edible plants have look-a-likes so take time to learn what is edible and what is not. Learn how to differentiate similar plants by smell, feel and texture and which parts of a wild edible plant are safe to use.
For some expert guidance in our region, the Berkshire Mycological Society (BMS) offers mushroom walks on Sundays at 10 am throughout the fall. On Sunday, May 4 and May 18, the BMS will lead a mushroom walk at Gould Meadows in Stockbridge. On Sundays, May 11 and May 25, mushroom walks will take place at Kennedy Park in Lenox. All walks are free and open to the public. For more information on mushroom walks in June and beyond, visit the BMS site.
A comprehensive listing of foraging walks in the U.S. can be found at foraging.com.
Featured Event: Hilltop Orchard’s 5K Runs on June 22 and 29. Enjoy 3 different courses that wind through the orchards main trails. Enjoy delicious homemade apple cider donuts and free wine tastings. A great way to truly taste the Berkshires and get outside! Register now.
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