By Amy Crowell
Photography by Andy Sams
Remember the cult film Quest for Fire? Though sometimes brutal in its depiction of the lives of hunter-gatherers, it is an inspiring tale of sharing love, life, fire and food with community. Sure, Hollywood did a decent job of romanticizing the Cro-Magnon lifestyle, but looking beyond the sweet, hairy exterior, I found inspiration for a more modern, yet wild, experience: my next dinner party. Yes, it would have a hunter-gatherer theme and, yes, I would ask everyone to dress up as their favorite cave person (Austinites don’t bat an eye at this sort of party criteria).
First, I set some parameters for my foraged feast: I would allow myself to use a few luxury ingredients such as salt, pepper, honey and butter, but the bulk of my feast would be harvested from the wilds of Austin and the surrounding countryside. My menu would reflect the season, and the setting would be in the wild—maybe outside by the fire? Beneath an old pecan tree? Ankle-deep in a wild-onion patch?
Even if your friends aren’t thrilled about the idea of roasting crickets for the occasion, a fabulous foraged feast can be a great adventure, a lot of fun and a reminder of our proud roots as hunter-gatherers.
A Foraged Autumn Feast Menu
Tips for Success
• Note what will be in season when you host your gathering, and design your menu months in advance. Consider collecting and storing things in your freezer before the occasion.
• Keep the menu simple to allow guests a pure taste of the wild foods. The unique flavors will inspire some lively conversations!
• Don’t limit yourself to only foraged foods. If you need to supplement your meal with ingredients from the market, consider what is actually harvested from the wild or is closest to its wild state. Some market finds for a wild meal might include seafood, buffalo or dewberries.
• Consider collecting nuts and berries ahead of time because they store and freeze well, respectively (nuts are best stored in their shells). Wild greens and onions are best when fresh, so collect those right before your feast.
• Organize a pre-feast hike around your yard or neighborhood several days or weeks before your gathering, and invite guests to help gather the foods needed.
• Invite interested guests over a bit early to help harvest the final garnishes from your yard (such as purslane or wood sorrel) for the meal.
• Encourage guests to bring at least one wild edible they’ve collected themselves—attach pictures of wild edibles such as dandelions and pecans to the invitations.
• Set out books on foraging and wild edibles, such as Delena Tull’s Edible and Useful Plants of Texas and the Southwest: A Practical Guide, Samuel Thayer’s Nature’s Garden: A Guide to Identifying, Harvesting, and Preparing Edible Wild Plants or Euell Gibbons’ classic Stalking the Wild Asparagus.
• Invite a knowledgeable speaker to give a brief presentation on foraging, wild edibles of Texas or the history of hunter-gatherers in our area.
• Set up tables outside near a fire, next to a river or in a grove of Texas Persimmons or Mexican Plum trees so that you will be surrounded by the spirit and aroma of your foraged foods.
• Don’t forget to collect some wildflowers for the table!