The Wild Table: Seasonal foraged foods and recipes
by Connie Green, Sarah Scott
Publisher: Viking Studio, Country: US
ISBN: 9780670022267, Year: 2010
Link to publisher’s page or site
This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.

Overview

In a review with a clear personal perspective, our reviewer explores the usefulness of a book on wild foraging for his role as a chef and restaurateur. Connie Green and Sarah Scott’s The Wild Table: Seasonal foraged food and recipes is the latest in a string of books capitalizing on the foraged (also called wild crafted) food movement. Just as the movement has evolved and matured, Green & Scott’s book is a step above all others.

Full review

While in America the “foraged” ingredient restaurant craze is exploding, the concept has been around as long as restaurants have existed in the rest of the world. The country most known for such food would certainly be Italy, which developed the Slow Foods movement, but slow food is not necessarily about wild, foraged foods. France certainly could argue its place in history, but so could many other countries full of chefs who head out on a crisp Autumn morn to gather the day’s new bolets. Although this is a new fad on the American restaurant scene, the practise is obviously not new.

Author of The Wild Table, Connie Green launched her career as a wild food provider to restaurants in the late 70s when she was regularly turned away by chefs driven by convenient restaurant suppliers. The idea of not knowing what ingredients would be available for a menu was not attractive to chefs at the time. But soon chefs realized the value of freshness, and in particular the power of freshness over reliability or convenience. The tides began to turn.

In her book, Green recounts those early days and how at some point she ended up at the back door of a fledgling restaurant named The French Laundry. Keller bought her concept and the two have maintained a mutually beneficial and thriving relationship ever since. Keller provides his reflections in the introduction to the book.

To explain my very personal interest as a reviewer, my own restaurant has taken unexpected routes which have ultimately led me to foraged foods. I started with a local foods menu, but quickly questioned the value of such ingredients when they were being raised out of season in greenhouses. The toned down flavors simply didn’t partner well with the expanded availability. That led me to then explore the historic diets of our indigenous Apache people who survived for centuries without restaurant suppliers. Bison, acorn, wild grapes, cattails… the bounty was there, but the flavors seemed limiting. As I delved deeper it seemed surely there was more to their diet and we simply didn’t have record of it, so I mentored under a man who has lived in our local woods for nearly a decade. Now the natural pantry doors have been flung wide open, and on any given night my menu will feature no less than 20 foraged ingredients.

While my vision has become clear, the faddishness of foraging in America has led to questionable practices by many chefs. This brings me to The Wild Table, in the hope that a book can finally act as a contemporary authoritative voice that can provide 1) experienced guidance, 2) practical knowledge, and 3) good recipes.

The Wild Table (2010, 368 pages) starts with Green’s introduction, which is a fun trip down memory lane. I’m sure she had no idea what her relationship with The French Laundry meant back at that first basket of mushrooms, and now looks back with giggles and nostalgia. The book explores the fundamentals and etiquette of foraging — there are many other, stronger sources for etiquette and ethics, but for a home cook Green offers a nice primer. Next the authors jump into over 100 recipes, most of which co-author Sarah Scott has created, broken down by seasons of the year. Spring brings us spruce, nettles and elderflowers. Summer abounds in mushrooms, fennel, and berries. “Indian Summer” offers more mushrooms, cuitlachoche, and rose hips. Autumn shows still more mushrooms, juniper berries and black walnuts. And finally winter displays a few straggling mushrooms, dandelions and prickly pear fruit. The book wraps up with a good description of a foraged pantry, a North American calendar of when each item can be found and a very limited list of resources.

The book is certainly more geared toward the home cook with a passion for the outdoors. It is ideal for readers living in California or the Pacific Northwest (or perhaps other regions around the world with similar climates.) For me in the desert Southwest of the USA, I found the specific ingredients not very helpful since most don’t exist for hundreds of miles, but the recipes are well written and accessible, and the photography gorgeous, making for enjoyable browsing.

The Wild Table left my personal journey unfinished. It’s a nice read, but isn’t as applicable to my professional needs as I would have liked. I will continue to look for a book that offers a strong directive on foraging etiquette and ethics, and that offers a more universal canvassing of ingredients. Maybe that can be found in 2011’s Hunt, Gather, Cook by Hank Shaw, the latest book on the topic, which I’ll be reviewing soon.

This is an original review for The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf.
Main rating: 4. Recommended – good
Visual appeal: Attractive
Suitability as a gift: Quite nice
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