In my ten years of foraging, I’ve collected two morel mushrooms, six ramps, and zero fiddleheads. And yet I talk about the hunt as if I were Hemingway.
The truth is that I don’t even need to find something to enjoy looking for it. I know that the odds are good that pirate treasure isn’t washed up under my parent’s Florida condo. But if I never metal detected the premises, I’d never know if the lost doubloon from the sunken Saint Somewhere was waiting to be found under my mother’s aloe plant.
Here in Vermont, learning how to forage is almost a requirement. Chances are, I’ll never have to survive on the wild weeds in my backyard. But if a neighbor was to learn I’d passed up a morel, I’d be chased from the town.
Of course, I’ve done my homework. I know that morels are hollow, ramps have purple veins, and fiddleheads can only be harvested before they unfurl. (Hence why I haven’t collected fiddleheads since they are always past their prime.) I know not to eat anything until I triple check with Mr. Google. And I know to always carry a bag for the goods, since ramps will stink up a pocket.
What I don’t know is where to find these edibles. Friends give me advice. Websites give me ideas. But as hard as I look, my forage ventures are usually futile.
I have found all sorts of other things I didn’t want to find. Plastic trash bags. Rusty nails. Garter snakes. (I hate snakes more than I hate the Connecticut Turnpike… which is a lot.) But when I do find a woodland treasure, however, I scream louder than a Price is Right contestant. For me, locating a ramp is much more thrilling than winning a microwave on television. It proves that I’m not completely useless. It suggests I’d survive an extra hour in the woods before dying of starvation. It confirms my competence as a forager in the eyes of my neighbors.
I love a treasure hunt. And perhaps someday I’ll find that gold mine of morels, that Spanish doubloon, that missing striped sock in the drier. But for now, the thrill is in the search. And when it comes to hunting and gathering, I’m much more successful at the farmer’s market.