Wednesday, March 30 2022 11:36

Brandywine Table: Foraged Goods

Written by Alyssa Thayer

A return to the time-honored pastime of seeking and gathering edible ingredients from the wilderness

Tim and some friends at their secret pawpaw harvesting spot.

Foraging for food, once a necessity for survival, is now making a resurgence as a hobby. Home enthusiasts and professional chefs alike scramble each season to claim their share of these forest-found treasures. From homely dandelion greens to sought after morels, foraged goods have become highly coveted ingredients.

“People are getting tired of packaged things. They are looking for a life that touches the soil in a different way,” says Tim Mountz, owner of Happy Cat Farm in Kennett Square. He attributes the recent rise in seed and seedling sales to people turning towards more natural, work-with-your-hands pastimes. He sees foraging as a natural extension of gardening. He laughs and says, “You’re outside pulling weeds and wonder, could I eat this?” And often, the answer is yes!

Tim found his love of all things outdoors and edible early in life. His four local grandparents, whom he describes as “people of the land,” were constantly taking advantage of the abundance all around them—elderberries, wild raspberries, wineberries, wild mint and watercress.

Tim says one of his favorite parts of foraging is that short, exciting window for finding each unique flavor. “I’m one of those people who loves foods that are hard to get,” he admits. If he had to pick just two foraged favorites, he says he’d pick spring ramps and fall pawpaws. Ramps because they come up for such a short time, and pawpaws because of their abundant harvest and diversity of uses.

Tim Mountz, owner of Happy Cat Farm, with his wife, Amy, and daughter, Signy, at Longwood Gardens. Photo: Jocelyn Kline.

One of the tenets of Happy Cat Farm is education, and as one of Tim’s mentors once said, “Pass along a piece of our passion.” By teaching people around him to respect, celebrate and forage the land, he is honoring and sharing his raison d’etre.

The idea of teaching came as Tim prepared for the birth of his child. He knew he needed to reduce the number of plant shows and amount of travel he was doing. But Tim also knew it would leave a void, since interacting with the public and talking about what he loves was so fulfilling for him. Around this time, someone asked if he’d lead a foraging course, and just like that ‘Foraging School’ was created.

Tim’s daughter, Signy, with a pawpaw.

After seeing the success of their first “school,” Tim started expanding offerings, which eventually turned into Tomato, Pizza, Bread, Polenta, Taco and Hot Sauce Schools. The pandemic has forced a mix of in-person and virtual classes, but all of them come with ingredients and seeds to allow you to “play and create,” Tim says proudly.

Foraging, in particular, can be a little intimidating. Not knowing where to start and the fear of harvesting something poisonous often stop people before they even start. But Tim suggests starting small—get a plant ID book and enlist a knowledgeable friend or guide, and slowly but surely your confidence and repertoire will grow. Below are some tips, guidelines and recipes to get you going on your gathering journey.

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