Where the Wild Things Grow: A Spring Edible Walk & Tasting Along the Delaware River
A few weekends ago, nearly two dozen first-time foragers — myself included — meandered the lands of Ten Mile River Scout Camps, a 12,000-acre Boy Scouts of America reservation overlooking the Delaware River in Sullivan County. We had signed up for the Spring Edible Walk and Tasting, a wholesome event organized by Juliette Hermant, proprietor of Fish & Bicycle, a new bar, café and small grocery slated to open next spring just north of our expedition in Narrowsburg. The first in a series of workshops featuring local artisans and master collaborators, the walk was led by expert herbalist Nathaniel Whitmore, and TaraMarie Perri, founder and director of Perri Institute for Mind and Body. Under a leaden April sky, we were shown how to pull garlic mustard and day lily tubers, gather mugwort and wormwood, and fish winter cress and watercress from a flowing stream. In an open field near a tarnished bridge, we dug for twisted, young burdock root, “a plant my farmer grandfather hated because it is so hard to dig,” Nathaniel remarked.
Post-walk, we gathered for a tasting and tea at Smokey Belles Catskills Homestead, a rustic woodland retreat just up the road from our exploration. Edith Piaf played on vinyl as Nini Orboubadi, founder of Tay Tea in Delhi, welcomed us with a spread of foraged edibles paired with her hand blended loose leaf tea. Artist Sara Moffat of LDBA Brooklyn capped the day off by sharing the naturalist’s way of documenting, drawing, and watercoloring the botanicals we had found. “Our concept is to bring people together, sharing knowledge and deepening the experience of our bountiful regional farms, fields, and forests,” Juliette explained. It is a mission that is wildly in sync with her current Narrowsburg-based venture, Maison Bergogne, the old 1920’s school bus garage she founded in 2012 where she purveys design services along with found antiques, curiosities, and décor.
Illustrious makers contributed their gifts to create what Rosie Starr of WJFF radio described as “a complete, organic experience” and I could not have agreed more. We savored a sauté of chickweed, garlic mustard, nettle, and burdock cooked over an open fire in a three-foot wok; we learned from Nathaniel that jewelweed is a “most miraculous remedy for poison ivy”; we sampled stewed young shoots of Japanese knotweed and discovered even that most despised, invasive cousin to rhubarb has at least one redeeming quality: it can be used to treat Lyme disease. In just six hours, I had touched and tasted anew the familiar roots, shoots, bark, and leaves I had known since childhood.
“Foraging in the wild is about encountering what is there,” said Juliette Hermant. Pictured here are lily tubers found along the banks of the Upper Delaware River.
“Spring is a cascade of variety,” said Nathaniel, pointing to sassafras and black birch trees near the river, the bark and roots of which can be used to brew tea or make birch beer. “Tender, young shoots that make good edibles quickly become too tough, strong tasting, or toxic. Others, like ramps, disappear quickly.”
The variety of wild edibles that emerge along the river changes day-to-day and week-to-week.
Assorted wild edibles were sautéed in a three-foot wok over an open flame; a side salad featured chickweed. It was said that if chickweed were a cheese, it would taste like extra sharp cheddar.
TaraMarie opened the workshop by inviting us to “draw closer to our human-animal instinct.” To heighten the senses, we closed our eyes and tuned into nature’s symphony. Breathing together, we focused on the feel of the morning breeze, cool on the skin.
We learned from TaraMarie about the ancient rishis of India, who were deeply quiet, observant sages and seers that discovered “food as medicine” centuries ago.
“All mints have square stems, but not all squared-stemmed plants are mint,” Nathaniel explained. Later, at Smokey Belles, he inspected everyone’s pickings for safety, and taught us how to clean, taste, and process the take.
A wooden structure over the open fire was left over from a hide-tanning workshop hosted at Smokey Belles last fall. The queer-friendly multimedia artists’ homestead is planted in one of the strongest arts and cultural communities in the Catskills. Anie Stanley, a home and restoration designer/antique dealer with origins in the upper Catskills, built the house entirely from scratch and Juliette gifted her impeccable eye to much of the aesthetic, color scheme, and decor.
The Alchemy Shack installation was designed and installed by Maison Bergogne.
Master tea blender and Tay Tea founder Nini Ordoubadi delighted guests with a tasting spread and selection of her own hand blended hot and cold brews, with vodka provided by Catskill Distillery in Bethel.
Nini foraged wild sorrel, spinach, ramps, and dandelion leaves “all from my own mountain” to prepare her famous kuku sabzi, a Persian herb frittata. On ceramic platters made by Kay Schuckhart of Furbelow & Bibelot, Nini presented the kuku alongside an assortment of dates, rhubarb and blueberry tartlets, and Cheezehound’s vegan cheese.
Artist Sara Moffat led an afternoon session on the naturalist’s way of drawing and painting botanicals. We left with a watercolor painted by our own hand, the memory of an abundant foraging adventure, and the smell of wood smoke lingering in our hair.
For a flavor of the forage without the quest, pay a visit to a regional restaurant known to feature wild edibles when in season, such as Lagusta’s Luscious Commissary in New Paltz or Duo Bistro in Kingston. Learn more about Fish & Bicycle’s exciting new venture and upcoming events and workshops, and make sure to stop by their summer pop-up at Maison Bergogne to taste a selection of local handcrafted tea, honey and spices blend.