The theme of this weekend was local food — both cultivated and wild. Farm-to-fork and, hmm, forest-to-fork food, if you will.
Urban wild food foraging is something I’d already been introduced to when we were still living in Portland. I’ve written here before about my adventures with nettles, dandelion and cat’s ear, and elderflower. Alas, just as I had learned to identify and use a number of the edible and medicinal plants of the Pacific Northwest — and figure out where they grow in my neighborhood — we moved across the country to an entirely different climate and ecosystem. In many ways, I’ve had to start over. The botanical world of the Southeast is truly its own thing.
So when I found out that my friend and fellow permaculture enthusiast, Matt Kip, would be leading a wild edible plants walk in the woods on Saturday, I was immediately on board. As we walked and tasted our way through the woodlands and meadows on the banks of the Congaree river with Matt, I realized I was not in the company of total strangers: I met some old friends such as sweet cicely, chickweed, wood sorrel, and nettle. But I made some new friends and acquaintances as well. For example, I’d seen — and of course smelled — the striking, heavy-hanging purple flowers of wisteria that dot the landscape here as the city bursts into spring bloom, but had had no idea that you can eat them as well. Bull briar (also known as smilax) was another new discovery: the tender new leaves are mildly asparagus-flavored, and for me one of the highlights of the walk. I may be able to remember jewel weed and air potato just because of their memorable names… or recognize May apple, pokeweed, and native mulberry (below) because of their distinct leaf shapes…
On Sunday, I traded my hiking sandals for dressier ones as Dan and I joined a number of other foodies to sample the locally sourced fare at the Slow Food “sustainable chefs showcase” potluck and party, an annual event that kicks off the Indie Grits Film Festival here in Columbia. Organized by Slow Food Columbia, this event challenges local chefs to create a dish that uses at least one locally grown, sustainable major ingredient. Guests can also bring a potluck dish to share. It was a feast, and such a fun way to celebrate our local food scene. Dishes that made me go for seconds? The Thai tea and lemongrass doughnut holes, the warm kale and miso salad, the chilled asparagus soup served in dainty little cups, and the feta-and-kale spanakopita rolls with sweet onion jam. And just in case you were curious to see behind the scenes of this local food culture… this short documentary, Agri+Culture narrated by Erin Eisele, follows food “from farm to fork” in the Midlands of South Carolina. It’s great to see it highlight the very people who produce our eggs, dairy, and some of our vegetables — as well the advocates who, together with these farmers, are working hard to strengthen the small farms and local food movement in this state. Click below to watch and enjoy!