Each year when the snow melts and the winter slowly starts to turn to spring I begin to feel rejuvenated. Hearing birds chirping in the morning and buds taking shape on bushes and trees bring me joy.
When various shades of bright green begin to fill once barren trees and bushes, it brings me feelings of overwhelming happiness. I know it sounds kind of funny, but if you live in an area with a winter in snow and freezing temperatures for a good 5-6 months of the year, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.
It never fails that when I begin to see the transformation from nothing to life, right before my eyes, it automatically brings songs of praise. It’s truly a miracle.
For my children and I, our joy is made brighter when we’re able to spend our time outdoors once again.
Each spring when the soil warms, the sun shines, and after a good rain, we head out to forage for morel mushrooms. I used to be able to spend an entire day in the woods searching for morels; however, since I’ve had children I’ve learned that we’re only able to forage for a good hour and a half before their spirits start to fly.
That’s okay. My intentions for foraging have changed from what they used to be. We head out and forage with hopes of gathering enough ingredients for the days meal. Nothing more, and most certainly, nothing less.
My intent for taking my boys foraging with me each year in the woods is also about teaching them to enjoy the wonders of God’s land. We begin each trip by going over our three rules of foraging.
- NEVER leave my sight. We stick close to each other since the woods can be a very big place where little boys can get lost.
- NEVER touch or eat anything that we cannot identify. It can be poisonous and make us very sick.
- NEVER take more of anything we’re foraging than our family can eat. We are to respect God’s land and that means not wasting or disturbing his eco-system which little bugs and animals depend on. It’s their home.
- Oops… I forgot rule 4 – Have fun
Below is a video of my nephew that would like to share the rules with any kids that would like to forage too.
For this foraging trip, we went out specifically to look for garlic mustard leaves, violets, morel mushrooms, ramps, and fiddleheads.
Garlic Mustard Leaves
We were very excited to find garlic mustard leaves immediately.
Garlic mustard leaves are an invasive weed so they grow like wildflowers in the woods. Their leaves are easily distinguishable making them a simple weed to identify for young children.
The leaves are mild and have more than a hint of garlic flavor. My nephew enjoyed them raw.
I had my heart set at finding enough violets to make my own preserves of violet jelly. Unfortunately, there weren’t enough violets to forage for that but my children and I still had a good time identifying them by color and number of petals; then, we even tasted for sweetness.
I have to admit, I thought we were going to leave empty handed of morel mushrooms. These boys know all about morel mushroom hunting 101; however, I kept having to remind them that the mushrooms would be growing below the trees, not in them (Oh my, do boys like to climb).
Right when I thought to head out for the day, my son made me proud – he found the first morel mushrooms of the season!
It didn’t take long before my nephew found the next three!
They were super psyched that by themselves they found all of the morel mushrooms we took home for the day. They found a total of 9.
To forage for our fiddleheads, all we had to do was take a quick trip to Abuela’s house where she has these ferns growing in her garden.
Fiddleheads are the furled fronds of a fern as it first starts to re-grow in the spring. Each root shoots out about 5-7 fronds which pop up rolled up tight. Before it un-curls, the fiddleheads are cut which can then be consumed.
In order to keep the plant alive, I can only cut about 3 fiddleheads per root. That way the rest have a chance to un-curl and continue its regular growth.
This process of growth happens quickly in the spring. There’s only about a two week window to find the fiddleheads as they pop up before they uncurl.
The flavor of a fiddlehead is very similar to asparagus.
Cooking after Foraging
As I’ve written about many times before, getting children actively involved in growing and foraging for food gives them a sense of pride and makes them excited to cook and eat what they worked hard for.
The boys were thrilled to mix up their foraged garlic mustard leaves, raw hazelnuts, feta cheese from the market, and fresh mint from the garden.
With enough extra virgin olive oil that we brought home from Sonoma county, we whirled it into a beautiful shiny green pesto.
We then boiled some pasta and sauteed our fiddlehead’s with morel mushrooms in enough garlic to make it taste just right.
After tossing the pasta in our pesto, we each took turns serving ourselves and topping our bowls with the sauteed veg and even more feta cheese.
Although little brother didn’t want to head out into the woods with us, he did enjoy the fruits of our labor.
Foraging outdoors with children. A foraged pesto pasta made with garlic mustard leaves, and topped with fiddleheads, and morel mushrooms.
- 2 packed cups garlic mustard leaves (sub 2 packed cups spinach or other mild leafy green)
- 1/2 cup raw hazelnuts (sub walnuts or pecans)
- 3 tbls fresh mint
- juice of 1/2 lemon
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large handful of pasta, such as fusilli, per person.
- enough foraged fiddleheads (sub 1 lb aspargaus, woody ends trimmed and cut into 2” pieces)
- enough morel mushrooms (sub 1 cup mushrooms (baby bella’s), sliced)
- 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
- 1 cup pesto
- 2 tbls fresh chives, chopped
- feta cheese
- In a food processor, pulse the spinach, garlic, hazelnuts, mint, lemon juice, and salt until finely ground.
- Once ground, with the food processor still on, slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream through the top feeding tube.
- In a large pot, bring 3 quarts water with 1 tbls salt to a rolling boil.
- Add 1 large handful of pasta per person and boil to al dente according to package directions.
- Once al dente, reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid then drain the pasta through a colander.
- Place the pasta and the 1 cup cooking liquid back into the pot.
- Add the pesto and chives; mix through.
- In a separate skillet or cast iron pan, gently bring 2 tbls of extra virgin olive oil to heat.
- Add the garlic, asparagus, and mushrooms; saute for 5 minutes or until the asparagus is tender and the mushrooms are softened.
Have you been out foraging with your children this year? Please share any tips or advice with us in the comments below.