The Philosophical Forager

If you’ve been following this blog for any length of time, you know my concerns with finding lower energy, smaller carbon footprint ways of living to lessen my personal impact on the planet.

Foraging – finding food in the wild that grows without any (or much) human cultivation and intervention – is one of the key elements of my strategy.

My challenge: I keep spending the time and energy to use my foraged finds for foods that I just … don’t eat. Ideally, I would only harvest wild edibles that integrated naturally into the kinds of meals and recipes I cook on a regular basis. Here, I frequently fail. For example my various fermented cordials from last year. More recently, I made fermented elderberry capers (from Forage, Harvest, Feast – yes, that book again), and, um, yeah I don’t eat capers. Or cook with capers.

Fermented elderberry capers
Fermented elderberry capers

I also wonder if I picked the green elderberries at the right time for this particular project, because the “capers” aren’t quite as magical as Viljoen describes in her book. Plus… there is that part of me that still suspects the toxins in the elderberry seeds, even though Viljoen assures us the fermentation process neutralizes it.

My current debate: mahlab. I was so excited with my black cherry harvest this year (despite the mess I made processing them), I want to make Every. Single. Recipe. possible with them. I started a batch of black cherry-elderberry wine, a bit more tannic than last year’s blackberry-elderberry wine. The rest I used for an infusion of black cherry rum.

Pro Tip! If your significant other suffered childhood trauma from cherry cough syrup, just skip the black cherry rum. Trust me on this one.

Now the pits remain. I’ve kept them in my fridge, but they are so boozy, I’m sure they would survive just fine on a countertop.

Maybe mahlab
Maybe mahlab

I can crush the shells (carefully), remove the little kernels, and then roast them and grind them to make an American version of the Middle Eastern spice mahlab. Cool, right? If I regularly cooked mamool (a type of cookie) or tsoureki (a traditional Greek bread served for Easter), then my own source of mahlab would be phenomenal. As it is, I don’t eat wheat (it causes me a lot of intestinal pain – as does most grains – which makes it easy to stick to a paleo diet). And after reading Metabolical by Dr. Robert Lustig (from the library – I am still being relatively good at sticking to my book diet), I am more committed than to cutting back on sugar in my diet. (Looks askance at the black cherry rum.)

BTW, totally recommend Metabolical, or really anything by Dr. Lustig. I am currently reading Hacking of the American Mind (also from the library, thankyouverymuch) and it’s definitely an eye-opener, even for someone who considers themselves pretty well-read like myself.

And now, with pawpaw season upon us, I will face this philosophical dilemma even more frequently. What would you do?


  1. Hi TJ, I thought I would let you know this blog post inspired me to buy two of Dr. Lustig’s books for Christmas for my brother-in-law… although he may well already know about the good Dr. This kind of thing is right up his alley.

    • A brilliant gift! Even if your brother-in-law already knows the key points (i.e., eat “real” food, avoid processed/packaged food-like items), it never hurts to get a refresher and I know I personally enjoyed the scientific details in the books.

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