This is Steve Brill aka The Wildman, a self taught botanist and forager. For three hours on Saturday, he taught me and 34 other people to appreciate the plant diversity in Central Park here in New York as delicious dinner accompaniments or herbal remedies for ailments. We learned to pick out sassafras and juneberries, jewelweed and field garlic, among others, from a green blur of trees, hedges, and undergrowth. Steve is a storehouse of plant lore, a storyteller, joke teller, painful punster, and as if all that isn’t enough, he is a human beatbox. While we were there, Yahoo’s Blue Ribbon Hunter Chef Alison Fishman was filming Steve for an upcoming show.
I’m not terribly adventurous when it comes to food. I am no Anthony Bourdain though I like to watch him and experience the tastes vicariously. I once accidentally ordered sweetbreads in a restaurant, and it wasn’t what I thought it was. My husband has teased me about it ever since. Normally I stick to more conventional cuts of meat–what I know. So that I should go on a foraging expedition for food is truly adventurous. I timidly tried the tender cattail stalk–it tastes like cucumber–and though I love garlic, I rejected the field garlic because it was too pungent. But I did savor the sharp mustard taste of Poor Man’s Pepper and the Sour Kids’ lemon flavor of sheep sorrel. However, I was reluctant to dig up any of these plants, though Steve insists they are sustainable so it’s okay to take them out of the Park. No, my reason for not taking them was more pragmatic–how would I use them in my cooking? So rather than waste them, I nibbled and crushed leaves and smelled them, then I decided the only one I’d try at home was the Northern Bayberry. I will put the leaves in a Jamaican pepperpot soup.
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