How to start foraging in the Atlanta area!
A forager delivering chanterelle mushrooms to one of the first restaurants Todd Mussman worked at piqued the chef’s interest in the practice of foraging. Twenty years later, searching for wild foods is still one of Mussman’s go-to hobbies. “It’s a way to get outside. I’m an outdoorsman. I go whenever I get the inkling all year round,” says Mussman, a partner at restaurant group Unsukay that holds Local Three Kitchen & Bar in Buckhead under its umbrella of eateries.
At Local Three, the chef utilizes foraged ingredients, such as morel mushrooms, in specials such as a 20-oz. tomahawk chop served with a cheddar and morel bread pudding and topped with a morel shoyu butter. “Foraged goods are so fresh; it doesn’t get fresher than that. They taste so much better than grocery store produce,” Mussman notes.
Here, the expert serves up some tips for beginners.
The best way to learn how to forage is to find a guide or mentor to take you out. However, foragers don’t like to reveal their spots, so this part can be challenging. Mussman recommends starting by joining a club in your area found through a quick Google search or Facebook group, and then just getting outside. A university’s mycology (the scientific study of fungi) department is a good resource for learning or helping with wild edible identification, too.
Identifying the foraged plant is key to avoiding getting sick or poisoned. This is especially true with mushrooms, which grow plentifully in Georgia’s semi-tropical climate. “You need to be very careful and really know what you’re dealing with because many of them can be dangerous,” says Mussman, who prefers to stick with what he calls “culinary mushrooms.” He warns that you can’t identify a mushroom by a picture and that many have a look-alike. For instance, the toxic jack-o-lantern mushroom is the chanterelle’s doppelgänger. It grows on dead wood at the base of a dead tree, and chanterelles do not.
To truly ID fungi, you need the mushroom’s unique spore print, which is like a fingerprint. Mussman says to set a mushroom down on a piece of paper that is half white and half black, place a bowl over top and wait a day for it to drop spores, then use a field guide to identify it.
Aside from inedibles, learn the safety protocols for coming into contact with wildlife that can cause you harm, such as black bears and snakes.
Know what you’re looking for based on the season it grows. “There’s a supermarket in the woods, and all you have to do is a little bit of research,” says Mussman. He forages morel mushrooms and stinging nettles in the spring, the latter of which are great in soups or sautés. He looks for ramps and wild mountain leeks in Blue Ridge, Georgia at the tail end of spring, then wild blackberries and chanterelle mushrooms in the summer. “Chanterelles grow in such abundance in Georgia in the summer, you can find them just by walking up the banks of the Chattahoochee River,” which is what he did on his first foraging adventure.
TOOLS OF THE TRADE
Only a couple of simple tools are needed to forage: a knife to trim and cut plant stems and a mesh bag, such as a laundry bag, to allow wild items to drop seeds or spores and reseed the area as you go. Mussman says attire can make or break the experience, so wear good boots, such as muck boots to the knee, with long pants tucked in; a light, long-sleeve Tshirt and a cap, which will protect you from ticks, spiders and their webs. Of course, don’t forget your water bottle, and bring a good map and compass in case cell service drops.
Local Three Kitchen & Bar
3290 Northside Pkwy. N.W.
Managing Editor and Wellness Columnist at Simply Buckhead. Blogger at Badass + Healthy.