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Stay Wild

Foraging in the Mud and Dirt Outside Seattle

By Kiliii Fish

Seduction has a scent.
It wafts, languorous and alluring,
until the breeze blows it my way, and I am smitten.
It’s the fiery scent of desert, mixed with salty rivulets
running off a mermaid emerging from the sea.
The smell is also oilier than that, and it’s sizzling dangerously from a wok filled with manila clams several inches from the lens of my camera.

“I think we might have added a few too many Thai bird chilies," notes Langdon Cook, my new favorite chef and wild food forager of the Pacific Northwest. He tastes some and adds, “It’s the perfect amount of heat for someone who actually loves spice.”

He’s right. My body is a bit overwhelmed with the intense flavor and contrast to the cold torrential rain on the mud flats we just walked triumphantly through with clams and oysters in hand. I’ve never tasted anything so good in my life, especially flavored with hunger sauce after the long afternoon. Forget girlfriends and kids and other things that are supposedly worth the effort. I’m in it for the wild edibles.

Langdon Cook is the anti-celebrity celebrity. While wild edible foods are nothing new (ask our ancestors), Langdon is the humble spearhead of an authentic adventure-into-gourmet-cuisine movement in the United States. His book, Fat of the Land, is an adventure diary of someone who loves fresh real food so much he even learned to freedive and spearfish to pursue lingcod for the table!

Cook doesn’t eschew the gourmet favorites though. His new book, The Mushroom Hunters: On the Trail of an Underground America, is his story of venturing “into the woods with the iconoclasts and outlaws who seek the world’s most coveted ingredient … and one of nature’s last truly wild foods: the uncultivated, uncontrollable mushroom.”

The perfect moment for stinging nettles has passed. My feet remember this because I unfortunately chose to go picking with Langdon in my sandals when the little guys were just a foot tall and easy to miss when walking about in the forest understory. But what I remember much more than the momentary stinging sensation is the creamy and earthy taste of nettle pesto. Langdon’s recipe for this magic can be found, along with lots of others, on his blog, fat-of-the-land.blogspot.com.

Sometimes you can thwart the inevitability of the seasons by going up in elevation, such as with fern fiddleheads. We chased them up from the riverlands into the evergreens. In the west, our prize is the Lady Fern, a classic light green fern. In the east, it’s the gigantic Ostrich Fern. We passed a multitude of ferns that looked about right, but for discerning tastebuds, you’ll want the fiddleheads that haven’t unfurled and remain covered in a bit of brown fuzz.  

Langdon was a real stickler for the quality and choice of oysters in the raw. Since we marched out there in muck boots during a good tide, we took our time to look for picturesque oysters that resembled little fists rather than long scoops or ones that grew in odd shapes. Thanks to the help of Bainbridge Island Parks and Recreation, we had our pick of the prime oysters near Dosewallips State Park. The little ones were delicious when shucked and eaten raw mixed with a mignonette of champagne vinegar. We barbecued the bigger ones and added butter or bacon when they opened.

For manila clams, you need only your hands or a three-pronged garden tool. Remember to check local regulations for harvest openings and closures.

See more of Kiliii Fish's work HERE>>>