Few Philadelphians realize the bounty of free, delicious food available right under their noses. That’s something Lynn Landes, founder of The Wild Foodies of Philly, aims to change. With over 1,800 members, The Wild Foodies are dedicated to exploring Pennsylvania’s wealth of edible wild plants.
Recently, JAM teamed up with The Wild Foodies to put our own culinary spin on the many exotic flavors growing outdoors. For this, we partnered with Awbury Arboretum, who let us use their beautiful 55-acre landscape as a foraging ground and setting for our first Forest-to-Plate Dinner.
Early on Thursday morning, we visited Awbury for a foraging expedition to collect our ingredients, with Lynn and Denis Lucey, the arboretum’s landscape manager, as our guides. As we identified tasty plants such as Asiatic dayflower and amaranth, Lynn explained that many of the edibles found in Pennsylvania were actually introduced by early settlers who treasured them for their medicinal and culinary properties. Now they grow wild in abundance, largely ignored or considered weeds.
Once we had collected enough purslane, mugwort, and other woodland delicacies, we transported it back to the JAM shop to be prepped. This prep work for a mouthwatering five-course menu created by JAM chef, Ron Wesson , was done using almost exclusively ingredients found at Awbury.
On Friday evening, guests were treated to a foraging expedition led by Lynn, who introduced them to the plants they would soon encounter on their plates. After a break for sassafras cocktails and hors d’oeuvres, dinner commenced with a salad of lamb’s quarters, wild violet, wood sorrel, and purslane. Next came garlic-mustard rotolo with narrow leaf plantains, and then roasted/smoked rare salmon with amaranth, carrot yogurt and sumac. Last came dessert; young birch sorbet topped with white chocolate, strawberries, and Mexican licorice.
The dinner was a huge success and showed that wild edibles are not just for nibbling, but can be used as the basis for an entire meal! Interested in discovering a world of new flavors? Check out The Wild Foodies of Philly. You’ll never look at weeds the same way again!