Book Review: Forage, Harvest, Feast by Marie Viljoen

Forest, Harvest, Feast book cover

I received Forage, Harvest, Feast at the end of last summer, an ideal time to review a cookbook based on wild cuisine. This book contains almost 500 recipes that covers 36 wild plants that are found in the Northeastern United States. Each plant has its own chapter with a short article about the plant and its uses in the kitchen. The book itself is a cookbook, not a field guide, although it does contain some basic information about the plants themselves. The real information and value is in the articles and the recipes, of which appear to be generally first hand experiences that the author has with the plants.

Marie Viljoen is a South African transplant to New York City and her stories about foraging and eating plants are often reminiscent of her African childhood. The recipes are globally inspired but down to earth for the modern American eater, and the scope of the book is very well rounded. There are recipes for staples like salts, oils, butters, many types of sauces and relishes and lots of preserving type recipes. There are also many cocktail recipes for the imbiber, as well as baked goods and desserts. And of course, many appetizers, soups and salads, entrees and side dishes. An impressive variety of recipes!

When I received the book, mugwort and spicebush berries were particularly abundant in my neighborhood so I tried out several of her recipes using these ingredients. For the mugwort, I tried out both the “Warm Mugwort and Soy Braised Tomato Salad” and the “Raw Tomato and Mugwort Salad with Miso Field Garlic” (tomatoes were particularly abundant too). Both recipes tasted great, the recipes were simple to follow and the cooking times/directions were reasonably accurate. I also tried out the “Spicebush Ginger Pickled Carrots” and have to give them two thumbs up! The recipe was spot on for flavor and technique. All three of these recipes were quick and simple recipes, but she does include more sophisticated recipes that look quite interesting. “Mugwort and Bayberry Pork Rillettes” and “Blueberry Buttermilk Spicebush Scones” are just a couple of examples of more involved recipes using the above mentioned ingredient examples.

The book does contain nice looking color photos, but it is not a picture book. In my opinion, the photos are just enough to give the book some nice color, but no more. But that is not a negative criticism; as I already mentioned the books value is in the volume of recipes and the articles on how the plants are used. There is also a chapter of sample wild menus, a listing of all recipes sorted by course and diet, and a large index.  

I was pretty happy with the variety of plants profiled in this book. I consider myself a fairly seasoned forager, so I get particularly interested in books that introduce me to new edible plants. Many of her plants are traditional plants consumed in foraging circles: garlic mustard, lamb’s quarter, ramps, etc. Of these plants, her recipes are a nice blend of traditional uses and creative dishes. But she also includes a number of lesser know, lesser used plants like sweetfern, quickweed and American burnweed. Although familiar with quickweed (Galinsoga quadriraditata) as a common garden weed, I never realized it is edible until I saw her chapter on it. To learn a single new edible plant is generally worth at least checking out a book from the library. She has several plants in this book that are new to me, and plenty of new and interesting ideas of how to work with familiar plants.

This book is approachable to the novice forager, although again I will point out that it is intended as a cookbook, not as a field guide. I also think that the more seasoned forager will find it a very valuable addition to their library of wild edible books. The book is published by Chelsea Green Publishing for the price of $40.00. Not a cheap book, but worthy of the work that was obviously put into developing it. I intend to add it to my library.

Forage, Harvest, Feast: A Wild Inspired Cuisine
by Marie Viljoen
Published by Chelsea Green Publishing, 2018.
(480 pages)
ISBN 10: 1603587500
ISBN 13: 978-1603587501

This book review appeared in the New Jersey Mycological Association’s NJMA News for November-December 2018 (#48-6), by Luke Smithson

Author: Luke Smithson

My name is Luke Smithson and I am a lifelong forager. My early foraging came in the form of gathering berries in the woods, hunting and fishing with my folks and experimenting with weeds found in the yard. A chance encounter with Euell Gibbons “Stalking the Wild Asparagus” led me to puff balls, day lilies and crayfish. The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn. Plants, mushrooms, wild game, shellfish, insects...they all became the subject of my culinary curiosity. Today, I am the President of the New Jersey Mycological Association, an avid experimenter in the garden and a professional chef. But I am also an eager student, striving to learn something new on a daily basis.

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