Once a month, blogger Carly Come Lately is going to The Food Fad Frontier and casting her hilariously cynical eye on the food world. First up: finding your own meal in the urban wild.
Los Angeles is a strange and delicious place. It’s the perfect city for a fad fanatic like me to find activities that fill my belly with treats. And what’s the most delicious treat of all? Laughter.
Which brings me to a recent weekend activity that had me pay $35 to have someone take me outside, point at the first bush they saw, and have me eat it.
I know what you’re thinking. “Carly, what made that Saturday different than any other Saturday you’ve had in L.A.?”
To that, I would first say “touché,” give you a knowing smile, and then I would further explain that this past Saturday, I found myself urban foraging.
When I first heard of urban foraging in college, I assumed a subset of my friends were dumpster diving, and I never questioned it. After years of believing people who “urban foraged” were just going to eat off of my dirty paper plate at Del Taco, I learned that these nards were actually looking for edible food from the wild of their city landscapes.
That’s correct, my loves: the urban foragers who walk among us are going to the woods to find sage instead of buying it at Trader Joe’s, or growing it in adorable Pinterest-worthy windowsill herb gardens. Restaurants across the globe (from NYC’s Momofuku Ssäm Bar to the wildly popular Noma in Denmark) are using this trendy little trick to bring in crowds, and the fanaticism has finally trickled down to the everyman.
My guides were the Los Angeles-based duo behind Urban Outdoor Skills ; they guide city-bound idiots through their urban jungles towards lunch. I gathered a small foraging army of four and set off to the hills of Los Angeles County for our three-hour adventure in leaf-eating. The class of the day? Primitive and Wild Beers.
I was genuinely surprised to see a group of more than 20 people gathered for foraging as we pulled up to the city park at Hansen Sam Equestrian Center. Who were all of these weirdos?! Had I finally found my people?
The group was made up of a mixture of hippies, hipsters, and old people all gathered around a spookily unassuming Belgian man, Pascal Baudar . All wore Sun hats of varying irony. My small foraging army of four quickly realized that this class was much more trendtastic than we realized: two of the hat-wearing hipsters in the crowd were our co-workers!
I offered sunblock to the group but our leader, Pascal, assured me that we would be staying out of the sun. THANK G I DIDN’T LISTEN TO THAT LEATHERY LIAR. I slathered on everything I had #lotionlovers4life.
The Leathery Forager set to pointing out the edible plants in the area no more than 100 feet into our walk. We were greeted by California Brush Sage and White Willow. Apparently these can be used in your PRIMITIVE/WILD BEERS. While many of us were mystified as to what a PRIMITIVE/WILD BEER was, we were assured that all would become clear later in the class.
Leatherface Pascal showed us many medicinal herbs lining the paths of the park. He also made a v v v lol joke about “50 Shades of Green,” or the act of slapping a plant to have it release its aroma. To summarize: Sow Thistle used to be the “valium of its day” and Mog Wart is essentially a low-grade absinthe.
Over the course of our walk, Pascal told us about his addiction to cigarettes, his history of kidney stones, his great Black Sage hot chocolate recipe, and the fact that he’s never had health insurance.
A group of happy hipsters make their way through the “woods.” Photo by Carly Silverman.
He then led us back to the park and told us that currently he regularly forages food for Ludo Lefebvre . Suddenly I was interested in making this man my best friend, a venture I quickly abandoned once I realize what an aggressive eye-contact maker he was. All well that ends well, as he basically damned my skin to burn in hell. Did I mention a woman passed out FROM BEING IN THE SUN?!
Pascal set up his brew station to show us how to put our foraged items to use. Primitive/wild beer is made by adding your foraged plants of choice to sugar and water in a pot, boiling it, adding yeast, and leaving it alone for weeks. Of course this process is much more intensive, but he assured us he would be publishing a book on the subject soon.
After our lesson in Jurassic bartending, we gathered around a picnic table of foraged treats. Grasshopper hummus, fermented walnuts, garlic spice cheese and chili lime grasshoppers were the main events. All foraged! Except for the Colby Jack.
Prehistoric afternoon drinking at its finest! Photo by Carly Silverman.
As we feasted on leaves, Pascal poured us some of his primitive brews. Many tasted like delicious ciders, and all of them had a hefty alcohol content. Needless to say, I was a happy herbivore. As the class approached its end and everyone finished taking notes on how to make the forest equivalent of toilet wine, I was reminded of what we all had in common despite our varying sun hats: a need for the perfect Instagram photo.
We did it for the Instagram. Photo by Carly Silverman
I was floored by how approachable this class ended up being. I assumed I would be insanely out of my element (and thus provide ample lolz) but it ended up being leisurely and fun. Would I recommend such an adventure for the city slicker readers out there? Absolutely! It was a great way to get out of my dang house and explore my city on a Saturday. Plus, I probably made back my $35 in the amount of hummus I ate.
My adventures in urban foraging had come to an end. I went home, promptly lost my bag of foraged plants and never made Black Sage hot chocolate. Luckily, I have the #skills to go out into my backyard and find some more (let’s be real, I’ll never do that).