Stranger started foraging in 2006, but got involved at a deeper level when he moved to Oregon. Upon return to Oklahoma, he began foraging with Jackie Dill, a Cherokee wildcrafting expert.
Dill has been foraging for edibles (as well as medicinals) in Oklahoma all her life. She has been guiding Stranger and Marc Dunham, executive chef and director at the Francis Tuttle Culinary Arts Program, since last year. Both men stressed the importance of choosing an experienced teacher.
“It’s critical to have someone who can identify what is safe and what isn’t,” Dunham said. “The first rule is never put anything in your mouth unless you’re absolutely sure it’s safe.”
right Ludivine chef Jonathon Stranger examines red sumac and other foraged ingredients, including wild mustard, dandelion and cedar, which has been infused in the bottle of bourbon.
Stranger said a few poisonous plants exist in Oklahoma, so mushrooms aren’t the only ones to worry about.
“Mushrooms can make you sick and, in some cases, cause hallucinations, and maybe if you ate a handful, they could be really dangerous,” Stranger said. “Nightshade, though, will kill you with just a couple of berries.”
Dill runs a website, okwildcrafting.com, with some good information about the available plants in Oklahoma. Stranger also recommends Billy Joe Tatum’s Wild Foods Field Guide and Cookbook.
“Tatum goes into great detail about what’s available and how to prepare it,” Stranger said, “but pictures and details do not take the place of an experienced guide.”
Dunham said the trio has traveled lately to the Logan County town of Coyle.
Winter mushrooms are available now, but with spring just around the corner, the chefs are excited about morel
mushrooms. The ground is nearly warm enough for them to emerge, and Ludivine will feature them as soon as they’re available.
“I’d like to get the amount of foraged edibles at Ludivine to about 30 percent of my stock by late June,”
Stranger said. “During the winter, not much is available, so it drops to about 5 percent. Spring means mushrooms, spring garlic, chickweed and many other edibles.”
Dunham said he’d eventually like to add a foraging class to Francis Tuttle’s curriculum, but right now, the discussion is just in the brainstorming phase. He offered a little more advice.
“Dress appropriately,” he said. “Long sleeves, gloves, a compass, a small spade and shears. Basic Boy Scout stuff. You don’t want to come home with the itchy stuff Oklahoma also provides.”
Photo by Mark Hancock