When it comes to food, most of us believe in the old adage, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” If we want to eat, the majority of us either have to pay for a meal at a restaurant or buy ingredients at the grocery store. But not Hank Shaw. A forager since the age of three, Shaw, 41, lives in Orangevale in Sacramento County and has been foraging in the Sierra Nevada since 2004. The author of “Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast,” creator of the largest wildfood website, “Hunter Angler Gardener Cook,” and leader of the Cedar House Sport Hotel’s forage hike on Donner Summit last year, Shaw believes in getting his food the old-fashioned way — picking it, finding it, or catching it.
So what exactly is foraging? Shaw defines it this way: “Foraging is hunting for things that don’t run away, or if they run away they run very slowly.”
Summer is one of the best times for foraging in the Sierra. So get out your hiking boots, gloves, and backpack, and follow Shaw’s tips for finding these tasty delicacies right in your own backyard.
We are at the end of mushroom season, but the higher elevation you go, the more likely you are to find edible fungi. Morels finished at the end of June, and the spring porcini mushroom flush, which began in April at 3,000 feet, has moved up the mountain, following the moisture. The best place to find porcinis in July, according to Shaw, is at the highest elevations after a summer thunderstorm.
“No moisture, no mushrooms,” Shaw said.
Porcinis are a type of bolete mushroom. You can find king and butter boletes now, while queen boletes show up in the fall. At $42 a pound, the queen “is the prize,” said Shaw.
Currants are starting to appear, as well as gooseberries at 3,000 feet. Look for ripe berries on south-facing slopes. Gooseberries are covered in spikes, so you need gloves, Shaw warns. There are 12 different species of both types of berries, which can be found in scrubby areas. Gooseberries range from green to deep scarlet, and the juice makes for “phenomenal” syrup and jelly, according to Shaw. Currants also come in different colors; Shaw recommends the red ones (the blue and golden ones are only found near Shasta and Lassen). Manzanita berries can be used if they are dried. Throw them in a coffee grinder to make manzanita sugar, which can be used for baking or in coffee. It has a taste similar to apples, and Shaw recommends it for sweetening chamomile tea. Or you can heat the berries with water, mash with a potato masher, and then strain for manzanita cider.
“The trick is not to let the boiling water cover it,” said Shaw. “It brings out the bitter tannins.”
What to Look for in the Fall
Hazelnuts are the first to become ripe. Shaw finds them between 5,000 to 6,000 feet at the edges of pine forest areas.
Sit down to a forage dinner
Mountain Area Preservation hosts a Sierra Forage Dinner, Aug. 4, at the Cedar House. Info: email@example.com, (530) 582-6751