Foraging is the act of searching for and gathering wild food. Perhaps you remember learning about nomadic hunters and gatherers in grade school—these early societies moved from place to place, following animals, fruits, and vegetables in order to sustain life. Modern humans followed this way of life until about ten thousand years ago, when agriculture was developed.
Today, most of the world’s hunter-gatherers (or foragers) have been displaced by farmers and pastoralists. Modern foragers often look for food in their surrounding environments, and do not move from camp to camp like their predecessors. In fact, foraging has become a livelihood for some—by sourcing wild food resources for restaurants, chefs, markets, and the like.
Below, The Kitchens Sisters share their discovery of modern-day forager Angelo Garro (and his hidden kitchen).
“The Forager: Hunting and Gathering with Angelo Garro”
We met Angelo Garro nearly a decade ago, when we were working on Waiting for Joe DiMaggio, a Kitchen Sisters radio story about the return of Joltin’ Joe at age eighty-three to his parents’ village in Sicily. We needed some Sicilian translation, and a friend told us about a blacksmith from Sicily who lived in his forge, hidden down an alleyway in San Francisco, and who made artisan wrought iron and cured his own olives. He sounded promising.
Davia called Angelo out of the blue and asked him to listen to our tapes over the phone. He stopped everything he was doing to translate the recordings, and then invited her to the forge that evening for rabbit and polenta. We were in the midst of the mix of DiMaggio, so she didn’t make it out that night.
A few months later the phone rang. “Are you coming for lunch or are you coming for dinner?” It was Angelo. The next day Davia spent a rainy afternoon eating lunch by candlelight. Everything was handmade by Angelo: the salami, the prosciutto, the pasta, the sauce, the wine, even the candlesticks.
The next week, after returning from hunting, he called to invite us to a wild boar dinner. Then a few months after that, we went foraging for fennel. That’s when The Kitchen Sisters began following Angelo, as he follows the seasons, harvesting the wild, re-creating in wrought iron and in cooking the life he left behind in Sicily.
Angelo Garro shares his grandmother Sebastiana’s recipe for wild fennel patties. You won’t find fennel, the beautiful, furry green that covers coastal California, in your produce section. It’s too fragile and delicate for mass harvesting, but for a few weeks each spring, you can forage for it in and around San Francisco and anywhere that early Italian settlers may have sprinkled seeds. Angelo calls this “fenneling.” Somehow with Angelo, most all his nouns somehow become verbs. After fenneling, it’s time for mushrooming, then eeling. Come fennel season, Angelo gathers a group of friends and heads to a hillside or roadside or a freeway underpass for a fenneling foray. For Angelo’s many friends, the first fennel patties of the season are a beloved rite of spring.
Fennel hearts are the bright green, furry pieces that are in the center of the green shoots of fennel. Unlike conventional fennel, which is about the familiar white bulbs, wild fennels is all about the greens; the white bulb and stalks are not visible. When you’re gathering fennel, pick only the young fronds and lay them in a paper bag horizontally—all the tops should be pointing in the same direction. Keep them together in your hands as you wash them gently in a bucket of cold water.
Listen to Angelo’s entire Hidden Kitchens story on NPR.
We’ve tweaked Angelo’s recipe a bit and are currently serving our version of classic fennel cakes at The Factory Café.
WILD FENNEL CAKES
Yields 12 cakes
2 cups fennel bulbs
½ cup onion
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoon fennel top, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
Pinch of crushed red pepper
1 cup sourdough bread crumbs
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place the fennel bulbs and onion into a food processor. Using the grater attachment, mix into a fine mesh.
Sauté the fennel mixture in olive oil, with garlic added, for about 5 minutes.
Let cook and add next 6 ingredients. Mix well. Form twelve patties (about 3 inches in diameter) by hand or with a medium-sized round cutter.
Pan sear the patties, and then bake at 350 degrees for 5 to 7 minutes, or until golden brown.
Garnish, if desired. Serve immediately.
P.S. This insightful story from Science Friday highlights the do and don’ts of foraging your own food.
P.P.S. Thank you to Davia and Nikki for letting us share this story.