We’ve long been fans of foraged foods on this site, whether that be the seasonal delights of wild mushrooms, or the community gleaning of urban trees and gardens. These Wild Boxes are definitely an inspiration to get outside with an expert, and find a meal.
Chicken-of-the-woods mushrooms that fry up like their namesake, snappy sea beans that need no extra salt, sassafras syrup, and other edible offerings from the wilds outside the city limits.
“Alot of the talk about quarantine cooking, in the beginning, was, like, ‘Here’s twenty ways to use a can of tuna,’ ” James O’Donnell recounted the other day. “It was very much survivalist.” O’Donnell and his partner, Amanda Kingsley, own Allora Farm & Flowers, in Pine Plains, New York, where they grow what they need for their floral-design studio, plus vegetables. It struck him that “a lot of people at home could probably use feeling connected to the natural world right now, a little bit of excitement and wonder.” Before the pandemic, a substantial part of O’Donnell and Kingsley’s business was supplying restaurants with ingredients that they foraged sustainably from the acres that they lease, as well as from friends’ properties and from public lands in the Hudson Valley and on Long Island. With the restaurant market shrinking, they decided to experiment with a direct-to-consumer weekly-ish Wild Box, available for delivery in the Bronx, Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens.
To forage safely requires a good amount of training. Perfectly edible plants can look nearly identical to perfectly poisonous ones. In some cases, a berry that grows on a tree may be as palatable as its flower is lethal. Still, eating my way through a Wild Box gave me hope for my chances of surviving should even the canned tuna run out. Learn the rules—many inherited from indigenous peoples—and unlock access to treasures hiding in plain sight in thickets, on riverbanks, and by the shore. A hefty wedge of chicken-of-the-woods mushroom pried from a tree trunk performed exactly as its name would suggest, its edges pan-frying to a crisp golden brown that rivalled a buttermilk crust, its creamy interior shredding almost like meat.
A vial of sassafras syrup, made by steeping bark and small roots removed responsibly from a sassafras tree, was transformed into an aromatically fizzy glass of root beer when mixed with soda water. The detailed ingredient key that came in the box suggested treating tender, sweet, snappy sea beans—a succulent, also known as samphire, that grows on beaches and in coastal marshes—like salad greens, but to leave the salt out of your vinaigrette until you had tasted the dressed beans. Sure enough, they were so infused with a natural brine that they didn’t need a single grain. Continue reading