by Frank DiPofi
About the subject of foraging, I come from what is a long line of happy rangers. My father, Frank Poff, loved to search for seasonal delights. A strange interest for his time, he happily showed me what he knew and whatever new interests he might be developing. Let’s see…if I can rely upon my memory of youth one of our first adventures together was in our front yard where dandelions had taken over. A pestilence to me until then, one particular spring my father decided we would pick the young shoots and eat them in a salad. I am now 51 and I can still remember my reservations about eating that salad. The heretofore weed was delicious in a vinaigrette dressing. A side course recalled by me in such detail 45 years later must have really been something.
Where did Dad learn to forage, which to me also includes sport hunting. Mostly he got it honestly from his Italian parents Frank and Mary. Together they showed him how to hunt and find seasonal greens, berries, roots, fungi, and a host of many other items depending upon what you were doing at the time. Around 1975, I was in my Grandma’s basement and I asked her about foraging. As she often did, she brought me round to the subject of The Great Depression, which had turned foraging into a part time job for many. Back then the hills overlooking Midland PA were carefully mined for all their treasures. Even forty years after those hard times, Grandma explained how she carefully gathered dandelions each spring. She told me others would question her for bothering with the seemingly worthless greens. Like many others with Italian roots, we know a little more about such things. No sense explaining your love of cicoria (dandelions) or poke weed. After all, why teach others to appreciate what you gather as it may increase competition. Worse yet, they may not take the pains you do to ensure the resource thrives year-after-year.
Each year, I still gather blackberries as my whole family did years ago. I also harvest poke, a truly marvelous plant. Dad loved poke and I always have also. I would help him gather brown bag after brown bag of it each spring. What a green is this! It seemingly thrives everywhere, even in Richmond Virginia where I live now. Our minestra is at its pinnacle when poke is in season.
I feel a closeness to my parents and grandparents whenever I forage. I can remember the smallest associated details of conversations that took place decades ago. Could it be that foraging is more than what it appears to be? To me, hunting and foraging is a wonderful part of how I preserve my heritage.
Copyright 2013, Frank DiPofi, Richmond, Virginia