For the past several years “farm-to-table” has reigned as the dominant philosophy in the culinary world. This season’s cookbooks go a step further and herald the arrival of a more rustic movement: foraging, or “field-to-table,” as it’s called—has come to town.
From Ilona Oppenheim’s Savor to Pascal Baudar’s The New Wildcrafted Cuisine, these new books send readers digging for ingredients in forests and gardens and preparing dishes with little help from agriculture, let alone the supermarket down the road. In a field-to-table world you know where your parsnip has come from because you tore it out of the ground yourself.
That most of these books come from mainstream publishers suggests field-to-table may be on its way in from the fringes. But which take on back-to-the-land cooking is right for you depends on how deep into the forest you want to trek. We ranked this year’s field-to-table primers in order of how dirty you’re likely to get if you heed their instructions.
Cooking Wild: More than 150 Recipes for Cooking Close to Nature
Chef Ash and food writer Fraioli, who won a 2014 James Beard Award for their book Culinary Birds (Running Press 2013), take a “big view of ‘wild’” according to their publisher in this compendium of field-to-table recipes. While readers can expect to be led on foraging expeditions, the authors also include recipes featuring “wild” foods available at grocery stores. As much as for those wanting to go wilder with their cooking, this book is for those content to go wilder with their food shopping. Dirt index: Scuffed shoes.
Savor: Rustic Recipes Inspired by Forest, Field, and Farm
With a focus on dishes composed of only a few ingredients each, Oppenheim, a designer who lives in Aspen, Colo., lays out a novice-friendly guide to various foraging staples like wild mushrooms and fresh-caught fish, as well as field-to-table practices, such as home-milling flours. The techniques may be wild but the results are palatably familiar: Kale and Feta Quiche, Tomato Tart, and Pear Crisp are just a few of the recipes found within. Dirt index: Muddy pant legs.
The Forager's Feast: How to Identify, Gather, and Prepare Wild Edibles
Meredith, the author of the preservation guide Preserving Everything (Countryman 2014), speaks “as much for the cooking enthusiast as well as the survivalist” (to quote the publisher) in this collection of recipes that feature wild fauna found throughout North America. Catering to outdoors types as well as city dwellers, she lays out instructions for transforming dandelion into wine, plantain leaves into chips, and red clover blossoms into bread, to name only a few concoctions. It’s not your mother’s Sunday dinner, but, by sticking to relatively common ingredients, Meredith seeks to keep her recipes accessible. Dirt index: Dirt under the fingernails.
The Field to Table Cookbook: Gardening, Foraging, Fishing, & Hunting
Ebert, who writes about cooking wild game and fish for the Houston Chronicle, among other publications, lays out a season-by-season and climate-by-climate guide to growing, foraging, and even hunting one’s own food. More than simply a collection of recipes, the book serves as a kind of kill-to-serve instruction manual, with asides on cleaning, drying, curing, deboning, dressing, and preserving various items. Lest gatherer types begin to feel excluded, the book also includes tips on foraging and cooking with vegetables. Dirt index: Soiled head-to-toe.
The New Wildcrafted Cuisine: Exploring the Exotic Gastronomy of Local Terroir
Baudar, a self-described “professional forager” whose ingredients and preserves have been used by such chefs as Ludo Lefebvre and Top Chef winner Michael Voltaggio, shows how to transform barks into vinegars, insect sugar into beer, and rocks into plates, among other things, in this avid guide to field-and-table cooking. While most of the recipes center on fauna found in Southern California, aspiring survivalists anywhere will likely appreciate Baudar’s deep commitment to the practice. Pickled acorns, anyone? Dirt index: Swimming in the primordial ooze.