Perhaps more than anywhere else in the country, people in the PNW are wildly in touch with their hunter-gatherer gene. Maybe it's the mild weather that makes it possible to unearth delicious treasures year-round, or simply the fact that we're smart--at the very least, we'll know which mushrooms will or will not doom us when the apocalypse finally does hit. That doesn't mean it's always easy to come home with a bag of dinner, though.
Photo provided by Langdon Cook
"Not surprisingly, winter is the forager's quietest season," says Langdon Cook, Seattleite and author of Fat of the Land: Adventures of a 21st Century Forager. While all other seasons provide more harvest opportunity and variety, Cook says that these rainy winter months are the ideal time for shellfish, including clams, oysters, and crabs, because they're busy storing up fat reserves for the summer. "Fat means flavor," Cook adds.Jon Rowley, local food hero and oyster aficionado, agrees. "When the skies turn gray in Seattle, that's when it's time to eat oysters," he told me. Rowley even organizes winter tours--affectionately named after Lewis Carroll's poem, The Walrus and the Carpenter --at the Taylor Shellfish oyster beds because the cold weather and low tides make for exceptional bivalves.
But what if you hate seafood? Aside from the fact that you're definitely living in the wrong state, there's still hope if you're crazy enough to brave the rain and cold to dig in the dirt. Mushroom species, including yellow-foot chanterelles, hedgehogs, and black trumpets, all tolerate a degree of cold, says Cook. And those prized black truffles are at their height right now, if you're lucky enough to find them.
As we look toward spring, Cook's excited about greens, including stinging nettles, which to me sound like something I might pick up after a night of bad decision-making, but Cook assures me they're quite tasty. "I picked my first batch of those at the beginning of February last year," he says. "You might also find some rose hips still hanging around," he adds. "They're sweeter after the first frost."