On Finding Food and Cooking in the Wilds

Book review by Kristina Sepetys


Maria Finn cooks on the beach. Photo by Maria Aufmuth used by permission from Forage. Gather. Feast. by Maria Finn (Sasquatch 2024)


“When going out into the wild to find your own food, you may get wet or muddy or scratched or scared. Often, you will get tired. You may find nothing, or so much you can barely carry it home. But it’s in these dark hollows, amid bushwhacking or escaping waves in the impact zone, where you will meet parts of yourself you’ve long lost, and even discover new aspects of yourself.” —From Forage. Gather. Feast. 100+ Recipes from West Coast Forests, Shores & Urban Spaces by Maria Finn


The summer house was in the middle of nowhere. Surrounded by dense, overgrown woods, there were no lakes, valleys, trails, rivers, playgrounds, or anything close by that might offer my children something to do. The prospect of staying inside for days on end, despite the fact it was cool and bug-free and there were shelves of books and games, wasn’t the most appealing.

Desperate to get out a bit, just after sunrise one morning I took a long walk, more of a bushwhack, through the woods. A ways into my wander, I happened upon a magnificent blackberry thicket, the tangled canes heavy with plump, purple-black fruits. I couldn’t tell if they were wild or some remnant of an abandoned property, but clearly no one but the birds had bothered the berries any time recently. I stood there plucking and stuffing them into my mouth, slowly moving to explore the extent of the seemingly endless stand. That’s when I found the blueberry bushes.

When I finally made my way out, my fingers stained reddish-blueish purple, arms and legs scratched by the sly curved prickles, I took a different route home and discovered a narrow dirt access road. The following day the kids and I packed up a picnic lunch, loaded containers into our backpacks, made protective sleeves from old knee socks, and set off under sharp blue skies on what I promised would be a great wild adventure. We rode our bikes as far as we could, the metal pail on my handlebars clanking against the bike frame as I pedaled. Ditching the bikes in the undergrowth along the little-used access road, we walked the rest of the way to the berry Shangri-La, excitement and anticipation overriding the not-inconsiderable challenges of the terrain.

The kids were enchanted throughout the long afternoon of picking and picnicking, and suddenly our nowhere house was somewhere, a place ripe with possibility. We made that trip many times during our visit, plundering the snarled vines for berries that we took home to scatter over oatmeal, stud in pancakes, and stir into thick, glistening, sugary filling for buttery crusted galettes. We had discovered the pleasures of foraging.

That summer adventure came to mind as I perused Maria Finn’s new cookbook, Forage. Gather. Feast. 100+ Recipes from West Coast Forests, Shores & Urban Spaces. While Finn provides instructions to foragers for gathering and preparing foods, the book is about more than foraging. As Finn writes in her introduction, “This book encourages you to rewild yourself and eat inspired by our surrounding ecosystems.” A Sausalito houseboat denizen, Finn runs Flora & Fungi Wild Food Adventures, a series of food-centric events and camps exploring wild lands between California and Alaska, where she teaches people to forage and open-fire cook.

The first thing I did when I picked up Forage. Gather. Feast. was to flip through the index to see if any of the 110 recipes involved berries. No surprise, as berries are so easy to forage, I found more than a dozen. Among them are a mocktail made with honey, blackberries, limes, sumac, bitters, and chile flakes; instructions for salt-fermented blueberries (sour and a little savory after just five days and ready to use on a salad); and a galette that runs circles around ours for appeal with the addition of wildflowers that are baked into the crust. There are also recipes involving huckleberries, mulberries, and other berries that we didn’t scavenge on that particular trip (though we would on others).

The book is organized by where the main ingredients are found: coast, forest, or within urban ecosystems. Some dishes are quite easy and straightforward, while others involve harder-to-find items or require more effort to prepare (smoking, fermenting, or open-fire cooking for example). Non-foragers intrigued by the recipes will find many of the ingredients available in local shops. And for reasons of over-harvesting, licensing, and health safety, Finn urges readers to forage sparingly for some items (oysters are an example) or purchase from local purveyors.

One recipe that caught my eye describes harvesting and preparing seaweeds to be baked into a dense seeded bread. Another, which would be lovely this time of year, is a dish of steamed clams with pea shoots and garlic. I also noted her recipe for oysters with a cherry blossom or wild berry mignonette and another for grilled porcini on rosemary skewers with porcini butter. All suggest outdoor adventures waiting to be had.

Most intriguing to me are the instructions for making sea salt and the forest section’s recipes involving pine trees, which reminded me of the winter holiday when I tried cooking with foraged pine needles and improvised recipes. How much tastier my efforts might have turned out with detailed instructions for making pine-flavored ice cream with candied pinecones; crispy crackers flavored with pine needle tips and porcini salt; or salmon gravlax with juniper berries and spruce tips. And I would have known that pine needles are best collected young and green in the springtime!

Finn has assembled an instructive book that encourages readers to become aware of the many flavorful edible foods that can be found in our local landscape, whether we’re bushwhacking out in the wilderness or exploring our urban backyards.


FORAGE. GATHER. FEAST. 100+ Recipes from West Coast Forests, Shores & Urban Spaces
By Maria Finn, Photography by Maria Aufmuth
(Sasquatch Books, April 2024)


Meet Maria Finn at the following book events:

  • Tuesday, April 30: Maria Finn is leading an anchovy workshop at Preserved, Oakland. This session is sold out, but check here to see if there might be added dates.
  • Friday, May 3, 6:30–9:30pm: A Responsibility to Awe: Dark Matter & Uncertainty. A dinner based on Maria Finn’s Forage. Gather. Feast. held at a curious mansion in Berkeley with talks by Frances Hellman, former Dean of Physics and UC Berkeley and poet, essayist, and translator Jane Hirshfield.
  • Saturday and Sunday, May 4 & 5: Maria Finn will be at the Santa Cruz Mountains Mushroom Festival  doing cooking demos.


Two Recipes from Forage. Gather. Feast. by Maria Finn (April 2024, Sasquatch); Photography by Marla Aufmuth

Morels, Asparagus, Fava Beans, and Fiddlehead Ferns with Burrata

Reprinted with permission from Forage. Gather. Feast. by Maria Finn with photography by Marla Aufmuth (Sasquatch, April 2020)

This dish is pure springtime—it’s fire and regeneration in one dish. Savory and bright green and creamy with a bit of acid and a reminder that the world is a wonderful place and springtime is more than a state of mind—it’s a sensory delight promising good things to come. There are many variations for this, as long as you don’t serve morels raw. If you use dried morels, soak them in hot water until they soften first and then cook them.

Makes 4 to 8 appetizer servings

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil
  • 1 cup fresh morels (about ½ pound), sliced in half, or quarters if large (see note)
  • 1 cup asparagus, cut into ¼ -inch pieces
  • ½ cup fresh fava beans
  • 6 to 8 fiddlehead ferns (boiled for 12 minutes)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Pinch of Urfa or other smoky chili powder (optional)
  • 1 large piece of burrata (or two smaller ones)
  • 2 tablespoons peppery, young extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon finishing salt
  • Fresh parsley for garnish (optional)
  • Crusty baguette

In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, melt the butter. Add the morels and sauté until soft.

Add the asparagus, fava beans, and fiddlehead ferns. Sauté for just a minute or two, until the greens become bright green. Sprinkle on the salt, pepper, and chili. Remove from the heat before they start to overcook.

Lay the burrata in the center of a platter and arrange the morels and green vegetables around the burrata.

Drizzle the oil over the cheese and vegetables, then add the lemon juice.

Sprinkle the finishing salt and parsley over the burrata and enjoy with a sliced baguette.

Note: If using dried morels, use about 1 ounce, and then reconstitute them in hot water.


Chilled Springtime Soup

Reprinted with permission from Forage. Gather. Feast. by Maria Finn with photography by Marla Aufmuth (Sasquatch, April 2020)

This soup tastes like a fresh spring meadow, or a side yard someone forgot to mow—in the best possible way. It’s tart, tangy, garlicky, and refreshing. The flavors should make you want to dance a wee jig. If you use regular yogurt instead of Greek, wait until after you blend it all to add the water—you may not need it.

Makes 4 appetizer servings

  • 3 cups mixed wild greens (like miner’s lettuce, sorrel, arugula, chickweed)
  • 2 cups plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 cup water
  • ½ cup blanched fresh peas
  • Juice of 2 lemons (about ¼ cup)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped (about 6 leaves)
  • 2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped (about 10 small to medium mint leaves)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons toasted walnuts, chopped, for garnish
  • Extra virgin olive oil, for garnish
  • Red wine vinegar, for garnish
  • Sorrel flowers, for garnish
  • Finishing salt

Puree all the ingredients except the garnishes. Chill overnight or up to 3 days.

To serve, put into four bowls and drizzle olive oil over the soup, add a few drops of vinegar, and sprinkle with walnuts, flowers, and finishing salt. Serve immediately.