I scan the ground at my feet and spy the green clover-like specimen I am instructed to look for. As I am encouraged to do by our knowledgeable guide, I pluck it from the grassy patch and pop it into my mouth. I taste a mild tangy lemon flavor on my palette. Not bad. “Welcome to backyard foraging,” someone next to me bellows. Despite the fact that I feel like I am eating weeds, well, because I am, I learn that this is yellow wood sorrel, a native weed in North Carolina, and is great in gin cocktails. Hmm… tell me more.
Our foraging guide is Becky Beyer from No Taste Like Home in Asheville, who has a master's in Appalachian studies and speaks across the Southeast on Appalachian folk medicine, wild foods, and ethnobotany (huh? the study of the region’s plants and their practical uses). As we walk along the edge of an overgrown field of wildflowers and weeds, we learn about how to steep white yarrow for a cold remedy tea, how orange daylily blossoms are delicious fried after being stuffed with goat cheese, and how sassafras makes a mean root beer and adds a tasty zest to gumbo. We encounter all sorts of wild edibles from greens to flowers to roots that can be used to infuse drinks, soups, stews, teas, and salads, and many of which can heal a bevy of ailments. Who knew?!
Our organizer and host for this day in the country called Foraging Adventure and Wild Food Lunch is Kristin Jorgensen, a talented cook, caterer, and event planner. Entertaining our group of twelve today at her charming event hideaway called The Barn just outside of Cashiers, Kristin has refurbished the old and once minimalist structure, previously owned by her grandparents for almost thirty years, into an inviting, shabby chic finished space where she hosts dinner parties, events, and cooking classes.
The Barn is where childhood summers spent with her grandmother were majestically filled with foraging adventures picking blueberries and apples, making jams and pies and sipping lemonade under the big oak tree. Her grandmother’s motto, “Found food always tastes best!” is imprinted deep in Kristin’s heart and for today’s event, Kristin shares this passion with us. She has turned an ordinary Sunday into an extraordinary Sunday that is well organized, educational, and delectable. Our diverse group, hailing from Atlanta, Asheville, and the local area, enjoys an enlightening foraging tour and then relaxing under The Barn’s signature oak tree sipping Kristin’s Wild Lemon Balm Mint Smash (see the recipe on the next page).
As the glorious smells of a wild greens pesto, country ham, and burrata pizza make their way from inside The Barn to the outside, our party takes its cue to head inside to eat. We gather around the state-of-the-art kitchen watching Kristin cook up some fabulous eats and gush over The Barn’s interior, lovingly decorated with antiques, linen, silver, wood, stainless steel, and glass. With many original effects of the barn still intact like the wide plank flooring, the original beams across the ceiling, and the powder room humorously made to feel like an outhouse (only with real plumbing), the place feels bucolic but refined. As the warm, gentle breezes of the day billow through the open doors and windows, the views of the pasture, fields, and distant mountains make for a surreal setting.
With the pizza appetizer happily digesting in our bellies, we are invited to sit down at a long, beautifully appointed table for our much-anticipated three-course wild foods lunch meticulously prepared by Kristin. Each course sticks with the theme of the day to include some sort of wild edible. Our starter is a delicious Magenta Lamb’s Quarter (yes, a weed) Gnudi with ramp butter and parmesan, a naked ravioli that melts in your mouth. The chatter dies down at the table as we all dissect and savor the flavors. Our second course of Sunburst trout with a wild sorrel mayonnaise with wild greens and field peas is equally as impressive. The trout is so fresh like all of Kristin’s ingredients, which come from sustainable sources from the surrounding area. Our third course, a dessert of wild lemon balm pannacotta and wild fennel shortbread cookies blows everyone away. It is the perfect ending to a perfect meal. As laughter and joyous conversation fill the room, I look down the table and see nothing but smiles. You almost want to shout, “We did it! We ate prepared weeds!” but really the meal is so much more than that because you can feel the love Kristin infused into each preparation.
Her intention to create a nurturing space for comfort, happiness and good food where people can nourish their bodies and souls has been accomplished. “I hope that [guests] too will be affected by the magic that my grandparents created here,” confides Kristin, “and for the simple rustic beauty…unplugged and off the beaten path…and sharing a meal together.” One guest, Carol Saul, an attorney from Atlanta, put her perspective into words, “The almost magical serenity of the Barn’s setting in remote and lush Western NC enveloped us as we were served an amazing meal incorporating native edibles from the surrounding fields.”
The event calendar is quite packed for The Barn this season with interesting workshops, cooking classes, kids camps, and dinners under the stars. Check out The Barn’s website at www.thebarnnc.com for more dates and information.