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Thanksgiving Takes an Adventurous Twist with This Foraged and Fermented Menu


From gathering items from the woods during your morning walk to using homemade chevre in your risotto to fermenting your own bubbly, there’s something about working for your supper that makes it so much more delicious when you finally get to tuck in.

If you’re looking to really earn your Thanksgiving dinner this year, then perhaps this foraged and fermented menu is just what you need.

Goat Cooked in Forest Floor from New Wildcrafted Cuisine

The fact that I brew various primitive beers using wild plants and forest ingredients made it only natural that I would use my beers for cooking. This dish began as an exploration into the flavors of my local forest and has become a classic during our private dinners. You can use various types of meat but I really like using goat or lamb. Here in Southern California, late fall and winter are the best seasons to forage the components, but I also dehydrate and keep some for use during the dry summer and early fall. You get the best flavors with fresh ingredients, though. The basic recipe is pretty loose, and you can play around with your own forest ingredients; to some degree it’s an intuitive process and you’ll get better over time as you make various blends. My first attempts were . . . well, let’s just say that they needed work. Take the time to experiment before you actually serve this dish to guests.


2 pounds (900 g) goat shoulder, cut into large chunks; you can also use shanks
Olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 large onion, chopped roughly
A large handful of forest floor mix, roughly composed of mostly fresh green grass, two to three mugwort leaves, fall leaves (I use willow and cottonwood), a few mushrooms (turkey tail, oyster), and a very small amount of sagebrush, yarrow, and other strong aromatics; so the blend is (approximately):

  • 60% forest grass (fresh and  green is much better)
  • 10% mugwort leaves
  • 15% fall leaves (decomposing ones are even better for musky flavors)
  • 10% mushrooms  (oyster/turkey tail/others)
  • 5% other aromatics (California  sagebrush, fennel, yarrow,  black sage, and so forth)

1 California bay leaf (or you can use  2 regular bay leaves)
2 bottles (16 ounces/375 ml each)  mugwort or forest beer
Honey, salt, and pepper to taste


  • Heat the oven to 300°F (150°C).
  • Season the meat chunks with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or similar cookware over medium-high heat. Add the meat chunks or shanks and brown on all sides. When browned, add the garlic and onion and cook an additional 3 to 4 minutes, stirring frequently.
  • Add the forest floor and California bay leaf and mix with the meat. Pour in the beer, cover, and place in the oven. Cook for approximately 3 hours, turning the meat chunks every hour throughout the cooking time. When done, remove from the oven, taste, and add honey and salt or pepper if necessary. Let cool and place in the refrigerator overnight.
  • Reheat for 30 minutes prior to serving. When you plate, you have the option of removing the forest ingredients, leaving a few, or letting the guests pick the meat out of the mix.

Hot-Pink Fall Risotto with Chevre from The Occidental Arts & Ecology Center Cookbook

Offset this visually bold dish with a bright-green soup, a salad, and a dry white wine.

Serves 4–6


2 small beets (about 1 cup when chopped)
2 1⁄2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup arborio rice
1⁄2 cup dry white wine
1⁄4 teaspoon sea salt
4 ounces chèvre Black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley


  • Trim the tops off the beets and boil in a pot of water for 15 minutes.
  • Strain and submerge in cold water. When they’re cool enough to handle, slip the skins off and rinse.
  • Chop the beets into small 1⁄2-inch cubes and reserve.
  • Meanwhile, start the risotto. Warm the broth in a small, covered pot until it’s just barely simmering. Keeping the broth warm throughout the process will allow it to absorb faster and keep the total cooking time to about 20 minutes.
  • Heat the butter in a separate heavy-bottomed saucepan until melted.
  • Add the onions and sauté until tender. Add the rice and toast for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring constantly, until the edges of the rice start to become translucent. Add the white wine and cook until the liquid is almost absorbed, stirring continually. Add the diced beets, salt, and 1⁄2 cup warm broth, and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce the heat to a simmer and cover.
  • Every 4 minutes or so, check the rice to see if the liquid has nearly absorbed. If so, add 1⁄2 cup more broth and stir the risotto.
  • Then cover the pot again and check in another 4 minutes. Repeat this process for about 20 minutes or until all the liquid is absorbed.
  • Remove from heat and stir in chèvre and black pepper until the risotto is thick and creamy.
  • Adjust the salt if needed.
  • The rice should be al dente and firm to the tooth without being crunchy.
  • Top with parsley and serve.

Note: For a less high-maintenance risotto, add all the broth at once when you add the beets and salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer covered for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. The rice may be slightly less al dente, but the risotto won’t demand your full attention during the cooking process and the outcome will still be delicious.

Mock Dry Champagne from Wild Fermentation

Timeframe: 6 to 8 hours

Vessels: 2 resealable quart/liter  plastic bottles

Ingredients (for 2 quarts/ 2 liters)

½ cup dry damiana herb
Juice and whole rind from 1 lemon
¾ cup/185 grams sugar


  • Boil water.
  • Combine the ingredients and steep. Place all the ingredients except the yeast in a crock or non-metallic bowl. Cover with boiling water and let steep, covered, until cool.
  • Strain the liquid and divide between two 1-quart/1-liter bottles.
  • Top off with warm water.
  • Add yeast. Sprinkle about ¼ teaspoon bread or champagne yeast into each bottle. Let it sit for a few minutes then shake the bottles to dissolve and distribute the yeast.
  • Ferment on the counter. Check the carbonation after a few hours. Bleed the carbonation by gently and slowly opening the bottles. Refrigerate when they seem strongly carbonated, generally within 6 to 8 hours. If you want an even more champagne-like experience, leave it in the fridge for 4 to 5 days, carefully bleeding several times a day to release excess pressure.

Persimmon Pudding from The Fruit Forager’s Companion

Serves 12

So much better than pumpkin pie, and easier, too. Break this out for Thanksgiving. You can use Hachiya or American persimmons.


1½ cups (195 g) unbleached  all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon allspice
2 cups (480 ml) persimmon puree (Hachiya or American)
⅔ cup (130 g) sugar
3 large eggs
1½ cups (360 ml) buttermilk,  preferably whole-milk
¼ cup (60 ml) heavy cream
¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter,  melted and cooled


  • Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C), and position a rack in the middle.
  • Grease a 13 × 9-inch (33 × 23 cm) baking dish, preferably glass or ceramic.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and allspice. Set aside.
  • In a large bowl, beat the persimmon and sugar. Beat in the eggs, then the buttermilk. Stir in the cream. Fold the flour mixture into the pulp with a rubber spatula until smooth. Stir in the melted butter. Scrape the batter into the greased dish.
  • Bake until the center is set but still jiggly (like a pumpkin pie), 50 to 60 minutes. The sides will rise up and brown, and the surface of the pudding will be shiny and turn amber.
  • Cool to room temperature, and serve with crème fraîche or whipped cream. The pudding will keep 2 to 3 days at cool room temperature. I suppose you could refrigerate it, but I like it better when it’s not cold.
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