Connecting with Black history through foraging

Illustration of woman admiring berries on tree

“I think I found a chanterelle!” I proclaimed, delighted by the prospect of having identified a choice mushroom.

“Actually, that’s a jack-o’-lantern, which you really don’t want to eat. They’re often confused with chanterelles,” Jada said.

This was my third foraging trip with the Boston chapter of Outdoor Afro, and I was starting to recognize some of the mushrooms common in New England—with the occasional slipup. New to Boston and hoping to make some friends, I joined a slew of meetup groups catering to people of color.

Soon, I found myself ambling through the forest with friends, trying to identify a fruiting tree. The consensus seemed to be crabapple, and we took turns harvesting small amounts to take home. As we brainstormed recipe ideas, I remembered the stories my mom told of her childhood in Jamaica, living around tropical fruit trees.

Having grown up in the US, I never dreamed of foraging for my supper, let alone with people who shared my background. Foraging, I learned, was a deeply communal practice—once outlawed for Black, Indigenous, and rural Americans.

I paused at a lookout point, in awe of the white oak leaves, now a deep auburn in late fall, and excited by the promise of acorns. Newly freed slaves foraged acorns to make butters and acorn meal while subsisting for months in the wilderness. Walking back, Jada paused to pick some wild sage, hoping to brew a tonic inspired by her aunt’s.

“Where I come from, we call that ‘bush tea,’” I said, “and my grandmother used native peppermint.”

I thought of the Black hunters, naturalists, and homesteaders who came before me, and lamented the knowledge lost to their persecution. But that day, only 30 minutes outside of Boston, what I felt most was gratitude for the kinship that foraging helped me find.

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