Savvy NJ Forager Harvests Eclectic Cocktail Ingredients From a Surprising Spot

And with his new book, Slow Drinks, Danny Childs hopes to open people’s eyes to the edible, tasty plants all around them.

Danny and Katie Childs in the woods with their children

Danny and Katie Childs with their children. Photo: Courtesy of Chloe Dawson

You wouldn’t expect to find a sophisticated forager scouring neighborhoods, parks and even parking lots in search of cocktail ingredients, but then, you haven’t met Danny Childs. On a good day, he’s delighted to find mugwort, elderflower, spruce tips and black walnuts.

“People imagine foraging as this bucolic, middle-of-the-woods thing,” says Childs, bar manager at the Farm and Fisherman Tavern in Cherry Hill. “I did a collaboration with Tonewood Brewing and harvested staghorn sumac next to a Target. And we harvest all kinds of stuff in the giant parking lot behind the restaurant, like juniper, sumac, crab apples, birch, mulberries and dandelions.”

Childs maintains abundant gardens in the backyard of his Pennsauken home, as well as behind the restaurant in a strip mall off well-trafficked Route 70. 

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His interest in foraging began while studying ethnobotany at the University of Delaware, which brought him to South America to study medicinal plants. Planning to apply to medical school, he returned to the States, where he and his then girlfriend, Katie, moved into a military-grade tent on a Christmas-tree farm in the Pinelands while they figured out their next move. On a wintry day in 2014, broke and desperate for heat, Childs walked into the Farm and Fisherman Tavern and applied for a job. 

His new book, Slow Drinks: A Field Guide to Foraging and Fermenting Seasonal Sodas, Botanical Cocktails, Homemade Wines, and More (Hardie Grant), features photographs by Katie, now his wife and mother of their two sons. “So much of the agricultural development of the United States was born here in the Garden State,” he says. “So we delved into what we could forage and what we could grow, and specifically, what we can grow that has historical relevance here.”

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Childs associates early autumn with ripe pawpaws, a tropical-tasting fruit that grows wild in New Jersey (and is available cultivated at Robson’s Farm in Wrightstown). The autumn section of the book highlights the figs, apples, persimmons, pumpkins and cranberries you can find locally, and how to use them to make shrubs, amaros, tinctures, infused spirits and, yes, cocktails. “I want this,” he says, “to be accessible and adaptable.”

Childs hopes to help open people’s eyes to the edible and tasty plants around them, no matter where they live. “There’s stuff everywhere you can use that are, quote-unquote, weeds, or things undesirable to your average home gardener or horticulturists,” he says. “These plants are useful and delicious. There’s a world of possibility to experiment with, if you just change your perspective.” 

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