Most people forage for mushrooms at their local market, but Jordan Stettner of Dining Wild treks the woods to gather exotic mushrooms, wild greens and berries to sell at New Jersey farmers’ markets.
Dining Wild also leads foraging expeditions and has a Mushroom Club that customers can join to receive regular shipments of foraged edibles. And there’s always the Dining Wild website to search for tasty delicacies to order.
Stettner, 31, who lives in Bloomfield, never expected to become a professional forager.
Ten years he ago, he was working as a “manny,” a male nanny, caring for the children of professional photographer Dan Lipow. One day, Lipow asked Stettner if he would like to join him on a local foraging expedition.
“From there,” Stettner says, “it became an obsession for years. Dan and I would plan trips to go foraging.”
In 2010, Lipow was walking through South Mountain Reservation in Essex County when he met kindred spirit Ralph DiMeo leading a small group of friends on a mushroom hunt.
Stettner, Lipow and DiMeo eventually got together and began to provide friends and family with interesting wild produce. After awhile they expanded to serve the needs of local chefs. Then in 2014 they brought their products to farmers’ markets. Dining Wild exotics can now be found at farmers’ markets in Milburn, South Orange, Jersey City, Sparta and Boonton.
At the first sign of spring they harvest wild onion ramps. Then come morels. In summer they search for watercress greens and elderberries, among other things. In autumn, the season winds down with giant puffball mushrooms.
To extend their reach, they have connected with foragers on the West Coast who can ship them edibles during their longer growing season.
Farmers’ markets make sense for Dining Wild because the person at the table can explain to customers exactly what the plants are, what they taste like and how to cook or otherwise prepare them.
For example, what to do with those giant puffball mushrooms?
“They are huge and look like volleyballs,” Stettner says, “but you can cut them into inch-thick steaks, bread them and make mushroom parmigiana, Or you can par cook them, slice them thinly and make rollatini, like you do eggplant.”
Wild orange day lilies, abundant throughout the state, are another surprising edible.
“You can eat the bulbs in the spring, using them like you would water chestnuts,” Stettner says. “The stalks are great raw or sautéed, and the buds can be stuffed like zucchini blossoms.”
Stettner swears he has never gotten sick eating anything he has foraged. However, he has spent years studying published field guides and learning from other foragers. They may not be willing to reveal their picking spots, but “people are willing to share their knowledge,” especially about what is and isn’t safe to eat.
His advice for beginning foragers is simple:
“’When in doubt, throw it out’ is a mantra to live by,” he says. “You have to be incredibly certain.”
Click here to leave a comment