Food Gathering Across Europe

Food gathering, or foraging for wild foods, provided one American couple a means of defraying the cost of the trip and having delicious meals during their European vacation in the late 1970s.

| March/April 1980

When we planned our recent overseas vacation, my husband and I realized that touring Europe after the "fall" (of the American dollar) would be a real challenge to our "makin' do" abilities. Yet, having spent many happy days "doing more with less" on four previous extended trips to the Alps and the Mediterranean area, we took a deep breath and decided to try it once more.

We knew that a vehicle would be necessary, as we wanted to see the back roads and visit many places that European public transportation doesn't reach. Unfortunately, the cost of new campers in Europe ($9,000 and up . . . and rising) was forbidding, and equipped-for-camping rental vans were in the $50-a-day range. So we scrubbed and tuned our venerable 1970 VW camper, and shipped it back to the continent of its birth. The $1,200 freight charge (from San Francisco to Le Havre, France) provided us with—in effect—a car, a hotel, and a do-it-yourself restaurant for eight months. (We followed the van over on an economy flight.)

The scenery was—from the start—every bit as marvelous as we remembered, though the trails did seem a mite steeper than they had on our first trip some 20 years before. The prices, however, really were steeper! We soon learned to walk (often slowly) uphill instead of riding the téléphériques . . . to make splendid crepes suzette in the camper instead of buying the luscious and costly pastries that were displayed everywhere ... to visit fewer places (and spend longish periods in each spot) so that we could keep our gas consumption down . . . and to enjoy a big salad "at home" first, then go out for the treat of one dish (instead of a whole meal) in a picturesque restaurant and—still later—have a coffee at a sidewalk cafe. (We called our dining habits "progressive dinners without financial indigestion".)

And we foraged wild foods! Food gathering enabled us to obtain free fruits and vegetables, instead of paying formidable market prices, and—at the same time—it improved our meals!

Going Wild

Most Europeans, like most Americans, have become so weaned from their ancestral habits that they no longer use wild foods. However, we did see country people, especially in Italy, foraging along the roadsides for fodder for their animals and potherbs for the dinner table (spring mushrooms and mustard greens are widely relished there).

We learned to pick only at the overgrown edges of fields, forests, or trails . . . and never in the middle of meadows. Alpine farmers resent tourists who tromp across their hayfields ... so we were careful to be polite.

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