Having a Field Day: Students gather together for class that has a 50-year tradition of foraging

June 19, 2019

Led by Professor Emeritus Orin Gelderloos, UM-Dearborn's “salad bar course" — with its cattails, elderberry, mint and more — is more than nutritious; it teaches students how to understand and interact with local nature.

Orin Gelderloos is an elderly white man with oval, wire-frame glasses. He is wearing a powder-blue button down.

This article was originally published on June 19, 2019.

When it comes to the importance of locally sourced food, Orin Gelderloos doesn’t mince his words — but the same can’t be said for the spinachy-tasting lamb’s quarters plant that grows outside of the Science Faculty Center building.

Those leaves he happily blends — along with lemon and butter — into a thick soup that includes purslane stems and cream cheese for his Field Biology course to adventurously enjoy.

“Try it. It’s good,” he tells the class as he strains the froth off the top. “You’ll know what you are eating and where it comes from. You can’t say that about most of the foods available to us today.”

Field Day 1

Also on the lunch menu: A salad (common plantain, red clover, Basswood leaves, wild leeks and more), Daylily buds sautéed in butter, Black-berried Elder flower fritters, boiled cattails eaten like it was a corn cob, and fresh tea — either mint or Hemlock (no, not like the kind Socrates drank).

Field Day 2

“The importance of this meal is learning what you can do in your own backyard and neighborhood,” says Gelderloos, who placed recipe cards at each prep station. “After spending seven weeks in the field, our students get very familiar with the flora and fauna on campus. Then I send them out to forage on the last day of class. I like to think that we’ve gotten creative with the recipes over the years based on what we’ve found.”

The class has taken place on campus every summer since 1970, and the lunch was added a year later when Gelderloos brought in a guest educator — famed botanist and long-time U-M biology Professor Warren H. Wagner — who introduced the applicable culinary lesson to the class. Wagner, who retired in 1991, did something similar with his Ann Arbor students.​​​​​​

Gelderloos, who officially retired April 30, says this course is one of his favorites. He stayed on through June to teach it for what he believes is his last time.

Field Day 3

“Well, that’s the plan. But never say never. And never say always. Just be open,” he says, gesturing for students to fill their mugs with soup.

Orin Gelderloos doesn’t want to give foraging recipes without sharing the proper training first. But his Celery Seed Dressing recipe, which he’s had in his family for years, always makes an appearance at the annual class lunch. 

Recipe for Celery Seed Dressing

1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dry mustard
1 tsp celery seed
1/2 of a small sweet onion
1 cup oil
1/3 cup vinegar

Beat in blender thoroughly. Enjoy on your salad.