Veronica Williams is a local forager with her business, All Wild. She started picking mushrooms at the age of three with her mother in the Carpathian Mountains in her native Hungary. She remembers seeing a King Mushroom and falling in love at first sight. She now teaches her grandchildren how to spot a mushroom. Veronica picks mushrooms, salmon berries, & fiddlehead ferns. The first thing she picks in the spring are seabeans. Right after this interview, she will go pick wild celery.
Q: Good morning, Veronica. Thank you for being here! How did you become a local forager?
Oh my God, you really don’t want to go into that, do you? It might take me 4 hours to tell you (laughing). First of all, I came from the Carpathian Mountains, you know in Hungary. We emigrated here. We had an uncle here after the war. We got into contact with my mother and she remembered that she had two brothers there [in America] so we got in touch with the Red Cross and we found my uncles and the rest is history.
There were 4 sisters and my mom and dad. And you know we were just so fortunate because we ended up in Germany after the war, you know when Stalin came and we escaped Stalin by only a river. There was a river there and on one side was the British zone and the other side was the Russian zone. So the ones that ended up in the Russian zone—all my family, everybody they said okay the war is over, let’s go home, okay? My dad he had such a wonderful foresight he said no we’re not, we’re going to stay right here. We’re not going home.
These people went home—and I’m going to start crying now. Anyway, when they got home, they wouldn’t even let my grandfather go into his own house. They put him in a chicken coop. He had built 4 houses for his kids because his sons, living in America, sent him money every month. That’s how it was back then, all the boys gave the money to the father. He bought a whole section of timber and built them [his sons] homes. And when he got home, they put him in a chicken coop, and the next day he was dead. He died of heartache. After that, the rest of my family went to Siberia. My whole family spent 25 years in Siberia. Did you know Siberia was built on slave labor? Well, now you know.
So after 25 years, then Stalin croaked and Hitler croaked, I don’t know which was worse, Hitler or Stalin. At the time, we believed in Hitler because my dad came to work in Germany and he had nothing but nice things to say about Hitler. Jesus, everybody had a Volkswagon. We believed Hitler was great until he went nuts and started killing our Jews, our neighbors. We cried when they left. They took them away but they said “don’t cry for us, because you’re next.” And we were. We were.
So we ended up in the British zone, lucky for us that we didn’t go home.
I have memories of my grandmother—she died in Siberia. I loved my grandmother and always wanted to see her. She would always say “Veronica, come here I have something to give you. Look what I’ve got for you.” Her name was Sidonia. My grandmother taught me to knit, I was three years old and I’m still knitting. Look at this. Isn’t this cute? I do it because it relaxes me—I’m hyperactive.
When I first came to this country, I met an Indian woman. She told me Veronica, I’m the one who initiated [harvesting] the seabeans—we didn’t have stores back then, and seabeans were the first things we picked—and I’m the one who started it. And now they’re shipping them clear to New York. I first picked seabeans, and then salmon berries. I pick salmon berries to this day. They are so beautiful! And I sell to Chef John Newman from Newmans at 988. He takes them whenever he goes to New York to the James Beard House, he wants to take me but I’m so busy in the fall and so far I haven’t been able to get away.
Q: What do you like about The Blue Scorcher?
The Blue Scorcher, my God. It’s the neatest place. It’s funky, but I love the people. I love Iris and I love Joe. I don’t mind eating vegetarian—not that I am vegetarian, but like this is to die for (pointing to the frittata and potato breakfast she is about to eat when we finish our interview). They make great soups. The best soup they make is the curry soup either with cauliflower or something else. When they make it, I take one home so I can eat it again later. And they make the best pastries and they use my berries!
Veronica also has two amazing books for sale: Coastal Bounty, A Book of Recipes Gathered by Veronica Williams & Woodland Bounty, Mushroom Delights for Gatherers Gourmets.