Stalking the Wild Nostalgia

Back when I was a kid growing up on the farm I discovered a natualist author by the name of Euell Gibbons. He wrote books – informed by his own life experiences and necessities – about how to survive and thrive by eating wild food. Many of his plants and animals were native to southern Michigan so one spring, book in hand, I set out to provide for my family.

Just to put things in perspective, our farm was pretty stable, and if there was one thing we didn’t lack, it was food. I probably had more steak by the time I graduated from high-school than most people have during their entire lives.

I immediately discovered two things.

First, timing is everything. There are no acorns in May. There are no fiddlehead ferns in September. Day-lilies were edible last week. This week they have the texture of cardboard.

Two: a hungry Oakie (as Gibbons described himself) will eat things that a well-fed farm boy will not. Possum. May apple. Any of a number of mushrooms. Eel.

That is not to say that there were not a few successes. Sassafras tea is one of the most wondrous good drinks in all the world, especially with a spoonful of brown sugar thrown in. Crayfish are damn yummy, if much smaller in Michigan than in, say, Louisiana. Frog legs brought purpose to the deaths of the bullfrogs we shot full of BBs every summer. Day-lily pods cooked in butter taste much like green beans, but I imagine a sufficient quantity of butter will make most anything taste like green beans. Mulberries, strawberries, blackberries, gooseberries, raspberries, cherries, apples…I didn’t need a book to figure them out. Likewise, bluegills. Never got around to asking the neighbor who trapped rattlesnakes for MSU if he would send us over some meat some time.

On my desk in front of me sits the 1974 Field Guide edition of Stalking the Wild Asparagus. It is green, and beat up, and Euell Gibbons, chewing on a leafy twig of something, grins from the cover. Leafing through it, I found a note which said the following: “Tried the pods. If you are hungry they would fill the empty space. Pg 130.” Page 130 start a four-page description of the culinary joys of milkweed. I never got around to trying that one.

A few years ago several of Gibbons’ books were reprinted. Stalking the Wild Asparagus and Stalking the Blue-Eyed Scallop, the two with which I am familiar, are fantastic reads, even if you never in your life plan to eat anything which doesn’t come out of a can.

As an amusing side note, take a look at what Amazon.com recommends in their “Customers interested in XXX may also be interested in:” section. By gum, foragers are just not to be trusted.