Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Our ancestors were hunters, gatherers, fishers, and farmers. There were no pilots, cable installers, computer programmers, or telemarketers. Food was either gathered, raised, or killed fresh and served in relative purity straight from Mother Nature’s pantry.
Today, most consumers live in close proximity to a large grocery store, where hunting through the butcher’s cold case or deli and foraging in the produce section is about as close to the food source as they will ever get. It has been observed with sagacity that if all meat eaters had to slaughter their own meat, there would be mass conversion to vegetarianism. Needless to say, that may never happen, but it does show how far most of us are from the real process of food foraging and/or production.
As I wander through the orderly vegetable and fruit displays in our area’s new mega market, I hear thunderclaps and the sound of soft rain as overhead misters automatically spray the vegetables. In the egg and dairy section, I am serenaded by mooing cows and clucking hens. By the meat and fish counter I hear the sounds of the ocean and the piercing cries of seagulls. In the pet section, I am reminded to buy the kitty her cat food with the plaintive meows of hungry kitties and barking dogs. These nature recordings are more than mere entertainment or novelties. I know store managers are subtly trying to manipulate my natural foraging instincts by attempting to make me feel like a self-sufficient primitive hunter/gatherer, or at least like I’m back on the farm, filling my basket with the earth’s fresh bounty. The recordings seem to delight most shoppers and their children, but they do nothing but annoy me. I resent any form of sales manipulation, especially on the subliminal level.
As a child, I loved to walk along ditch banks in the spring and summer to find tender greens, fruit, and whatever else was free and edible.Given the opportunity, I prefer to forage for wild foods,and also grow my own food for winter eats.
Take a hike, cutting across foothills and forest . . . preferably with someone, and determine if there are any wild edibles that haven’t been sprayed. Forget mushrooms unless you have been taught by someone knowledgeable in the field.
Puffballs are usually good, if picked fresh, and can be sliced and sauteed in Tamari (soy) sauce and margarine — a real delicacy!
Be a responsible forager, asking for permission when necessary. Be kind to the trees and plants you harvest, leaving enough behind for them to regenerate or reseed. Always leave some for the wild birds and animals that depend on them for survival. Never gather so much in one area that it looks stripped or bare . . . move along and take a little here and a little there as the animals do.
The most overlooked area to forage is our own gardens, yards, and property. If you have a dripping faucet, brook, or spring, plant mint, watercress, or other water-loving plants that can take care of themselves. In our own yard, we have many plants that require little but water. These include catnip, two types of oregano, peppermint, rosemary, volunteer mammoth sunflowers, garlic, and Echinacea Augustifolia. Our garden offers foragable edibles like Lamb’s Quarters and squash blossoms, which we dip in blue cornmeal batter and fry. My most wonderful garden “weed,” however, is Purslane.
It can be enjoyed for its tangy taste in raw salads, or fried lightly with other vegetables. Native Peoples have always valued this super-nutritional plant. Traditional herb lore prescribes this lowly plant as a treatment for the “sugar” disease.
Finally, one might consider becoming a modern-day Johnny Appleseed. If you are aware of ditches, brooks, or other damp areas, try planting Mammoth Sunflowers, watercress, tomatoes, or other (legal) herbs, trees, or seeds and care for them periodically during their initial growing stages. A few squash or pumpkin seeds can yield enormous amounts of food. Just don’t be too disappointed if fellow foragers discover and harvest your plants. True earth farmers and caretakers know that if we could give as freely as Mother Earth, no one would ever go to bed hungry.
Our surroundings are overgrown with edible herbs, greens, berries, roots, nuts, seeds and mushrooms, which survive the herbivores who dine on them by prolifically reproducing-so much so that people incorrectly identify them as "weeds." Although certain wild plants are poisonous, there are plenty of edibles that are easy to recognize, tastier than anything you buy, super nutritious and just plain fun to gather and cook with.