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Enjoying wild food

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POSTED August 12, 2013 1:16 a.m.

A short while ago, my daughter came from the East Coast with my grandkids to visit for awhile. She asked me if I would take her and the grandkids out to the woods along the river to pick rose hips. I cut some empty milk jugs to fashion collection containers and off we went to the wild rose patches in the woods.

The kids had a great time picking wild rose hips. There were far fewer scratches and thorn pricks than I expected. When we got back we spread the rose hips on an oven tray and placed it in the sun to dry. Next winter, whenever I have a cup of rose hip tea, I can think of my grandkids and the great time we had picking wild rose hips.

Looking back on my childhood, some of my earliest memories are of family excursions into wild places in search of wild foods. When we went on spring picnics in the foothills we often gathered bunches of Miners Lettuce and Brodea bulbs for a fresh salad to augment our normal picnic food. While we learned that the Native Americans used digging sticks to root up the wild bulbs, we also learned that a small metal weed digger made gathering Brodea much more efficient.

Something seemed really cool about gathering and eating the same foods as those prehistoric people.

We also picked bay leaves, wild mint, and wild onions that we’d bring home to dry for cooking spices.   Although we did harvest wild mushrooms and ate them with no ill effect, I quit that long ago because I’m not confident enough in my ability to identify the poisonous ones from the harmless ones. I might make an exception with Turkey Tail Mushrooms because their shape, size, and coloration are so distinctive. In addition I have read miraculous things about the medicinal qualities in Turkey Tale Mushroom tea.

Our wild diets were, of course, not restricted to plants, and fish and game were added to the mix as well. Catching a mess of catfish, bluegills or crappie was a great treat twice over, once when you caught them and then again when you ate them. Back then nobody even thought of mercury or selenium poisoning and yet we somehow managed to survive. Trout, of course were a staple for dinner on Sunday night or maybe Monday night.

Somehow our trout didn’t often make it to the freezer very often. To this day, I’m still not a big fan of frozen fish when I can have fresh fish.

As I evolved as an angler, I got more and more into catch and release fishing and even today will almost always come home empty handed from fishing trips. One exception to catch and release angling that I delight in is to stop along the stream at mid day, build a fire on a sandbar, and roast fresh trout on a stick. Food probably doesn’t get any healthier than that, no deep frying in fat or butter, heck, not even any salt! It’s just pure protein straight from some of the cleanest water on earth.  Toss in a salad of miner’s lettuce and wild onions and you’ve got a darned healthy diet. Now, if I could just eat like that the other six days of the week.

Wild game too, offers some incredibly good food with no additives, hormones, or preservatives. I recall taking my son Bo out with a 22 to hunt cottontails. We always brought along the fixings for bunny stew: usually potatoes, onions, carrots, and celery. I’d set up camp and get started on the vegetables while Bo had the task of securing the bunny. Even though the Fish and Game Code allowed more, we had a self imposed limit of one cottontail per day. At 5 years of age, Bo was learning never to take more than you needed, and to leave the rest to reproduce. We had some great discussions about conservation, about ethics, and about life itself over cottontail stew around a campfire.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that we can’t return to being a race of hunter-gatherers. We can however, from time to time, partake of old ways and learn from the practices of ancient peoples some important lessons about our place in this amazing world.

Until Next Week,

Tight Lines

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