This old lady is a country girl. My early years in the hollow in Appalachia bring back fond memories of foraging for food. Springtime is as good as any to add this often overlooked yet fun hobby to transform fantastic finds into a feast fit for a king.
Some of my earliest memories in the hollow are of me traipsing along behind my dad. He had a paper grocery sack tucked under one arm and his pocket knife on the ready in the other hand. He could identify dozens of varieties of wild greens. Sadly I have forgotten more than I remember but my favorite is still plantain—that old week that we seek to eradicate with RoundUp or Weedn’Feed.
I loved picking a mess of wild greens which we would tote back home for their multiple washings before sorting them and cooking them in a little bacon grease for supper. One of the ones I remember most is Poke Sallet. Though I moved away from the hollow on my fifth birthday, about 30 years later, I recognized some in southeastern Michigan. It was growing in the woods behind our little country home. I hastily picked it and called my mother to remind me how best to cook it. Yes, the berries will make you sick so be sure to only eat the leaves.
This was not the first adventure my husband and children had. We stalked the wild asparagus just like the title of Ewell Gibbons’ book which I promptly searched for at the library. It is like a bible for foragers. Stalking the Wild Asparagus should be required reading for all elementary age students. It is a plethora of information on foraging, but back to the asparagus. We knew where it grew locally and would start watching for it in the spring . . . most years we ate our fill over and over and still had plenty to put up in the freezer for the coming winter.
When I was about nine or ten, I remember Daddy having me help him cut milkweed. That’s right – milkweed. We would strip the leaves from the stems and put them into our paper sack. When we got home, we washed them and cut them into about one inch pieces. Daddy would cook them with a batch of white navy beans and they both looked and tasted like green beans except that they were hollow.
When I was a teenager, I discovered the most delectable thing on the planet—morel mushrooms. Daddy called these ‘dry land fish’ and they come in a couple of varieties. These are truly a delicacy and grow virtually everywhere in the US in the springtime. Following a thorough washing, we dredge them in flour and fry them in butter. Add a sprinkle of salt and you’re in hog heaven.
From wild strawberries, blackberries, black raspberries, huckleberries, blueberries, crab apples, pecans, walnuts, hickory nuts and more, we have tasted these delicacies and they have left a lasting impression on both our memories and our taste buds.
It’s actually quite amazing just how much food grows around us that we are not at all aware of. I challenge each of you to find a good book at your local library on the topic and take a family outing in search of an amazing side dish for your next meal. It is also prudent to know how to forage because the day may come, sooner than we may think, that it becomes as necessary to us for survival as it did to so many Americans during the Great Depression. It's also just good family fun!