Friday, September 16, 2016

Nature Wonder Wild Foods Weekend – Three Days in North Bend State Park

The Lodge at North Bend State Park
When I got the notice of the 49th Nature Wonder Weekend, it immediately struck my interest. Three days of wild plant hikes, a wild foods walking expedition, wild foods cooking contests with tasting, tasting and more tasting and nature and plant talks by specialists certainly sounded interesting.

Held at North Bend State Park in Cairo, West Virginia, located about 42 miles east of Parkersburg, the weekend runs from Friday, September 16 through Sunday, September 18. To accommodate the 80 visitors who pre-registered, the park offers overnight options that include  lodge rooms, cabins of various sizes and campsites in a wooded area replete with the state’s renowned rounded hills and cozy valleys.

Even before the three day event kicked off at 3 p.m. on Friday with a park tour by van, I managed to revisit the quaint village of Cairo, sited along the North Bend Rail Trail, which runs from Parkersburg to Clarksburg. Six years ago, I biked a 26-mile long section of the trail that started in Parkersburg, passed through two tunnels, one of the supposedly haunted, and ended in Cairo.

Tall and Narrow Bank Building in Cairo

The small village on the Hughes River is much as I remembered it – cozy, picturesque and full of friendly people. The tall and narrow bank building was still there as was the bike rental establishment, the old general store and three eateries, which included a bakery and Shemp’s, a restaurant and ice cream parlor run by a retired couple -  Three Stooges fans from Philadelphia.

A little out of Cairo, I pulled onto a gravel road, drove past a white clapboard Methodist chapel from the late 1800s and headed for the Log House Homestead B & B. Charming is not the word to describe the two story log home built in the 1880s style with hand-hewn logs harvested on the property, Period furnishings, candlelit windows, polished wooden floors, exposed ceiling beams and stone fireplace are complimented by modern amenities like a Jacuzzi for two, a  kitchenette with microwave and frig and central air and heat.

 Log House Homestead B $ B, Cairo, W. Va.
The owner, Richard Hartley, built most of the log house himself while his wife, Martha, the author of two frontier and early American cookbooks, was scheduled to be one of the guest speakers later that evening, talking on the topic of “Foods on the Frontier Table in Western Virginia (1776 - 1860).

An Upstairs Bedroom

Throughout the afternoon attendees wandered into the Lodge, some of them displaying natural foods and nature- related books, various crafts and glossy photos of the natural world. Each item is sold under the honor system, meaning buyers were trusted to make payment of their purchase at the front desk or to the sellers themselves.

Original founder, Edelene Wood addresses the audience

One of the fascinating luminaries to attend the weekend was Edelene Wood of Parkersburg. She and her mother, Hazel, tried to make ends meet and help the family survive through the Great Depression by gathering wild food stuffs. A chance encounter with famed wild foods advocate, Euell Gibbons, then still unknown to the general population, spurred Edelene on to organize the first Nature Wonder Wild Foods Weekend in September of 1968.

The spunky woman managed to get Euell Gibbons to be the weekend’s first keynote speaker, and the event has been held annually every September since. Over the years, Edelene has written several books on her favorite subject, recipes included. She also became president of the Natural Wild Foods Association, a title she still holds

 Each year, at the event, prizes are awarded to the winners of the Hazel Wood Wild Food Cooking Contest , named in honor of one of the weekend founders.

Starting at 3 in the afternoon, some of the attendees jumped into vans and Jeeps for a tour of the 2,500-acre North Bend State Park, a park ranger or employee behind the wheel. Up and down the windy roads we went, taking in the beauty of the well maintained wooded area, the swimming pool, campgrounds and dam, which holds back the waters of a beautiful lake, stocked with bounteous fish I was told.

Following a massive buffet dinner at 6:30, everyone moved into a conference room to listen to  chief judge, Bill Faust, discuss the ins and outs of the wild foods cooking contest and Martha and Richard Hartley, talk on Foods of the Frontier table in Western Virginia.

Robert and martha Hartley Dressed in Period Clothing Speak on Early American Foods
Glenn Roth from Akron, Ohio took first prize for his crayfish fritters, followed by Emanuel May from Raleigh, N. C. for his Alaskan salmon. Dana Babick of Vienna, Ohio won the prize for the best cake – a walnut cake with nasturtiums.
Following the announcement, attendees were invited to the lobby where a large buffet tale laden with the contest entries were available for tasting.

The following recipe won a previous year's prize for best Wild Foods Dessert:

Black Walnut Pie
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup dark corn syrup. Bake until filling is set and pastry nicely browned, about 50 minutes. Cool and serve.
3 eggs
1 cup black walnuts
1 9-ince pie crust

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Beat together sugar, butter, salt, corn syrup and eggs. Stir in walnuts and pour into pie crust.

Foods Entered in Wild Foods Cooking Contest Available for Sampling

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