|The Lodge at North Bend State Park|
Looking forward to my Wild Plant Hike, led by three wild plant gurus, I asked for a 8 a.m. wake up call on Day Two of my Wild Foods Weekend to get ready for the 1.75 mile trek along the Euell Gibbons Trail at North Bend State Park. The hike promised a look at “nut bearing trees, paw paws, mushrooms and berry producing shrubs/trees.”
A few minutes after I got out of bed, I noticed a soft pitter-patter on the lodge roof. Rain, the curse of many outdoor enthusiasts, certainly put a damper on my zeal to start out. The fact that I was nursing a cold gave me even more reason to get back under the covers for a longer snooze.
When I finally awoke and gulped down my first cup of joe, I could see some of the hikers returning to the lodge. Heartier folks than me, they seemed none the worse for their bit of less than clement weather. As they filed into the lodge lobby, the sun came out sporadically, intermixed with bouts of rain.
Three wild plant hikes were scheduled that morning – arranged according to length of the hike and in different areas of the park. One jokingly referred to as the geriatric hike took an easier route along the park roads and lawns.
By 11, almost everyone had returned to the lodge, and their varying amounts of exercise seemed to have stoked their appetites. Just before the doors to the lunch buffet opened, I managed to chat with Dana Babick, a woman from Vienna, Ohio, who was attending her very first Wild Foods Weekend. By chance she also entered the Wild Foods Baking Contest and became the first place prize winner for her Black Walnut Cake with Nasturtiums.
“I used an old recipe based on carrot cake but added zucchini and black walnuts,” she said.
The baker tested a sample cake the week before, but somehow used only two cups of flour instead of the three the recipe called for. “It crashed and was a disaster,” she said.
Brave enough to try again the day she arrived at North Bend, she ended up taking first place along with $50 in prize money. “I’d never before entered a baking contest and this proves that anyone has a chance to win,” she said. “People think they have to be gourmet cooks to enter, but this shows that that’s not necessarily true.”
After lunch, just before the start of the Wild Foods Table Talk held out under a large tent on the lodge lawn, I managed to corner Glenn Roth , a wild foods advocate from Akron, Ohio who’s been “putting on” wilds foods dinners for 50 years. Roth gathers all the foods he uses for his culinary events over the course of a year starting with early greens in the spring and ending with the wild game he secures in late fall.
“Because I have to forage everything during its growing season, it takes me almost the entire year to get everything I need,” he said.
As an entrant in this year’s cooking contest, his crawfish fritters came in first place. Roth said he’s been making them for years and has been gathering the tasty crustaceans from the streams of Ohio since he was a boy.
“I still get a few nowadays but the ecology has really reduced their numbers,” he said. “There’s too many people and too much pollution. So I now buy the crawfish I need to cook with.”
I got it from the horse’s mouth that his recipe calls for a mix of corn, green pepper, eggs, cream, flour, sugar and baking powder. And of course, crawfish.
“I fry them in lard in an electric skillet,” he said. “I like cooking with lard because it gives everything a great flavor.”
Roth is no newcomer to winning at the annual Weekend get togethers. He’s won twice before for food and once for a beverage - a vegan tea made with 12 different wild herbs sweetened with maple water.
A little late for the Table Talk, I missed the first few minutes but got to listen to two of the most knowledgeable people on the subject of wild foods I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. Leda Meredith from Brooklyn, New York, and Mike Krebill of Keokuk, Iowa, are both published authors.
Meredith is a lifelong forager and food preservation guide for About.com. She holds a certificate in Ethnobotany from the New York Botanical Garden where she is the gardening program coordinator for Adult Education .She is also an adjunct professor at Adelphi University where she won the Teaching Excellence Award. With a Ph.D. in creative writing, she’s been featured in the New York Times, New York Post and on the Martha Stewart Show.
Krebill is a 7th Grade Life Science Instructor at Keokum Middle School and author of “The Scout’s Guide to Wild Edibles.” As a renowned forager and Scout leader, Krebill profiles 40 widely-found edible wild plants and mushrooms of North America in his book, available on amazon.com. In it, the author features color photos and positive-ID tips for each plant along with DIY activities and recipes.
|Mike Krebill and Leda Meredith Lead the Outdoor Table Talk|
In the table talk, the two authors explored wild edibles such as cattails, sumac and a variety of mushrooms and passed around samples of sumac-ade, and mock cattail pulled pork, served on crackers. Surprisingly, it tasted a lot like pulled pork.
“Euell Gibbons once called cattails the ‘Supermarket of the Swamp,’ Krebill said. “It has a wide variety of uses that includes parts like the stalk, the rhizome, pollen and the sheath of the flower head.”
|Berdine's Five and Dime|
With a little time on my hands, I drove to Harrisville five miles down the road for a look at Berdine’s, a 108-year old Five and Dime store that prides itself on purveying items found in similar stores a half century ago. Remember the wax soda pop bottles full of flavored water? How about the Octagon soap, Chinese paper finger traps and penny candy counters?
|Berdine's Penny Candy Counter|
The store is jam packed from floor to ceiling with everything imaginable, and browsing the historic building’s oak shelves and wooden counters under a tin ceiling should be a visit down memory lane for those over 50.
Back at the park, before the 4 p.m. presentation of prepared wild foods buffet, I managed to spy on some of the attendees in the prep area getting the dishes ready for the buffet table. Just outside on the deck, I was drawn to Judy McCleod of Columbus, Ohio and Cathy Beckett of Westerville, Ohio who were busy making ice cream. What fascinated me most were the interesting flavors they were fabricating. But more on that later.
|Judy McCleod and Cathy Beckett Making Delicious Ice Creams|
When it came time to sample and graze, I have to admit the large crowd did a great job being civil as they made the rounds of the tables lined with unusual foods. No one was pushy or ill-mannered, and the entire feast went as smoothly as imaginable. Seems like the wild food crowd can also be civil and tame.
|A Hearty Platter of Wild Rice with Purslane, Frog Legs and Duc|
Some of the foods sampled were first time experiences for me. Others were first time preparations of things I’ve had before such as venison, elk, wild turkey, Canada goose, frog legs, fiddlehead ferns and persimmon.
In the first category, I had cicadas three ways – in peanut butter bars, in egg rolls and in chocolate cherry muffins, as well as barbequed raccoon, possum puffs and paw paw pie (one of my favorites).
Interesting preparations of foods I’d had before included venison and elk meatballs; elk jerky and Alaskan fiddleheads with cream cheese; a platter of wild rice with purslane, frog legs and duck; turtle chowder; squirrel Mulligan; persimmon fruit cake and an array of interesting desserts, jellies, wines and beverages.
The ice creams proved to be special treats that came in flavors of butternut, elderberry, hickory nut and, my personal favorite – paw paw.
In short, I left the buffet room feeling something like Andrew Zimmer, the noted consumer of exotic foods and daring dishes .I was also amazed that there was so much variety and so much to choose from, and I wondered how folks were ever going to be able to sit down for dinner, scheduled for two hours after that most memorable feast.
|Speaker Leda Meredith|
The evening talk by Leda Meredith was a real eye-opener to the possibilities of foraged foods. Her slide presentation of beautifully prepared wild foods complimented her informative discussion titled “Wildly Nourishing: Foraging as Part of a 21st Century Sustainable Food System.”
The rationale for adding wild foods to our American dietshe explained not only greatly reduced the carbon footprint on the environment, it also proves to be nutritionally beneficial and part of a healthy lifestyle that gets people moving outdoors in search of tasty comestibles that also come with a zero price tag.