When I was a kid at the ashram in Ahmednagar, India, I used to read National Geographics from a dusty stack piled outside on a forever-stalled wooden cart. I can still picture the photograph of multi-colored Peruvian potatoes tumbled together like uncut gems, and an advertisement for canned ham that showed a forty-ingredient sandwich with each layer meticulously labeled, all the way down to “toothpick” and “olive” (on toothpick.)

An article I re-read multiple times was about a wild food expert taking the author to a beach and fixing a gourmet meal solely from sea urchins, mussels, seaweed, beach-adjacent plants, and other things he gathered. I finally figured out this year that the expert was Euell Gibbons, and that he was apparently somewhat famous in the sixties.

This book, a series of brief essays on identifying and cooking various American wild plants and the occasional animal, was more entertaining and interesting than inspirational. I would not want to attempt to identify and then eat any plant based on his partial black and white drawings and less than comprehensive descriptions. For instance, he draws several types of acorns, noting that some oaks produce acorns which are sweet and some which are extremely bitter, but does not say which produce which. This was disappointing, because I am sure I know what an acorn is and that is one of the very few types of wild food I would consider trying without in-person advice.

I’d recommend this as a period piece, as a writing reference if you have characters who dine off the woods, as a source of recipes if you can already identify all the plants, and as a good read if you like food and nature writing. It doesn’t work, as Gibbons seems to intend it to, as a useful field guide… unless, perhaps, you are much braver than I.

Has anyone ever dined off the land? (Other than fishing and berry-picking, which even I have done.)

Stalking The Wild Asparagus
sara: Once you visit...you won't want to leave the City of Books (books)

From: [personal profile] sara


I am sure I know what an acorn is and that is one of the very few types of wild food I would consider trying without in-person advice.

Please, please, PLEASE do not! Acorns need to be leached of toxins before they are consumed, particularly the sorts of acorns which one will typically find in your region. Unless you know how to leach them, you will make yourself quite ill (and the acorns will taste disgusting, too).

The reference you want is Charlotte Bringle Clarke's Edible and Useful Plants of California, which UC Press has kept in print since 1978.
badgerbag: (Default)

From: [personal profile] badgerbag


I like that too but think that Roos-Collins is way more charming !
tigerflower: (Default)

From: [personal profile] tigerflower


I have foraged for my dinner more than once. Cattails, clams/oysters/mussels/crawfish, various wild herbs/fruits/nuts/mushrooms/roots. I have hunted for my supper (woodcock, duck, rabbit). Fishing, also.

Many years ago I dated someone who had been an Outward Bound instructor who knew about all this stuff in copious detail and liked to show off. I drew the line at helping to harvest honey from a wild beehive.
badgerbag: (Default)

From: [personal profile] badgerbag


Oh! I know this stuff a bit! You may want to get the book by Margit Roos-Collins, The Flavors of Home: A Guide to Wild Edible Plants of the San Francisco Bay Area. She references Gibbons a lot, but her drawings and details and instructions & recipes are much, much more clear. It is most useful in Northern CA but I still found it very useful in Orange County!

Look for miners' lettuce right about now - it is easy to spot and non-scary and delicious.



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badgerbag: (Default)

From: [personal profile] badgerbag


Fennel is also easy though don't pick it right by the highway. And you might like to try madrone bark tea, another easy one!
movingfinger: (Default)

From: [personal profile] movingfinger


I haven't had a complete meal (the Alice Waters term is "wildcrafted" but these days that has connotations of "taken from a national or state park where gathering for profit is restricted and probably shouldn't be for sale) from foraging, but in various places I've collected and eaten berries (of course), wintergreen, mushrooms, fiddleheads, wild onion, greens like sorrel and miner's lettuce (avoid collecting greens anywhere frequented by people with dogs). And of course we went clamming when we were kids. In California there are often fruit trees hanging around, too---plums, apples, even persimmons, citrus, avocado.
movingfinger: (Default)

From: [personal profile] movingfinger


Oh, I bet you'd like My Side of the Mountain if you haven't already read it.
coraa: (inspiration)

From: [personal profile] coraa


I loved that book. Even as a kid, I suspected it wouldn't be quite as easy or comfortable as that to live off the land, but imagining it delighted me.

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From: [personal profile] daidoji_gisei


My childhood was spent in entirely ordinary Nebraska, so my biggest memory of Euell Gibbons was a TV commercial in which he would proclaim "Many parts of a pine tree are edible" before launching into praises for Grape Nuts. I remain unsure of what this says about pine trees, or Grape Nuts.

My preferred source of wild edible plant info is A Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants by Lee Allen Peterson. I have the Eastern/Central North America version; there is a western one as well. I like it because it has detailed line drawings with arrows pointing out the important things to note, and if an edible plant has a poisonous/icky look-alike, that is also describe in detail.

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holyschist: Image of a medieval crocodile from Herodotus, eating a person, with the caption "om nom nom" (Default)

From: [personal profile] holyschist


I was fascinated by any kind of survivalist/living-of-the-land books as a kid, but I think my favorite was actually a field guide on edible and medicinal plants of the Pacific Northwest.

I mostly eat berries (which freaks people out, but I have not yet poisoned myself), but I've also eaten wild onions (may have narrowly escaped eating death camas that time--there were two, possibly three types of bulbs mixed together, and some tasted bitter, so we just used the ones that smelled like onion) and nibbled on assorted greens. I wouldn't try to identify food plants based on b&w sketches, though.

Always wanted to try camping off the land for a weekend, but since I don't fish or hunt, I suspect that I would be very hungry.
rydra_wong: Lee Miller photo showing two women wearing metal fire masks in England during WWII. (Default)

From: [personal profile] rydra_wong


Have you read Alix Kates Shulman's Drinking the Rain? Part of it describes living off foraged wild foods (IIRC, using the Gibbons book as a handbook); it's also about solitude, feminism and aging, and it's one of my favourite books.
Edited Date: 2011-01-30 08:14 am (UTC)
loligo: a green apple (apple)

From: [personal profile] loligo


I've had good luck with wild greens in my yard: violet leaves, chickweed, and nettle. I have not had good luck with mushrooms: we had oyster mushrooms growing on a tree in our front yard, and I tested a few of them (fried in butter) and got a weird metallic taste in my mouth, which I've not had with cultivated oyster mushrooms. Then I noticed that a big poison ivy vine was growing on that tree, so I think cross-contamination might be an issue. Every mushroom I've found around here since then has been growing in direct proximity to poison ivy.
movingfinger: (Default)

From: [personal profile] movingfinger


Thinking about this a bit more: if you decide to go out and do some foraging, provide yourself with Tecnu beforehand and use it. Even when we are extremely careful about poison oak, we are fooled by its many leaf forms and end up itching. Many people become more sensitive to urushiol with repeated exposure to it, so it is something to take seriously.
ext_3319: Goth girl outfit (Default)

From: [identity profile] rikibeth.livejournal.com


I have not eaten off the land. I would be more willing to wildcraft mussels, sea urchins, and seaweed (all of which I like) if I were confident about water quality -- I buy my seaweed from the grocery store, where the packaging assures me that it was grown in protected areas of known pure seawater.

I have eaten wintergreen found in the woods, when I was at summer camp! Does that count?

From: [identity profile] asakiyume.livejournal.com


Yes, pretty extensively. I eat wild mushrooms and hickory nuts, and I've eaten Japanese knotweed shoots, fiddlehead ferns, the eponymous wild asparagus, lambs quarters (very common edible green), wild sorrel (ditto), nettles, jerusalem artichoke (not an artichoke--it's a tuber in the sunflower family), and I'm sure other things that aren't springing to mind--like, okay, cattail pollen and black medick seeds and sweet clover seeds.

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From: [identity profile] asakiyume.livejournal.com


And about the acorns: acorns from oaks that are classed as red oaks are bitter, and acorns from oaks that are classed as white oaks are sweet(er)--or so they say (I have never tried eating acorns).

From: [identity profile] marici.livejournal.com


Like apples, sweet oak is a very rare mutation, with enough genetic loci involved that the inheritance doesn't look Mendelian. However, acorns are so useful as a food supply when they're sweet that locals all learn the location of the sweet acorn oak and for the life of that tree gather and eat its acorns. If they ever became as popular as apples, we'd probably do the same grafting tricks to cultivate them: only one in eighty thousand apple seeds grows into a sweet apple, so we graft on branches from sweet trees to bear our fruit.

I've been on a edible nature walk in Japan. The vast majority of what we got was bitter greens, with one or two tiny onions and I think some bamboo shoots. We cooked everything as tempura, and the magic of fat and salt transformed the bitter flavors into rich ones. The bamboo and onions seemed the most likely to actually feed someone, with the rest more like flavorings than food.

PS, tried to post to DW, was rejected for trying to use OpenID, but your notes seemed to say I should be able to.

From: [identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com


Interesting!

Sorry, I don't know what's up with DW - that message is automated. I have no preference which people comment to.

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sweet apples

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From: [identity profile] tavella.livejournal.com


Oh, my dad loved his stuff! Used to stop by the side of the road to gather sumac for sumac lemonade, or Jerusalem artichokes. Or cook up puffball mushrooms on a camping trip.
larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: "some guy" (Default)

From: [personal profile] larryhammer


Somewhat off the land: when I was growing up summers in the Virginia woods, we'd gather mushrooms (including morels - yum!), berries, wild garlic, and so on, and my father would sometimes hunt squirrel and rabbit, and I regularly fished for bass and bluegill in the pond. There were a couple feral orchards in walking distance, and we'd get apples and the occasional apricot (those were hard to harvest to before animals) from them. The sassafras roots gave good drinks, as did certain plants (mullein = good for cough), and there were hickory and walnut trees to gather from in the autumn. (Plus several dozen persimmon trees within 50 miles, for gathering at the roadside.) One early spring we joined several neighbors in tapping some maple trees and boiling the sap down to syrup.

This in addition to cultivating a half-acre of corn, potatoes, squash, onions, et cet.

I don't think we ever got a full day's worth of food from gathering, but the occasional dinner of fried fish with mushrooms.

---L.
larryhammer: a low-fidelity picture of a man, label: "some guy" (Default)

From: [personal profile] larryhammer


Oh, and in the city, the mulberry trees were in seasons for a couple weeks of stomach-gorging sweetness.

---L.

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From: [identity profile] rushthatspeaks.livejournal.com


Never a meal, but some very good snacks-- if you take the kind of clover that blooms white at the tip and purple in the middle, and pull out the petals and suck the stem end of them, it is basically clover honey, in small quantities. Also orange tiger lily blossoms are delicious; find them somewhere no one's been spraying fertilizers and pesticides on them. You can eat the whole bloom, petals and inner parts, though I like best the sweet crunchy base where it comes off the green stem. I cannot imagine why more people don't grow them for salad.

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From: [identity profile] klwilliams.livejournal.com


Did you ever see the commercial "Ever eat a pine tree? Some parts are edible." with Euell Gibbons? Until just now, that was the only context I've had for him. Thanks.

From: [identity profile] lady-ganesh.livejournal.com


All, I can think that's outside the norm are wild leeks, which are indeed delicious.

From: [identity profile] hokelore.livejournal.com


Growing up in the country, we harvested a fair amount of wild foods, but not enough to live on. Wild raspberries, wild grapes, wild cherries (hardly worth the effort; they're mostly pit), morels (the only mushroom I can safely identify), cattails, several things that be eaten as salad or boiled as greens...

I used to have a copy of Stalking The Healthful Herbs. I think my sister has it now.

Euell Gibbons wrote a couple of features of National Geographic in the '70s. And, as someone mentioned, he a did a Grapenuts commercial.
.

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