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The lunch off the land experiment

Do you remember Euell Gibbons?

He wrote an interesting book called Stalking the Wild Asparagus back in the 1960s, and Gibbons’ book came to mind while I wrote last week’s column about eating crawdads. According to Gibbons there are many nourishing plants out there and we should take advantage of them.

One comedian did a parody on Gibbons stating that you could actually eat a pine tree. Now I’m sure that Barb will not serve up our Christmas tree for dinner this year, but there probably are some sections of a living pine tree that could be tasted in a starvation situation. Personally I’ll just put our old trees into the water around my dock and eat the fish they attract.

Back in the 1960s I was interested in living off the country so I took the books to heart and actually decided to see how much I could use the wild around me to make lunch. Of course my wild places were limited back then, but I decided to see if I could make a meal from the shores of East Palestine’s City Lake.

That lake and most everything around it were certainly something I knew quite well. I had spent much of my early life fishing its water, catching turtles and frogs, and even running a trapline. If the lake’s environs could yield food, I thought I could find it, so I decided to cook my lunch on its shore using only basic equipment.

Of course I would need my trusty camp ax, belt knife and small cook kit. I also allowed myself a small amount of butter that I carried in a plastic container that had held a roll of 35mm film, a smidgen of salt in the same type of container, and a quart of water in a plastic milk jug. There was no way I intended to cook in or drink water from the l lake. If I was doing this experiment in Colorado I might have gotten my water from a mountain stream.

With my equipment in place I began to assemble my buffet. First I need an entree and decided on seafood. I had cheated a bit and brought along a short fishing rod, but no lures or bait. My search for bait began by turning over a rotted log. There were plenty of bait there, but many weird creepy crawlers I refused to touch. I did find a couple grubs that looked less scary and put them on my small hook.

Have you ever had bluegills refuse to bite? These ones had lockjaw, or maybe they we afraid of the grubs, too. Whatever the reason I could see them fining around in the clear water and not the least interested in my cooking experiment. And I thought I was a good fisherman. They showed me different. I finally did manage to catch about four little bluegills that probably bit the grub in self defense.

I needed something to go with the fish and set out to pick a few blackberries. Lesson number 2: to live off the land you need to be there before the berries are well past their prime and the birds have not picked off any late bloomers. I only managed a slight handful for my trouble. And those berry bushes have some sharp thorns. Barb always insists that I eat greens so I picked dandelion greens, which were also past their prime.

With my repast gathered I cleaned the fish. They were too small to fillet and got ready for a wilderness culinary adventure. To build a fire I used my knife and a stick to scratch out a trough just deep enough to hold a few dry sticks and narrow enough to hold my cooking utensils above the flame. A bit of butter was used to sort of fry the fish and the dandelions were stewed in water. Since the greens were dry I poured off the water a couple times and added more.

Once I felt everything was cooked enough I sat on the bank of the lake to enjoy my lunch. The fish tasted great even though I had to pick the meat from the bones. The dandelion greens tasted about how I imagine kale must taste and that is not a good thing. The berries were sweet enough, but too few. Looking back I should have crushed them in a cup of water to make a nice drink.

I guess my wild food experiment was a success, but I really like Barb’s cooking much better.

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