"In wildness is the preservation of the world." -H.D. Thoreau

Why eat from the wild? The answer is obvious to anyone who has felt the emotional uplift from the weight of a basket brimming with morel mushrooms, the earthy-sweet scent of digging Sassafras roots, or the heavy pulsing of a fish testing the limits of your fly rod.
There are a million reasons to eat wild, to get dirty, to taste fresh food. It is here where we connect to the Earth, our Ancestral past, immediate present and hope for a healthy future...

"Nothing else can build such awareness as surely and powerfully as practicing the ancient ecological art of humankind - foraging. It is not observation of, but rather participation in the phenomena of Nature that brings us to our greatest understanding of our place in the mosaic of life."
-Samuel Thayer The Forager's Harvest

Foraging in the Tip of the Mitten!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Hunter's Lunch

Rifle Season for Whitetail Deer is about to commence here in Northern Lower Michigan and with it, the cold weather is setting in. Scouting for sign of deer and locating stealthy approaches to high-traffic grounds can work up an appetite. Its slow going when you use this time to also stalk small game for the evening's supper. Lucky are the hunters who have venison in their freezers before they actually get out to deer hunt. I am thankful to know several bow hunters who like to share their spoils. 

Trail Mix has never cut it for me. Hot soup in an old Stanley thermos is O
K. But when I'm out in the field I'd like to be reminded of why I'm even out there in the cold, biting wind, muddy and wincing through the briars. I'm hear for meat, and when I take a break for something to eat, that is exactly what I want. This simple sandwich is amazing with mustard and mayo, but it is even better with the homemade (and wild!) pepper-root sauce. In my mind it is made even better knowing the pepper-root was harvested on the same land I am scouting.

Hunter's Sandwich

Venison steak
1 onion
Wild Pepper-root sauce - see previous post:
  -or you can substitute horseradish for the pepper-root)
  olive oil
good crusty bread
Fresh cracked pepper
sea salt

Dice and brown the onion on low-to-medium heat. Meanwhile, using the back of a knife, tap 'slots' into the meat. Turning 90 degrees, repeat, making a criss-cross pattern. This helps tenderize the meat and allows the pepper to adhere better. Repeat on the opposite side and rub in the pepper. Remove the onion and turn up the heat until it is smoky hot and add the steak. Cook for 10 minutes and flip, cooking for another minute or two. Cut some slices of bread and liberally spread the sauce on both sides. Cut the steak into 1/4 inch strips and add it to the bread, topping with the onion. Wrap in butchers paper and aluminum foil.
 Finally, get out in the field and find some deer!

 I just noticed the arrow is pointing right to where I harvested the pepper-root!


Wild "Horseradish"

I used to think I didn't like horseradish. That was until my friend mixed some up with mashed potatoes, bear grease and chives and used that as a bed on which to serve some venison liver I brought over. Now I had a reason to experiment with a plant I have mostly avoided eating due to its remarkable resemblance to horseradish: Toothwort.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

In praise of Small Game: Squirrel!

For many a rural child, the hunting of a squirrel is a rite-of-passage - an introduction into the world of death.

Unfortunately many of these squirrels fall  in vain from pre-pubescent boys who are testing the sights of their new Daisy Air Rifle. I was not immune to such bloodthirsty behavior, and although I truly regret taking animals lives without eating them, I recall sneaking through the forest in search of prey was the most entertaining activity that I did. The stalk, the concealment, the fleeting glance of movement in an old hickory, the perfect shot, the rush, the fall... but then came remorse.

It was wrong, but us wielders of BB-guns and pellet pistols knew the bird calls, we knew the difference a robin makes shuffling leaves as opposed to a gray squirrel. We knew where the mast producing trees were and always the best approach - which was different depending on the weather. Where other kids could tell you batting averages or T.V.'s prime time line-up, we could tell you tree identification and 'possum tracks vs. coon tracks. Most of our peers idolized Barry Sanders and spoke at length of the Mario Brothers. We were obsessed with Native tribes, Frontiersmen and Robin Hood. Our only real 'modern' hero was Indiana Jones. Oh, and Atreyu from The Neverending Story. And Wesley from The Princess Bride. I bet ya those guys could cook up a mean squirrel over the coals.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Mysterious Migrants: Hunting the Woodcock

Here at the Farm, spring begins with our annual 'Woodcock Walks' where we sneak through forest and field in search of the male Woodcock who has returned from the south to do his dramatic mating display. I always wish him luck in his endeavors, because I love Woodcock for many reasons. One of these is for a warm autumn meal.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Fables and Fermentations

I've returned home from nearly two months on the East Coast and pretty much dropped the ball on the Full Moon Feasts. Summer's heat does little to inspire me. But finally! Sweater weather is here and it is my favorite time of year. The colors have peaked, the Salmon are running and ducks are headed south. Several have already found their way into my oven and mingled gently with Elderberry sauce over a plate of fresh basil.

You can read my recipe for this decadent sauce and more about the Elder shrub in my article "Fables and Fermentations: the Cultural and Culinary Elderberry." Its in the latest issue of Edible Grande Traverse Magazine:  http://www.ediblecommunities.com/grandetraverse/online-magazine/fall-2012/wild-thing.htm

I'd enjoy your feedback!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Full Moon Feasts: The Hot Moon

 May 20th - June 18th

With the rising heat comes the laziness of summer, and I'm particularly vulnerable to the current lunation, known to some cultures as the Hot Moon. I am a product of the North, of Birch trees and skis; woolen sweaters, wind and cold waves. In other words, I don't do well in the heat. The thick air is oppressive to my movements and I find myself uninspired to do much except drink ice tea, hide from the sun, and avoid anything that resembles work. I tend to linger a little longer in the walk-in beer coolers, telling myself that I'm indecisive even though I know I'm just going to buy Pabst. So yeah, I'm giving excuses for my procrastination on this last moon post.

There is little that can get me out of the shade for any length of time when the temps push the high 80's. But I do make an exception. In a few days I'll be heading down to the Muskegon River in Big Rapids, Michigan to meet up with friends and harvest one of my all time favorite greens: Nettles! If you've never eaten this wonderful herb I highly encourage you to get out there and find a patch. I'm traveling so far for such an ubiquitous herb because the patch we found last year was immense enough to harvest a year's supply in a day or so. So I'm packing the cooler and will haul Nettles back to be processed into soup and pesto! For more information on Nettles, including recipes and nutritional information, you can check out my latest article in Edible Grand Traverse Magazine here:


Hope you enjoy it!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Flower Moon Recipe: Dandelion Jelly

The Full Flower Moon rose and fell last night, shedding light on an American Bittern, or "Thunderpump," that was making his strange calls in the swamps across the street. The primal songs of the toads trilling in puddles and a lone Snipe's ghostlike echo made the indoors feel like a jail cell. The warmer nights are here and the days are ripe with blooming wildflowers.

One such flower is familiar to all, loved by some and hated by many: the Dandelion, or Taraxacum officinale.

The First Dandelion 
by Walt Whitman
Simple and fresh and fair from winter's close emerging, As if no artifice of fashion, business, politics, had ever been,
Forth from its sunny nook of shelter'd grass--innocent, golden, calm
as the dawn,
The spring's first dandelion shows its trustful face.

Despite the poet's musings over this small, conspicuous flower, millions of pounds of herbicides are used every year to prevent it's "trustful face" from showing up on lawns and golf courses. This is a pity since the uses of Dandelion are many. Here is just one idea on how to use this ubiquitous herb: Dandelion Jelly!

Friday, April 27, 2012

Full Moon Feasts: The Flower Moon

April 21st - May 20th 2012

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canidensis)
Foraging has always been something more than just gathering food. It is a complete immersion into the ebb and flow of the seasons. Just being out there and being open and receptive to the moods of the landscape can we learn so much about our place in the world. And few moments in nature are as dramatic as Springtime. The first flush of wildflowers can fill us with so much hope for warmth and growth - both personal growth and the lush vegetation of summer - and indigenous festivals the world over echo this sentiment. In the Atlantic Isles my ancestors would extinguish all hearth fires in a final farewell to winter and kindle a ceremonial "need-fire" on May Day to welcome the new season. In other Northern European villages "Winter," which was portrayed by a man on horseback dressed in furs and twigs, would be chased out of town by "Summer," a man dressed in lush vegetation and garlanded with wildflowers. Then villagers would go around town singing songs and collecting gifts of eggs and bacon from cottagers, all the while collecting wildflowers for their homes. These festivals served not only to preserve community resilience but they were believed to physically aid the triumph of the coming season of life over the season of death.

"The sight of the fresh green in brake and thicket, of vernal flowers blowing 
on mossy banks, of swallows arriving from the south, and of the sun mounting daily higher
in the sky, would be welcomed by them as so many visible signs that their enchantments
were indeed taking effect..."
                                                                                  -J.G. Frazer The Golden Bough

Monday, April 16, 2012

Full Egg Moon Recipe: Northwoods "Egg Rolls"

It has been a while since I have seen the Moon at night. The Full Egg Moon has passed and is waning. Birds all over are singing their spring songs and we even heard a Hermit Thrush last night on our 4th annual walk to view the dramatic mating display of the American Woodcock. If he is successful, around three females will nest in his territory and lay a clutch of up to twelve eggs. I pray for their prosperity; I love Woodcocks - both in the field and roasted on a bed of watercress. Habitat loss and herbicides are continuing to create a major population decline. At around a 55% decrease in the last 40 years, the future of the American Woodcock is questionable.

But hope is there. I am reminded every time I see a Trumpeter Swan sailing overhead. Once a common sight centuries ago, these Swans were over-hunted for their fashionable plumage and by 1932 their population in the continental United States was at only 26 individual birds (Grandlund, 1994). Through recovery efforts of places like the Kellogg Bird Sanctuary, the count of Swans in Michigan alone 12 years ago was over 400 individuals. Part of the recovery program for both Swans and Loons has shifted in recent years to raising awareness of a growing threat to native waterfowl: the Mute Swan.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Full Moon Feasts: The Egg Moon

March 22nd - April 20th, 2012

Canada Goose eggs along the Jordan River, day of the New Egg Moon.

With the warming weather the birds are on the move to their nesting grounds and we have entered a new Moon that in many cultures was known as the Egg Moon. Moving into our area for egg laying are our Woodcock, Thrushes, and many others. Moving even more northwards are our winter residents who use the boreal forests and tundra for their nesting and rearing. These include birds such as the Rough-Legged Hawk, the Snowy Owl, and several diving ducks like the Goldeneye. In the Finnish mythological epic, the Kalevala, it was a Goldeneye's egg from which the earth, sun and moon were born. It is said that this duck nested on the exposed knee of the great goddess Ilmatar as she drifted underwater. She shook her knee and the eggs spilled and broke forming our world. The bottom of the shell became earth, and the top the sky. The yolk became the sun and the white the moon.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Sap Moon Recipe: Maple Sap Switchel

Fresh Maple Sap under the waxing Sap Moon

The Sap Moon is waning and syrup is being made in the sugarshack as I write. This winter was the mildest I've seen and its worrying syrup makers throughout the region. Its feared that the trees never had a chance to go dormant and the sap will be weak. Nevertheless we tapped 600 or so trees and are pushing thru despite our concerns. After all, sugaring is also about camaraderie!

For the Sap Moon I've decided to do a simple recipe with the sap itself. Everyone knows how to use syrup, but few people consume sap directly, which is a shame to me because it is so smooth, sweet and alive with nutrients. The sap itself can be used in place of water in any recipe and I've decided to make "switchel." Switchel is a traditional beverage that was quaffed by field workers on break. It is a non-alcoholic vinegar based tonic that is restorative, refreshing, and just plain delicious. It is mentioned in a Laura Ingalls Wilder book, so that makes it taste even better to me.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Full Moon Feasts: the Sap Moon

 February 21st - March 21st 2012

The Sap Moon comes at a time when it is needed most: when the last stores of food are used up and fresh food is only a distant memory. But then something magical happens - the forest reawakens. The birds begin their great migrations, the bears are coming out of hibernation and the trees themselves wake up. Warmer days gets their blood flowing - the sap that is stored in the roots begins to make its annual journey up into the tree and feed the buds their much needed sugars. The trees had spent the entire growing season gathering the sunlight and converting it into sugar to be stored in the roots overwinter and eventually flushed upwards when the Sap Moon arrives. And for thousands of years people have been waiting for this event with bated breath, dwindling food supplies and sap containers ready. This first flush of life into the forest gives hope for the warmth and growing seasons to come.

 We are all very busy this time of year at the Martha Wagbo Farm and Education Center and the sap is flowing the earliest I've seen it in my decade of sugaring. We are swamped with tapping trees and tasting the first flush of sweet sap. I am missing out because I'm busy moving, so that's one more volunteer down. If you want to volunteer in the Sugarbush or Sugarshack go to www.Wagbo.org for more information.

With that being said, if you'd like to learn a bit more about the sugaring process I'd like to direct you to the latest edition of Edible Grande Traverse Magazine. In it is my detailed write-up on the Sugar Maple's gift to humanity. I discuss how to tap a tree, how to make syrup on a home-scale and the health benefits of Maple Syrup. Hope you like it, I would like to hear your feedback! (its on page 34):


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Full Bone Moon Recipe: Fried Whitebait

In traditional society the Bone Moon meant that there was a severe scarcity of fresh food, so keeping with that theme, I've decided to share a recipe that few would make the effort to wild-harvest unless confronted with serious hunger: Fried Whitebait.
"Whitebait" is a collective term for immature fish fry or minnows. Generally between 2 to 5 inches, they are fried and eaten whole - bones, skin, head and guttie-wuts. The cooking renders all this soft and edible and they are a delicacy in Europe. There's even some whitebait festivals out there!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Full Moon Feasts: The Bone Moon

January 23rd - February 21st

When the bitter cold becomes almost unbearable; when the frigid Northern forests yield no game and hearthside rumors of men turned cannibals from vile desperation haunt you more than your own hunger - then comes the Bone Moon.
A dark time of year when everything suffers but the Owl whose echoing hoot, it is said, could carry the omen of death. The time of year when people are gnawing on bones or even grinding down shed antlers into powder for soup.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Full Moon Feasts

Inspired by Jessica Prentice's book Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection,
we've decided to follow seasonal culinary rhythms by posting twice each lunar cycle - once at the New Moon discussing what that season meant (and often still means) to indigenous peoples, and once more at the Full Moon with a recipe.

Before calendars delineating the days with almost meaningless numbers, we watched the phases of the moon to count the passing of time. The sun stays basically the same everyday; it is the moon that shifts nightly, renewing itself about every 29 days. This is called a "lunation," probably the prettiest word I've learned in a long time.

 The origins of the word "month" are rooted in the Old English "mona," meaning Moon. So before months we had moons, each moon named after an event that occurred during it's waxing and waning. For example the spring's moon in the Atlantic Isles was known as the Hare Moon due to that season's prolific growth. Things, you could say, were "breeding like rabbits." While across the pond, the Cree of the Northeast Americas called it Sakipakawpicim meaning Leaves Appear Moon.

The moon itself is a source of wondrous things: it shifts the very moods of the ocean - the place believed by some to be the very source of all life on Earth. A source of magic for cultures across the world, moon lore is so common it seems there must be serious force behind the lunations. I've met more than one cop who told me that crime rates always skyrocket on the Full Moon. Lunar folklore is too varied and diverse to get into here, but I'll share one interesting belief I've learned while researching for this post. In old Europe it was believed that sorcerers could "draw down the moon," and through some type of spell, called virus lunare, would collect a magical and powerful liquid from it. This classical belief of a sacred moon elixir was immortalized in Shakespeare's Macbeth (act 3, scene 5) in which this liquid, steeped in herbs, was fed to the witch Hecate:

Upon the corner of the moon
There hangs a vaporous drop profound:
I'll catch it ere it come to the ground:
And that distill'd  by magic sleights
Shall rise such artificial sprites
As by the strength of their illusion
Shall draw him on to this confusion.

Shakespeare was pretty creepy and weird....

So to celebrate both foraging and lunations, we will be posting each New Moon with a traditional food-related name for that lunar cycle and the seasonal sustenance that defines that particular moon. Upon the peak of that lunation, the Full Moon, we'll post a recipe with emphasis on wildcrafted ingredients that are indigenous to this particular time of year.
We hope you enjoy.