Written by contributor NJ Renie.
If you remember prehistory, you know that human beings are hunters and gatherers by their very nature. Eons before the turnip truck–or even the apple cart—humans got the nutrition they needed from the forests, fields, and waterways.
As we approach the harvest season in North America and Europe, please remember that during this time of year nature provides free, sustainable, organic, seasonal alternatives to your supermarket, garden, and CSA. So get out in nature, embrace your inner human, and maybe even establish a new food tradition in your family. Here are some starting places.
Please remember that Simple Organic is a big tent and these columns are written for a general audience. If you find eating meat, hunting, and/or fishing offensive, barbaric, or cruel to animals, then please go ahead and skip down to the section on gathering. Thanks.
You eat meat, enjoy meat, have no ethical issues with eating it, but like to know that animals are treated with respect, why not hunt? Hunting puts you in control of how your meat is harvested, processed, and packaged. Wild animals, by definition, range as freely as they wish. Hunting helps keep animal populations under control and provides your family with fresh, lean, free-range meat.
Eating fish in moderation can be a healthy part of your diet. You are already bombarded with ads for fish oil, you might have even succumbed, so why not cut out the middle man and get the fish yourself? I am probably biased toward this particular activity, but I can think of few activities more pleasant than spending one’s morning facing a body of water.
Somewhere in Between…
Included in here would be crabbing, clam digging, frog gigging, smelt dipping, shrimping, and other semi-aquatic foraging activity. Usually seasonally-based, these food traditions are all terrific supplements to an omnivorous diet.
DO NOT gather or eat anything unless you know what you are doing. Get me–don’t even think about it.
Mushroom hunting can be an extremely rewarding endeavor. The forest is full of delicious mushrooms that sell for mortgage-payment-sized prices in gourmet groceries and Michelin starred restaurants. If you can only forage for one thing, it is pretty tough to beat a dinner of wild mushrooms.
Choke cherries, paw paws, persimmons, wild plums, crabapples, some of these wild fruits are perfectly good to be eaten as is, but many wild tree fruits outshine domesticated fruits when converted into jellies, puddings, or pies.
Many wild greens are absolutely delicious and available to all of us. Just imagine, a change in your perspective can turn your untended lawn into a hands-off, sustainable source of dandelion greens. Even annoying weeds like stinging nettles can be converted into satisfying, earthy greens when cooked properly.
Nuts are often overlooked, but nut trees are generally pretty nice trees and very productive sources of nutrition. You might have to fight the squirrels and do some serious cracking, but a pile of free, flavorful nuts are undoubtedly worth the effort.
Raspberries, mulberries, huckleberries, elderberries—every locale has their own wild berries. Most times wild berries are smaller, seedier, and offer a higher concentration of flavor than can be found in their commercially-grown cousins.
Jerusalem artichoke, sassafras, and ginseng are probably the most famous, but there are many wild roots that are perfectly edible or used in teas and flavorings.Photo by Joanna Plaszewska
It may not be realistic, or pleasant, to live entirely off of the land, but doing so can definitely supplement your diet at a very low cost. Many foods found in the wild are extremely delicious, indulgent even. If you don’t know how to forage in the wild don’t worry, all of us are literally built for this.
Find help from someone who knows what they are doing, always get permission, harvest only what is legal, and take only what you need. Go ahead, get busy living what has constituted the good life since day one of humanity.
What do you hunt or gather? Any special recipes ot tips to share?