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Grim's Tales: Overcome the ick factor

Making jelly from high bush cranberries smells like old, sweaty socks from a bus load of summer Olympiads. Fiddlehead ferns look like tentacles from alien octopi.

To harvest sumac tea, you have to get over the fact that bugs lay their eggs, hatch into larvae and poop in the berry clusters.

That’s the ick factor.

Harvesting wild foods is fun, but the ick factor is what separates those who want to do it as a fad from those who want to do it because these foods are delicious, nutritious and economical.

People who follow fads don’t often have the strongest stomachs, and wild food is not for the squeamish.

Cultivated foods are bred, selected and processed to lack an ick factor. Food in the produce aisles looks like food, it tastes like food, it smells like food and not even the broccoli has worms in it (unlike home grown broccoli, which should be dunked in salt water before storing).

Wild food is 100 times more rude than grocery store food. It is often nothing like the food you know.

One only needs to cook members of the wild onion family, a famous wild food, to realize that they have the power to fumigate your house of all living people and pets if you aren’t careful. Wild leeks reek like nothing else on this planet, but they can be delicious.

If my experience is any indicator, wild food foragers eat alone a lot. I can picture Euell Gibbons or Bradford Angier saying, “I’m cooking dinner tonight.” And his family quickly responds, “Oh, didn’t I tell you? We don’t eat anymore. It’s this new thing we are trying.”

It’s not just the ick factor. You could be a professor in wild botany with a century of wild food harvesting under your belt. People will still be afraid of you poisoning them.

“What if you accidentally picked poison ivy?” they ask.

“Well, then I would be due for an eye transplant. If I mistake poison ivy for blueberries, fiddleheads, wild onion or cattail shoots, I’m obviously going blind,” I reply.

Yes, there are some dangerous plants, but more often than not, foragers avoid anything that looks like that plant. The foods that are most popular are easy to identify so long as you are responsible. Caution is necessary, but the dangers are overblown.

You run a risk of poisoning your kids by growing a vegetable or flower garden, but that doesn’t cause you to hesitate.

So, if you are adventurous, if you would like to learn more about the ick factor or other wild food topics, I have a class coming up just for you.

Tuesday, April 29, at 6 p.m. at Pine River-Backus School, I will host a wild foods class. Find out if wild foods are for you. The first class will likely be indoors, but each month this summer we will try to get out to a different location to hunt specific wild foods. We will meet at the school in the event of poor weather.

For the first event, I will bring some delicious wild teas (mint, wild ginger, etc.), wild jellies, and some other wild foods to sample or examine. Later meetings will likely lead to forays to harvest wild foods in multiple places.

We will learn to identify, harvest and prepare wild foods. I’m calling it a class, but it is more like an educational and active wild food club.

I would also like to lead the group in cooking some wild harvested food near the end of the harvest season. I’m hoping to get the fixings for a creamy wild fowl, wild mushroom, wild rice soup.

If that sounds good, then you should be at my class.