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Grim's Grub: Wild food makes us more social

Wild food is a passion not all people have, I'll admit, but I can't help but feel like foraging revives some of the culture we may have left behind long ago.

At one time, before the Industrial Revolution and even more so before humans began cultivating, survival was very much dependent on community. Yes, there were people who survived alone, but for those people the difference between life and death often hinged on whether that would provide drinkable water and make edible woodland plants thrive (as well as dictate wildlife migration).

A single catastrophe in the life of a person who had forsaken the concept of community could mean a pretty uncomfortable death that made Oregon Trail look like a walk in the park.

Yes, community meant more mouths to feed, but most people who wax poetic about foraging don't realize that much of the foods we relish in the woods have few calories, and harvest burns many, many more calories than eating could provide. You could starve to death in a field full of blueberries, lamb's quarter and edible wild mushrooms.

We humans gravitate toward fatty, starch-filled foods for a reason. Our ancestors may have enjoyed berries and leaves as much as we do, but fatty foods and starches were the things that kept them alive, especially before cultivation (fruits were pretty important in the face of scurvy as well).

Roots, nuts, seeds and wild animals were the things that provided the calories needed to survive, but all of these things take a lot of effort to harvest. You can see how a communal effort would benefit foraging, given that more food can be gathered by a group than can be gathered by one, and more varieties of food too. So a person in a community could share roots they dug with the hunter and the neighbors who harvested berries and everyone benefited.

Foraging today still invokes that communal spirit. I don't own a steam juicer, so I borrowed one from Amber Hunt. I don't have an apple tree, so Denton Newman gave me apples. I didn't know where to find cranberries, so Alma Christensen gave me directions to a bog. I don't live on a running source of water for leaching acorns, so Butch Lodin allowed me to come onto his property. I sometimes don't get deer, but my family almost always shares venison with me.

Similarly, some foraging, like wild rice, actually requires the presence of at least two people. It's hard to deny, foraging is hard work, but it brings out the best in people.

Now if any of you awesome people know more places to find nannyberries, let me know! I'll even share my favorite way to use nannyberries here.

Acorn Cranberry Muffins

Courtesy of https://uvlocalvores.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/acorn-cranberry-muffins/

  • 1 ½ cups acorn flour
  • 1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup maple syrup
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts

Mix all dry ingredients, then follow with wet ingredients. Pour into an oiled muffin pan and cook at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes.

Nannyberry Newtons

Inspired by www.ohnuts.com/blog/homemade-fig-newtons-recipe/

  • 1 cup nannyberries
  • Water to cover berries
  • 1 cup applesauce, grape jelly or a combination of both
  • 8 tablespoons softened butter
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • Zest of ½ an orange, grated
  • 1 egg white at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour

Make the filling by boiling nannyberries in just enough water to cover them until the skins soften. Separate the pulp with either a food mill or by pressing the berries through a sieve. Combine the pulp with applesauce or grape jelly and allow it to cool.

Combine butter and sugar and beat to a fluffy consistency, then mix in the remaining (non-filling) ingredients. Wrap this tightly in plastic and refrigerate until it is firm, about two hours.

Once chilled, roll out the dough to about 16 inches by 12 inches and ¼-inch thick. Cut the dough into 4- by 12-inch pieces. Spread the filling in the center of the dough and fold both sides to the center to overlap in the middle. Flip these over so the folded side is on the bottom, then cut into approximately 6 pieces (about 2-inch by 2-inch squares).

Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees for 12-15 minutes or until they're puffed and golden brown around the edges. If you like them crispier, eat them right away. They will be soft like the store-bought cookies if allowed to rest overnight.

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