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Grim's Tales: My new hit list

It seems it's that time of year once again where I give an account of the wild food adventures from the previous 365 days, lay out my plans for the next 365 days and request help from our awesome readers in completing a new goal (my wild food hit...

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I did harvest acorns a couple years ago, but as many know, it is necessary to remove tanins in order to make this one palatable. I did a fair job of this, but I have a new plan for leeching this year. Hopefully there will be a bumper crop somewhere. PineandLakes.com Illustration

It seems it's that time of year once again where I give an account of the wild food adventures from the previous 365 days, lay out my plans for the next 365 days and request help from our awesome readers in completing a new goal (my wild food hit list).

I ranted about maple syrup in a recipe column shortly after I tapped three trees for their sweet, sweet blood recently, and that is finally starting to pay off. With the warm up, it appears that my one-week vacation will probably land during the season's first sustained run, unless Mother Nature goes on another tangent.

Either way, I'm pre-emptively marking maple syrup down as a success. I'll probably screw it up somehow, but I've at least gotten to drink a little sweet water (way sweeter than I was anticipating).

Probably among my most exciting adventures this year was accidentally stumbling across a lead for a very exotic and crazy spice. I was doing a story on Larry Wannebo's windmill restoration almost two years ago when he suggested I talk to a man who was cutting firewood for him. (I think there was poison ivy or bees in the pile, I don't recall.) Larry waved him over, and I struck pay dirt.

The man in question had apparently done surveying work in the local forestry, tracking down buck thorn and presumably other noxious or invasive plants.

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I repeated to him what I told Larry. I was looking for a thorny tree that produces drupes of little red fruits. It is Zanthoxylum Americanum, once known as the toothache tree. Locally, it is known as Prickly Ash, and in China its berries are known as Szechuan peppercorns.

It's a relative to oranges and its berries taste citrusy with the added effect of causing numbness to your tongue and lips. It is used a great deal in Szechuan cooking, and it grows native in Minnesota.

Against all odds, he knew exactly where to find a stand of these trees. By that time all the fruit was gone, but come the next fall I returned to the stand of trees and harvested to my heart's content. Naturally, Szechuan peppercorns will be counted in my "win" category.

For 2017, I hope to try a few old standyby wild foods again.

Wokas (spatterdock seeds) are easy enough to find, but the last time I tried processing them according to online instructions, I wound up with the most rank, rotten-smelling seeds ever.

I did harvest acorns a couple years ago, but as many know, it is necessary to remove tanins in order to make this one palatable. I did a fair job of this, but I have a new plan for leeching this year. Hopefully there will be a bumper crop somewhere.

Maple seeds are not so much illusive as flighty (literally and figuratively). I just tend to forget about them until they have all fallen off and gone away. Maybe this year will be different.

Wapato, or duck potato, has been in my sights for several years, but wading in a creek in October isn't very appealing.

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My biggest wild food goals are probably bog cranberries and wild rice. I've gone ricing before. One time I was thwarted by under ripe rice. I could not parch my meager harvest long enough to get the green chaff to loosen up. The next time I was thwarted by heavy rain the night before harvest. There wasn't a grain left on the lake by the time we parked at the landing.

As far as cranberries go, I am just not sure about where to find them or when to look. I've waded on floating bogs before with the belief that they would host cranberries, only to realize there wasn't a single berry to be found anywhere. (Birds may be the problem there). I don't even know if the bogs had cranberry shrubs on them.

So, here comes my sincere request for help. If you are interested in helping a newbie figure out the ropes to harvesting wild rice or cranberries (or really, if you would like to join in the others mentioned above), I would appreciate hearing from you.

Opinion by Travis G. Grimler
Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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