“Wildcrafting” in West Virginia

by Jessie K on September 21, 2011

In case you’re wondering what I was doing in West Virginia over the weekend,  my friend Chin and I attended an annual wild food festival in North Bend State Park right outside the teeny tiny town of Cairo.

Foraging is quite trendy right now and it’s easy (for me, anyway) to forget that wild ingredients like fiddleheads (see pic above), pawpaws and purslane are not, in fact, solely enjoyed by ascetically-minded hipsters, but have been dietary mainstays of mountain people forever.  Foraging “the trend” never came to West Virginia because it never went out of style.

Accordingly, the weekend was a fascinating study in contrasts, a bumpy marriage of the pure and highly processed: Dessert made from wild raspberries….and boxed cake mix.  Wild mushrooms plucked from the forest sauteed in….margarine.  Just gathered purslane used as a garnish for…Ritz Crackers.

During foraging walks, I listened rapt as women, faces slick with foundation, positively identified random weeds then detail their every last medicinal property.

Platters of wild pheasant garnished with…torn Wonder Bread.

This is squirrel,  battered and fried in corn oil, natch.  Will you think less of me when I tell you I sampled a bite and thought it was tasty?  TLC.  (That’s shorthand for “tasted like chicken.”)

While I can’t say for certain I’ll attend another foraging event of this type, I’m really glad I went. It was a reminder that wild food is — with a little education and know-how — open and accessible to everyone, from urban to country.

June and I take a walk on the wild side in West Virginia.  She eats a hickory nut brownie, I slurp wild grape ice cream.

 

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Allison @ Novice Life September 21, 2011 at 3:14 pm

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Very Cool! Love the marriage of wild and processed ;) Go Figure. I still haven’t tried a fiddlehead…but I’d love to!

Doug September 21, 2011 at 10:23 pm

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I really enjoy reading your blog and following all your adventures, and now those of your husband over in Afghanistan. Please thank him for us!

I also wanted to let you know that I left an award for you over at my blog. You probably have way more than 200 followers, but I couldn’t find out, so I gave you the award anyways as I really enjoy reading your posts. They are straight forward and right on! Keep it up!

Jessie K September 23, 2011 at 9:44 am

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Left an award for you over at my blog.” I am intrigued. THanks for the feedback, Doug.

Shelby September 21, 2011 at 11:43 pm

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Hey! We are growing two pawpaw trees on our property. I have heard that they are amazing, but I’ve never had them. Do you have access to them? I’d love to try some. I could send you money for shipping if you’d be willing to send some my way.
I’m in Portland today – but heading back to Ohio in the morning. Today we found a pear tree in the middle of a field and snacked on some wild blackberries (SO good!).

Jessie K September 22, 2011 at 12:44 pm

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Come to find out, we have a veritable pawpaw grove in our backyard. Unfortunately, I only realized this out AFTER my weekend identifying wild fruit trees in WV; my pawpaw trees no longer have any fruits this season. But I’ll be happy to ship you a box next year.

Rebecca September 22, 2011 at 3:09 pm

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Shelby – If you live in Ohio and fancy trying pawpaw you should check out Integration Acres. They are based in southeastern Ohio but they ship pawpaws everywhere (fresh and canned). They are trying to promote the pawpaw as the state fruit of Ohio and they even hold a pawpaw festival every September (pawpaw beer and pawpaw ice cream!) Yay for online shopping! http://www.integrationacres.com

Shelby September 22, 2011 at 6:42 pm

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Thanks! I will definitely check out intregration acres…and Jessie – I might just have to hit you up next year!

Jessie K September 23, 2011 at 9:42 am

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I just got wind of the pawpaw festival in Ohio myself. Will have to make a point of attending next year. I’m very curious about pawpaw beer.

Mrs. Happy September 22, 2011 at 9:22 am

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I hope you’re tick-checking that beautiful baby regularly out there in the wilderness — and for that matter check yourself too!

Thanks to your husband for his service — and your family as well.

Kirk September 22, 2011 at 3:27 pm

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Don’t know if they grow down there, but we’re picking autumn olive berries these days. “Invasive species” but the fruit has 17x the lycopene of tomatoes! Makes great jam.

Jessie K September 23, 2011 at 9:26 am

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Kirk, I ate my first autumn olive berries over the weekend and was blown away by its deliciousness. I’d love to make some jam. Please share your recipe!

Karen S. October 5, 2011 at 8:41 pm

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Autumn olive berries have more lycopene than tomatoes. So very healthy. I’ve heard of people making jam and also making homemade fruit leather out of it, or mixing it in with other fruits for jams and leathers. Too bad they each have that tiny pit in them though. They’d be a great snacker otherwise.

Michael Bates June 18, 2012 at 11:04 am

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Please let me know up coming events.

Thanks,
Michael

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