“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.


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