West Virginia Wild Food Weekend!!

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I love eating wild gathered food. Turns out, a lot of other people do as well and they get together every year to meet, exchange ideas, and recipes.

My wife and I traveled to North Bend State Park, located just outside Cairo, West Virginia, to attend the 46th annual Nature Wonder Weekend over the weekend. Very reasonably priced at only $30 for Saturday only events, we spent Saturday eating, talking, and searching for wild foods with foragers from all over the country. The event brochure can be found here http://www.wvdnr.gov/2013NWW.pdf and next year’s dates have been set as September 19-21, 2014.

It rained all day Saturday, but spirits were not dampened for the edible/medicinal plant walks and the feast that night. Bill Beaty, author of Wild Plant Cookbook, was the leader of our selected foray. On the rainy hike we saw and discussed chicken of the woods, autumn olive, pawpaws, hickories, black walnuts, white snakeroot,  puffballs, and barberry.

After a 4 hour hike in constant rain, we returned for the meal preparation and I knew I was in trouble. My wife is tough, a former firefighter/paramedic, I found her through a mutual interest in Crossfit. Not a single complaint was uttered by her as we slogged through the deluge to look at obscure plants, but I could tell the wet, cold conditions had dampened her cooking spirit.

It was crunch time. I had brought a couple packs of wild hog meat and spicebush berries for seasoning, but my star chef was not in the game. I knew it was time to break out the advanced “man doesn’t know how to cook” technique to lure my wife into preparing our dish for the feast.

Me:Honey, why don’t you sit down and relax. I am going to start cooking

My lovely wife:This ought to be interesting”  This is where my homework had paid off. Having watched me bumble around the kitchen for years, she believes that our dog has more culinary skill than I do.

Me: “So I guess I will chop up the berries and throw them in with the meat” I start to slice each berry one at a time. It only took five berries until she sighed.

My lovely wife: “Give it to me. You are going to embarrass us

Mission Accomplished!! I watch in admiration as she deftly chops the berries and creates a marinade with some orange juice and plums, cooks it to perfection, and garnishes it with some pistachios. We are back in the game!!

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I wish I had taken more photos, but I was too busy stuffing my belly with the wild goodness. Dishes of honey mushrooms, chanterelles, salad with chicken of the woods, barbecued beaver, rattlesnake salad, elderberry juice, pawpaw pie, acorn cookies, wild grape juice, fiddlehead pasta, moose burgers, and cactus spears to name a few. I helped with the ice cream crew making pawpaw, ground cherry, grape, black walnut, and wild pear flavors.

Deaonna Crowe was the featured speaker that night, giving an interesting historical account of her foraging heritage passed down from her grandparents.

On Sunday we packed up and headed to New River Gorge, but not before hiking the Euell Gibbons nature trail. Stalking the Wild Asparagus, authored by Gibbons, was my first edible plant book when I was twelve, so I thought it was a good way to honor his work by taking my wife down that trail and showing her some other wild edibles.

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Highlights of the trip back were camping at New River Gorge, collecting more spicebush berries (1st picture), breakfast of scrambled eggs and milkweed pods,

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and my pawpaw gathering frenzy that netted me about 20 pounds!!

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New River Gorge info: http://www.nps.gov/neri/index.htm

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