Hunt, gather, cook
Given the trendiness of foraged foods in metropolitan areas, ramps average $12 a pound or more, but allium tricoccum doesn’t appear within the pages of Hank Shaw’s Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast, the culmination of his free-ranging pursuits to deeply know, engage with, and, best of all, devour all that nature offers. Though he spent time on the East Coast in Virginia, New York, and New Jersey, the bulk of his re-education in foraging for animal and vegetable happened near Sacramento where he lives.
Shaw’s curiosity, quest for self-reliance, and absorption of knowledge taps into a groundswell movement afoot that spurs a reconnection with nature and traditional foodways. His fascination with the natural world began as a toddler when his parents and sisters encouraged him to enjoy the outdoors, to fish, dig for clams, and “feast at the table afterwards.” In three parts, his book, while focused on California flora, fauna, and sealife, covers foraging on land, fishing, and hunting. Shaw suggests two ways of preparing acorns: Grinding them for flour and then making acorn tortillas or acorn pasta, and alternately, making acorn soup. Consider his suggestions for “characteristics of various oaks” along the same lines as advice you’d receive from a sommelier.
The section of part two of most relevance to readers in our immediate region addressed “misfits of America’s oceans, ponds, and rivers,” for the bulk of this chapter’s focus regards sealife, and while it informs and entertains, its practical use to mountain dwellers is nil. When landing an eel, don’t net it. They survive out of water a long time, too. Shaw recommends death by salt. While he doesn’t include an eel recipe, Shaw says eel is tasty barbecued, grilled, beer-battered, or in a bouillabaisse, but they don’t freeze well.
Saving the best for last in part three, Shaw ponders the question “why hunt?” It poses a moral issue for many folks unfamiliar with the practice, as does the consumption of meat and dairy products. Not so Shaw. He presents an intelligent argument, a middle way, allowing readers to become self-reliant food processors who bypass the meat processing business and USDA regulations. Shaw touts the flavor of wild meat as opposed to bland, domestic meat. Clear knowledge of your food’s origins makes eaters responsible stewards of the Earth. Shaw primes readers on rifles, seasons, gives hunting tips, tells how to handle game, how to skin and break down animals, and finally, how to cook and eat them.
Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast by Hank Shaw. New York, NY: Rodale, 2011. ISBN 978-1-60529-320-2 $25.99
Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon’s Army & Other Diabolical Insects by Amy Stewart. New York, NY: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2011. ISBN 978-1-5612-960-3. $18.95.
Frightening stories of bugs encountered outside and inside abound in this second installment in the Wicked series by Amy Stewart. Wicked Bugs: The Louse That Conquered Napoleon’s Army & Other Diabolical Insects “offers just enough information about the habits and lifestyles of each creature to make them easier to recognize.” Insects are so small that we give little thought to them unless they discomfit us by drawing blood, leaving a stinger in our skin, or disappear up a nostril while we search the skies for a cerulean warbler or weed our gardens. Stewart arranges insect entries alphabetically and categorizes each insect’s potential powers as “dangerous,” “painful,” “destructive,” “deadly,” or “horrible.”
Consider that when we had outdoor privies black widows hid under toilet seats. Now that most homes include indoor plumbing black widow bites on buttocks are rarely treated by emergency rooms. Stewart’s book is chockfull of unexpected intersections of cultural history and insects. As to other spiders, the brown recluse is considered painful. Each entry features a key indicating the insect’s size, family, habitat, and distribution. The brown recluse is common in central and the southern United States and inhabits dry, sheltered areas such as woodpiles and sheds. Stewart argues that it is unfairly blamed for any kind of rotting painful lesion.
An occasional mystery, such as the Rocky Mountain Locust, sometimes appears. It was responsible for decimating the American West in the summer of 1875. Their swarms grew ever-smaller until the species disappeared completely by 1902. An insect making headlines for consuming much of the southeastern United States was the Formosan subterranean termite. Termites infested the floodwalls surrounding New Orleans five years prior to Hurricane Katrina, but were always a problem after they returned to the port after World War II.
Insects related to human sexual relations appear a few times. For instance, the scabies mite is associated with Napolean Bonaparte’s exile to St. Helena and the Marquis de Sade was implicated for passing on Spanish fly to women in Marseille in June of 1772. But, reader beware, there are disturbing sexual relations between African bat bugs, banana slugs, fireflies, praying mantids, golden orb-weavers, and crab spiders for a healthy balance.
Her introduction makes it plain: We are outnumbered. In this marvelous blend of history and horror, Stewart demonstrates the power insects wield upon us both individually and as a society.