The time has come for more self-sufficiency

By Tom Seymour | Mar 26, 2020
Photo by: Tom Seymour Pictured are groundnuts, which can be boiled, broiled, fried or baked.

With the country and state in turmoil with people worrying about food and what they can do to alleviate suffering, it is clear that a return to simpler ways offers more than just entertainment. It offers hope, a way to make sure no one goes hungry.

One of my particular skills involves finding and using wild foods. Even before the coronavirus became 24-hour news, I happily fed myself from the woods, fields and waters. I also taught others how to do the same.

Along with teaching and giving hands-on instruction as to how to go about this, I have written a number of books on the topic of foraging. One, especially, is wholly dedicated to wild, edible plants found right here in Maine.

The title is "Wild Plants Of Maine – A Useful Guide" and it is available from bookstores, some sporting goods shops and online at my website, tomseymourmaine.com, and even from Amazon.

I wouldn’t promote my books here, but times have changed and I suggest that anyone in possession of WPOM holds a virtual supermarket in their hands. The book is set up by seasons, beginning right now, in March, as the ground begins to thaw and the first edible plants make themselves available.

As an example of what is available this very moment, let me suggest the emerging tips of daylilies, not just the wild variety but also cultivated types.

All have several edible parts. But now, as the ground slowly warms, the first daylily product is the tips. These are light green, and flat-sided. Just trim flush with the ground and steam or simmer in water until tender.

Next, as ice melts and water levels drop on rivers and streams, look for groundnuts lying along the now-exposed shorelines. These are often as large as a bantam hen’s egg and have a coarse, fibrous network on the outside. The individual, egg-shaped “nuts” are often linked to each other in long, thin strings, kind of like the old, soap-on-a-rope.

Groundnuts are used much the same as potatoes, meaning they can be boiled, broiled, fried or baked. The taste is rich and sweet and most people, upon first trying them, like them a lot.

Fish, Too

Now also be a good time to buy a fishing license if you don’t already have one. While the more popular species such as trout, salmon and bass make great table fare, all freshwater fish in Maine are edible.

The lowly sunfish, for instance, has a nice white, flaky flesh and, when fried, tastes sweet as sugar.

Yellow perch, schooling fish disdained by those pursuing the more sporty game fish, are incredibly sweet. They are also easy to catch. Anyone with a can of worms and a bobber can cast out and catch oodles of yellow perch.

The list goes on. Going fishing at night can bring in hornpout, or black bullheads, our native catfish. Why fight crowds in the supermarket for catfish fillets when each and every body of water in Midcoast Maine holds countless hornpout?

Even eels, which are absolutely not related to snakes but rather are true fish with fins and gills, are eminently edible. Just kill the eel by severing the vertebrae behind the neck, slice a circle just behind the head, and pull the skin off with a stout set of pliers. Roll in flour and fry to a golden brown. Yummy!

Critters, Too

While hunting has ended for game species, a few critters remain open to hunting year-round. Two come immediately to mind. These are woodchucks and red squirrels.

Consider this: Woodchucks live on a diet of wholesome greens, including some of your own garden vegetables. A .22-caliber rimfire rifle suffices to kill any woodchuck. Aim at the head, if possible. If not, place your bullet just behind the forward shoulder for a heart-and-lung shot. Skin and disjoint the animal, taking care to remove fat layers and also, any little glands in what passes for armpits. Then roast the flesh until fork-tender.

My grandpa often regaled me with tales of eating woodchucks during the Great Depression of the 1930s. The same holds true today. Woodchucks offer a healthful, natural source of protein.

Next, red squirrels, those pests that invade barns and outbuildings and raid birdfeeders, rank among the sweeter wild meats. As with woodchucks, use a .22 rifle. A .410-gauge shotgun performs well to and is safer to use in built-up areas.

Skin the red squirrel by cutting a slice on the back, just big enough to get your fingers in. Then pull in opposing directions and the skin will peel off. Cut off head and feet and quarter the animal. It takes two red squirrels to make a satisfying meal for one person.

As the virus continues to disrupt our society, I will discuss more wild foods with each column. But for now, do try the daylily shoots, at the least.

Take care of yourself. Sunshine and fresh air may represent the best medicines of all, so get plenty of both.

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