Have you ever walked past a bush full of ripe berries and wished you knew if they were fit for human consumption? Hank Shaw has that knowledge, and he wants to help others discover the “forgotten feast” that lives all around us.
His recently published book, “Hunt, Gather, Cook” (based on his popular blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook), was written to pass that knowledge along to the rest of us — those who would love to pick foods like wild berries or mushrooms if only we could be sure we’d live to brag about our newly acquired skills.
Assuming that many of my readers are as unknowledgeable about foraging as I am, I asked Hank (pictured right) if he would answer a few questions. He took a few minutes out of his busy book tour to oblige me.
MNN: Where did all this knowledge you have about which wild growing plants and wild living creatures make for good eating come from?
Hank Shaw: Lots of places. I’ve been foraging and fishing my whole life, and I picked up hunting about a decade ago. My mom taught me how to fish and forage. She had to dig for clams and such as a child growing up in Depression-era Massachusetts, and her uncle was a great naturalist. So it came naturally to her, and she passed that knowledge on to her kids.
Since then I’ve always made it a priority to learn the edible plants, fish and animals of where I’ve lived, and as a newspaper reporter I’ve lived in lots of places. Each region has its own set of flora and fauna, and I find that endlessly interesting. I have a huge collection of edible plant books in my library.
As for hunting, I had a few key mentors, but a lot of my knowledge has been trial-and-error, plus a lot of reading. Hunting is one thing that is especially difficult to learn unless you are actually doing it.
Why are you so eager to pass this knowledge along to others?
Why not? Knowledge unshared is knowledge lost. Besides, I’ve wanted to be a teacher in some way, shape or form all my life, and as a reporter for more than 18 years, I’ve been lucky enough to do that.
I get a lot out of teaching others, intellectually, emotionally, even spiritually. Those who come to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook looking for knowledge on whatever topic often have a lot of good information from their own experiences that they share on the site. We all get smarter that way. And since I don’t have kids, teaching has been my way of passing along what I’ve learned over the years. I don’t know what I would do if I could not teach.
What is something edible (besides dandelions) that grows in most suburban backyards that people don't realize they can eat? How can they recognize it?
Acorns, for one. I have a whole chapter in "Hunt, Gather, Cook” about processing acorns. Done right, acorn flour is wonderfully flavorful and makes a great addition to any product that requires flour — pasta, baked goods, even a roux in a gumbo. And acorns are unmistakable, so no danger in misidentification.
Another would be the common cherry plum. It seems weird that people wouldn’t know you can eat the cherry-like plums on this tree, but you can. This is a wildly common tree used in landscaping; I think it is a European native. The whole tree is a deep burgundy color and the “cherries” are exactly the same color as the leaves and young stems. They ripen in early summer and are delicious. Yet 99 percent of people let them fall uneaten. A shame.
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