Thursday, December 15, 2011

Twelve Days of Prepping - Day Seven

On the seventh day of Prepping, my Prepper gave to me,

... Forager's cooking kit;
... a Diva for the ladies;
...canning jars with rings;
... a cast iron skillet;
... a French coffee press;
... black turtle beans;
... and a sapling apple tree.

I was reading this article today with the headline Census shows 1 in 2 people are poor or low income. The article cites a lot of numbers, including one that shows 146 million Americans are sliding into poverty.

The two key concerns with regard to those who were slipping into poverty are the rising cost of housing ... not that housing costs are increasing, but rather that the precentage of income that is being used to pay for housing is increasing as income levels decrease. One figure estimated that families are paying more than one-third of their income for housing.

The second biggest concern has to do with food. While income levels fall, the cost of buying food is increasing. In fact, the number of people in this country ... and, indeed, across the world ... who are food insecure is growing - on a daily basis.

While shelter is the most important survival need, food is important enough that I devoted three (five if you include cooking and livestock) of the chapters in my book Survivng the Apocalypse in the Suburbs to food. Most of the suggestions in my book are based on the assumption that having a garden is a possibility, and while I believe, even those in rentals can grow some little bit of food for themselves, those who only have a very small space to devote to food production will still be dependent on outside sources for most of their calories.

Which brings me to the day seven gift: a forager's cooking kit.

The basic design is a belt with some pouches (and it could be a vest with lots of pockets - if the giver is particularly handy with a sewing machine :). What I envisioned was an Army utility belt. On one side would be clipped a canteen cover holding a canteen and canteen cup (which is metal, and this is important ;). On the other side would be the ammo pouch, but instead of rounds, it would contain a pair of utility scissors and/or some fold-up clippers, a spoon/fork/knife set (or just a spoon), a packet with herbs and spices, and some matches (or a magnesium firestarter or flint and steel). The pièce de résistance would be the pocket forager's book specific to one's region.

With the kit, and some wild foraged greens, mushrooms and/or tubers, one could make a very hearty soup. The metal canteen cup would be the cooking vessel, the canteen of water would be the base for a broth, and herbs would flavor the soup.

In his plant ID book, Tom Brown, Jr. states that for survival purposes a person need only be able to identify four plants - all of which grow in most places: grasses, acorns, cat tails, and pine or evergreens.

Grasses aren't eaten - they are chewed, like tobacco, but the nutrient-rich juice is swallowed and the grass pulp is spit out. Or the grasses can be brewed into a tea (*IMPORTANT NOTE: Be sure to harvest ONLY grasses that are in full sunlight. Otherwise, they might have mold growth, which can be harmful if consumed).

The leaves (or needles) of pine, spruce and hemlock trees (not to be confused with the poison hemlock plant) are steeped in boiling water and consumed as an incredibly healthy tea.

Acorns can be roasted and eaten whole, ground and boiled for a coffee-like beverage, or turned into flour - but they do require a bit of processing.

And cattail has been dubbed "nature's grocery store", because the entire plant can be consumed (different parts at different times of the year).

It's important to remember that it's only been in the last 100 years that humans have been wholly dependent on money to get food. There was a time when foraging for, at least, some part of one's caloric intake, was the norm and not the exception, and the universe does provide. There is, indeed, an enormous bounty of healthful foods that could be consumed, but aren't, because we're too busy working to buy food that more often than not makes us sick.

The fact is that foraging is still practiced in other parts of the world. I heard or read a story some time ago about a woman who was visiting southeast Asia, and she commented on how neatly the homeowners had trimmed their bamboo back from the sidewalk. Her guide told her that it wasn't the homeowners, but rather that everyone knew bamboo is edible and delicious and an important food in their country, and so when the bamboo strayed into public walkways, it was quickly snipped by the first person to find it.

I liked that story, and I thought of it, often, while we were zipping through the country-side, passing full apple tree after full apple tree, fields of yellow-headed dandelions, and large swaths of cattails.

There's food out there, free, for the taking. The key is to know what's food, and it's really not so difficult. For those who are facing food security issues, a forager's kit, complete with an edible plant identification book might look more like a life-saver and a lot less like a crazy prepper gift.


  1. If you asked people how many foraged foods they've eaten, I wonder what kind of answers you'd get. I've had poke, lambs quarter, blackberries/raspberries, muscadine, pin cherries, wild strawberries, morels, spring onions, redbud flowers, persimmon, wild plum, nuts - that's all I can think of right now.

    My grandma was big into foraging and had several close call snake stories to go with it.

    I'd love to figure out what to do with cattails, and learn more about what's out there in the winter months. Is there a plant ID book you recommend? Or, should I just search for an Arkansas author?

    brenda from arkansas

  2. Growing up we had a wild plum tree in our yard. I would eat them raw, but we never processed them because they were mostly pit and frankly, my parents didn't have time.

    Now I live in a little house we call "Bramble House" because it's surrounded by raspberry and - my favorite - blackcap brambles. I forage as many as I can when they're in season. We also have wild chives in our yard, and garlic mustard, which I snip whenever I remember to. And I LOVE ramps/wild leeks, which I can get from my CSA.

    We have a black walnut tree in our yard and dozens in a park nearby. Still haven't figured out how to process the darn things though.

  3. There's food out there for the taking

    Tell me about it. I was walking to lunch one day this week, and this plant was growing all along the sidewalk. It's either Yellow Rocket (and as "rocket" is another name for arugula it's likely a wild variety) or more likely Early Winter Cress — both can be used in salads or boiled greens. Most yard weeds are edible if you don't use herbicides… I loved one guy's take on it when I was trying to ID this plant; he said in effect "you could save money by letting plants grow in your yard, then save more money eating them."

    Now Planet Georgia's "winter" is a lot milder than most points north, but there's something edible growing year-round. The wild garlic is sprouting now and the lemon balm (which has achieved weed status) won't die back until the temps get into the teens.

    Citygirlcountryfood, the way they "process" black walnuts around here is to spread them in the driveway and run them over for a week or so to get rid of the soft outer hull. Then you can crack 'em with a hammer and dig the meats out with a pick.

  4. I agree with FARfetched ... there is food everywhere. Almost all of the plants I have identified in, and around, our yard are edible or medicinal.

    Brenda, I would recommend "The Forager's Harvest" by Sam Thayer. There is a text link on Wendy's side bar. He forages a large percentage of his food. There is a follow on book, "Nature's Garden". The format is great with a lot of detail about not only identifying, but harvesting and cooking each plant. As a bonus, there is a table that suggests the percent of the plants that you will find in your state ... Arkansas 95%.

    You will be amazed, though, how many plants are common not only to the US, but to the World. I have recently acquired "Botany In A Day". It looks like a fantastic way to start learning plants, and their uses and edibility, by family.

  5. As a young girl growing up in the country with no friends my age nearby to play with, I developed an interest in what was growing around me. Euell Gibbons was fascinating and I've eaten a lot of foraged foods because of him. Daylily buds, wild berries of all kinds, dandelion, chicory, lamb's quarters and on and on. A Native American friend turned me on to cedar tea. Delicious.