This morning my daughter sent me a text message showing me a half a jug of what appeared to be iced tea. The image was accompanied by the question “Guess what this is?”
My immediate thought was “Oh, no.”
That, by the way, should be the response hardwired into any human whose family tree made it this far. For nothing good ever comes of a situation in which someone shows you a food or drink and then asks you to guess what it is.
My actual answer to her was “I don’t know.”
“It’s sumac tea,” she replied.
“How was it?” I asked suspiciously.
“It tastes like very weak iced tea. But we got it to taste lemony by adding a few lemons to the mix.”
So, basically, she ruined perfectly good lemonade.
That, in a nutshell, proves my theory regarding most foraged foods. Essentially, they need to be smothered in other foods you buy at the supermarket to make them taste almost as good as food you can buy at the supermarket.
I’m not suggesting these survival foods won’t keep you alive in the event of a Zombie Apocalypse, I’m just saying they are not the kind of food you would select off a menu in any restaurant – or even truck stop.
Also in a Zombie Apocalypse, why not just raid all those empty supermarkets for the canned and dry goods? And, honestly, does store-bought beef jerky ever go bad?
If you need a more common example that summarizes the futility of gathering, look no further than the bulrush tuber. It is listed in almost every survival book imaginable as edible, but that’s probably because the authors never thought anyone would be crazy enough to wade into a mosquito infested wetland to pull them out of the muck.
I know a guy who did, however. He won’t be doing that again soon unless other more palatable foods, like boot-tread dirt, become scarce. Tubers apparently wouldn’t even taste good wrapped in bacon.
Which leads me to my last point regarding the fine art of gathering food. That being, it’s very much like ice fishing at the beginning of the season – in that, it is best to let someone else try it first. This is especially true when it comes to mushrooms.
Don’t worry, it applies to every other wild gathered food too. For instance, though I have never tried sumac tea or bulrush tubers, I now know because of my daughter’s research that if, I try the former, I will substitute a good ice tea mix for the sumac berries. And because of the guy I know who pioneered the bulrush effort, should I be desperate enough to try their tubers, I’ll just wait chest deep in the swamp for a duck to come along instead.
Look, I am not saying there will never be a time when foraging skills come in handy. But, if they do, it’s probably safest to collect wild foods you can easily recognize from your extensive forays in the supermarket, just like your father and his father before him. Apples, pears, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and strawberries immediately come to mind. So too does rhubarb, wild asparagus and any mushroom that didn’t make you sick or kill you last year.
All this is to say, I’m perfectly fine, doing my foraging at the grocery stores – like our ancient foraging ancestors would have done, had they only been given the chance.