How I wish for a spate of foraging books so I could write about "the spate of foraging books being published." Alas there are two that come to mind that were published this year. The Langdon Cook book I reviewed last month and Hank Shaw's Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast.
The real difference is that Shaw's book breaks out the big guns and brings the reader along for a philosophically compelling argument favoring hunting, killing, dressing, and eating your kill. Naturally one must know how to shoot in order to kill ones food. Shaw eases readers into it slowly with small game such as rabbit, hare, and squirrel, then advances through the book to deer, elk, antelope, and elk. He follows up near the end with upland game and waterfowl.
And as to guns--before we arrive at the paragraphs where I wax on and on about my gun-filled childhood--I consulted my DH whose abiding interest is guns and asked him to read Shaw's section on choosing a proper gun for hunting and killing your meat of choice. Shaw uses a .270 for everything from jackrabbits to deer, but Ian thought that using a gun that size on a jackrabbit would turn a rabbit to fluff. It's a bit overkill. And he agreed with Shaw's advice about selecting a gun to fit you. But it's easier that Shaw leads you to believe. Buying spacers to put into the gun's stock can change its length and angle and can make any gun fit you.
Shaw argues that the self reliance of killing an animal and delivering it to table outweighs any other feeling you might experience in life. He says
No butchers, no supermarkets, no one telling you what you can and cannot do.
Undoubtedly this appeals to a slew of demographics. Take Generation X for example; I'm talking 'bout my generation. We buck authority. Killing our own game and bypassing the USDA, and the corporate meat industry would appeals to us, no?
Surely it appeals to the locavores? They can't argue with a rabbit shot in their own backyard, can they? There's nothing more locally sourced than that.
I ate up Shaw's book with my greedy, greasy, bloody fingers because guns were ever-present in my East Tennessee childhood. And every chapter he wrote reminded me of tramping along behind my Papaw in the woods when we set off on a day's walk with a quasi-feral Lhaso Apso called Sampson trailing behind.
As a part of the region's recent agricultural past and a necessity for supplementing the diet and scaring off varmints of both animal and human kind my paternal grandfather (city-born in Detroit, Mich., he took to country living easy) and his son, my uncle, hunted deer each season and fished from the Nolichucky next door to their home. Several rifles hanged on a rack in the living room, and Papaw's blue pickup truck featured a gun rack in the back window. He's the same one I've mentioned making venison stew and his own cherry wine in other posts.
As to other gunmen in my childhood, my paternal grandfather, also known as Papaw--I differentiated them as Papaw Ros or Papaw Don, but simply called them Papaw--kept his rifle somewhat hidden on a rack in the hallway between bedrooms of his house.
And my dad had pistols which he taught me to shoot when I asked him to when I reached young adulthood-- though he brought me along for target practice when I was a young thing and I kept my ears covered as he shot. Recently he revealed my keen eye (and hand/eye coordination) to his parishioners during a Sunday sermon and told them ought nobody to mess with me. Always nice for a preacher's daughter to gain a reputation like that in church, right? Especially straight from the preacher's mouth.
Besides private life, guns were present in school. In middle school we received mandatory hunter's education. I forget if it was seventh or eighth grade now, but whether we planned to get a hunting license or not, and gender be damned, nobody was excused from hunter's education curriculum. And here's the kicker: when I went to college for a year in Alaska, the second thing asked of me after checking into the dorm (first was my name) was did I have any guns to register? Um, no. I do now. But then, no. Lots of my schoolmates at SJC hunted. Heck when you hiked or camped taking a powerful rifle was smart because I barely averted rendezvous with bears on several occasions.
I know, this is more about me than it is about Hank Shaw's stellar book. My point is that the foraging movement and the publication of Shaw and Cook's inspiring books make it seem as though the foraging or the food-to-table movement is a 21st century Pacific Northwest discovery. But, if they're the only people writing, blogging, and publishing about foraging, then, in a sense, foraging assumes that association and identity even though the information contained within Hunt, Gather, Cook is universal and applicable to most geographic locales, except, perhaps, the desert and arctic regions.
Being simpatico with the land is centuries old. Surely this century's blossoming of it is thanks to Helen and Scott Nearing. Their book Living the Good Life (1954) and their example single-handedly inspired the 1960s back-to-the-land movement and reading Melissa Coleman's memoir This Life is in Your Hands: One Family, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone, last week helped me realize the real roots of the foraging/locavore and self-reliance impetus we see today. Sometimes those movements skip a generation, or wax and wane. But in Maine, it seems the trend kept on keeping on.
Actually, Shaw points out that feeding ourselves via grocery stores and restaurants erects barriers preventing us from understanding the seasonal availability of fruits and vegetables as well as gaining a true sense of complete self-reliance as far as feeding ourselves and our families. So he ties theories and practices together quite well. Man, he's persuasive. Read this book and it will change your life. He recommends you start slow and not try to fish, hunt, and forage all at once, especially if you're holding down a full time job.
Relying upon grocery stores and restaurants created a generation gap or two or three. Information conveyed from mother to daughter, grandfather to grandson in the fields, forests, gardens, and streams has left many of us without basic skills for understanding how to skin a rabbit, how to kill a chicken, how to pluck a duck (or any other kind of fowl) or what to do with a catfish once you've caught it.
Shaw goes well beyond the basics though and uses his years as a restaurant cook to concoct dreamy recipes for wild game such as Oil Poached Bluegill Salad with Summer Veggies, Swedish Moose Meatballs, and Wild Duck Ragu. If you've followed the blog for any amount of time, you've no doubt read my criticisms citing new southern cookbooks for their dearth of game meat recipes. Shaw's Hunt, Gather, Cook receives honorary membership in the southern cookbook genre for its plethora of game meat recipes. In fact, no southern home or public library should be without Hunt, Gather, Cook.
In these troubled economic times (I could smack myself because I hate that warbly reference when I hear it on radio) more and more families should turn to foraging, hunting, fishing, and hey, why not even keeping their own chickens, too, in order to stave off hunger and to keep costs down. But more so, to bolster self-esteem, to boost self-reliance, and to re-ignite the independent spirit our country was founded upon, she blogs somewhat tongue in cheek, somewhat, not. Wink. Wink.