Published April 03, 2011
Gathering, gardening suddenly sound practicalBarbara Lloyd McMichael, The Bookmonger
With produce at jaw-droppingly high prices and my weekly grocery bills climbing, I have been paying close attention to recent articles on our food supply. One sobering figure caught my eye recently: While Americans traditionally spend about 10 percent of their income on food, people in other parts of the world spend up to 70 percent. Judging by the way food prices are going up, I suspect Americans, too, are going to be emptying their pocketbooks to fill their stomachs. As a result, I took note when Bellingham writer/naturalist Jennifer Hahn’s new book arrived in the mail recently. The title: “Pacific Feast: A Cook’s Guide to West Coast Foraging and Cuisine.” Wild foraging was an essential practice for generations among the indigenous peoples in the region. In recent years, others have taken it up as well. It may be because of an aversion to consuming heavily sprayed and genetically modified food, or perhaps it can be chalked up to the health and nutritional benefits of wild foods. In any case, more folks are turning to foraging to supplement their diets. Hahn includes 50 species of plants and shellfish that she deemed sustainable at the time “Pacific Feast” went to print. However, she points out that “what is sustainable today may not be tomorrow,” and she urges readers to pay attention to changing conditions. As a vegetarian, I avoided the section on shellfish, and as a nervous Nellie, I didn’t even consider her chapter on mushrooms. But I pored over the recommendations for wild greens, berries and trees – as well as the recipes provided by top chefs in the region. Did you know you could tap your own syrup from our native big-leaf maples? Or that you could make “dande-lemonade” from dandelions? It takes a gallon of blossoms to end up with the quart of petals required for the recipe, Hahn warns. Perhaps for the first time ever, I felt triumphant about the bumper crop of dandelions sprouting up in my unsprayed lawn. That’ll be no problem. Chickweed is another top yield in my yet-to-be-planted vegetable beds this spring. I sneaked some into a green salad the other night and tried it out on my family. Verdict? Not bad. Hahn mentions that chickweed is a good ingredient in tapenade – I wish she’d included a recipe. Another book I enjoyed this week was “The Wisdom of the Radish,” just out from Seattle’s Sasquatch Books. As the greenhorn co-proprietor of Foggy River Farm, Lynda Hopkins shares the lessons she’s learned while farming 2 acres organically in Northern California. Hopkins combines sunny optimism, earthy language and a winningly confessional style in her discussions of planting techniques, crop failures, animal husbandry and farmers market economics. I’m one who appreciates the existence of farmers markets but who feels that I can’t afford to shop there. After reading Hopkins’ book, I have the niggling feeling that I can’t afford not to. The Bookmonger is Barbara Lloyd McMichael, who writes this weekly column focusing on the books, authors and publishers of the Pacific Northwest. Contact her at email@example.com.