I Love Free Food

I guess I have since I was a kid. I can remember driving around with my dad, a shotgun pointing at the floor, and me being so excited to be doing man things, that I would be just vibrating. He would let me wear his old hunting coat and/or hat, I would drape it over my tiny body, and off we would go to see if we could get a couple of grouse (what we always called “partridge”), a coyote, or maybe even a few rabbits.

These were great fences, because the grouse would often walk back and forth on them, “drumming” for a mate.

We would drive all over the back roads, going particularly slow when there was an old split rail fence or some other spot that had good visibility. Dad would watch the driver’s side, and I’d watch mine, but he got to do all of the shooting, at least until I was ten or so.

We would almost always run into someone that he knew out there. Lots of times it was someone taking their kid out for a Saturday morning drive. They would talk about what roads they had been down, where they didn’t see anything, and where they had seen the game warden. You know, the usual stuff. It only took me one time to find out that you weren’t supposed to tell someone where you had shot something. Dad was explaining to a guy that we had got a grouse in a spot that was nowhere near where we had been. I piped in with a “No, Dad. Remember we were over by the gravel pit? Remember we haven’t even gone that way yet today?”

That was when it was explained to me that you aren’t supposed to tell people where you shoot all of your partridge, because then they’ll come out and hunt your secret spots until there isn’t any game left to shoot. I was also told to never disagree with him when he was talking to someone else. This also proved helpful when he was trying to get me into something for free, or for a cheaper rate.

As a lot of you know, hunting seasons are usually in the colder months, so when there was no hunting, there was gathering. In the late spring we would drive around and pick fiddleheads, asparagus, and morels. Morels were my favourite, and the fact that they were so hard to find might have helped them to attain that rank. With the other two it was easier to find patches, because you would drive around in the summer looking for berries and make note of where the fully grown ferns and asparagus plants were. You then come back in the spring to keep an eye on them until they are ready to harvest. By the time us kids were back in school would be when we would start looking for puffballs.

They have to be pure white inside. If there is any hint of colour in the flesh, do not eat it. Fry up some thin slices in a bunch of butter, and enjoy.

This is what the finished product looks like. So God damned delicious.

I can remember my sister being disgusted with us for going out and picking wild edibles. She said that it made everyone think we were poor. I had never once thought of it like that. Sure we were poor compared to a lot of people, but we also were doing way better than a lot of the population. For me, it was a lot of fun to go wandering around the ditches and woods as a kid, and maybe Dad was just being cheap, but I don’t think so. There was a sense of satisfaction when we would find a good patch of something, and get to bring home a bounty of things that you couldn’t buy in a store. it made everything taste better, and if we got enough of something, then Grandma Bird, or Nana and Papa would get to have a bunch as well.

These are the things that always made me happy, and I can’t remember anything negative about what we were doing. I still love hunting for wild foods to this day, and I love sharing that with my wife and girls now. In the spring we went and picked fiddleheads, and I got to explain to them that they shouldn’t take the whole plant, and why. When we took a bag full home to Mom and Paul, they explained to their nana that you aren’t supposed to take all of the fiddleheads, because the plant needs some to keep growing, I felt as proud as any real dad out there at that moment. Do you think that they will be picking fiddleheads when they get older? I doubt it, but at least they know that they can, and maybe one day they’ll be walking by the creek with their kids, look down and see a cluster of baby ferns, and tell them about how their papa used to take them when they were little girls to pick these, and then he’d take them home, boil them up, and eat them. (the ferns, not the kids)

The ones on the left are perfect for picking. The ones on the right are what you look for to mark next year’s patch.

I guess if I’m lucky, the girls will pick some and bring them home to Mrs. Birdman and me. I’d clean them and cook up a feed for everyone, but I would of course be the only one eating them, because no one else in the family can stand vegetables, wild or otherwise.

Everyday ‘fore supper time she’d go down by the truck patch, and pick her a mess o’ Polk salad and carry it home in a tote sack,


I’m linking this post up for Yeah Write Challenge Grid #77. If you don’t know what Yeah Write is, you should head over and check it out. There are some amazing writers there, and they spin some great yarns.

41 thoughts on “I Love Free Food

  1. Love, love, love this post. I’m not much of a hunter or gatherer (aside from picking the occasional blackberries out with the kids) but this post gives me the warm and fuzzies. Making those memories is where it really is, isn’t?

  2. I’m dying! What is a puffball? Is it a mushroom? It looks delicious.

    I spent my summers on our cattle ranch, and we would scour the place for Lamb’s Quarter. I guess it’s just a weed, but steamed it tastes better than any spinach.

    Those were such great times. Thanks for reminding me!

  3. Great post. Loved it! This city girl learned a thing or two from you today, Birdman. Puff Ball? WTF? I will say it looked really tasty all fried up. I hope your girls will walk with their children the same way. Great getting to know you better through this story (I’m new here). Touching. And lucky you for the time spent with your father like that. Lessons!

  4. This made me laugh “I was also told to never disagree with him when he was talking to someone else. This also proved helpful when he was trying to get me into something for free, or for a cheaper rate.” How true!
    Great post! And so nice to meet you.

  5. Wonderful piece, seriously. I love memories from growing up and sometimes it feels like it all happened yesterday while other days it seems centuries ago and I am 78,000 years old.

    Dammit, I hate that you’ve humanized yourself.

  6. Wild mushrooms. YUM! During our botany section, my 9th grade biology teacher gave us a list of plants to locate. Each one had a point value: wildflowers were 1 point each and we could bring in as many as 25 different ones. Fiddleheads were 25 points. No one found any. I bet you would have, and then had a nice lunch.

  7. Puffballs! We have two sitting on our lawn right now, one of them is gigantic. I’m reluctant to eat them but my husband regularly goes hunting for wild mushrooms. I keep telling him that if I end up on the news because he ate some poisonous ones I’ll be pissed!

  8. <My hubby would hunt morels as a kid, He never ate them, still doesn't, but it is a family tradition to hunt them on Mother's Day. I love them, yum!

    I think it is so telling the things we want to pass on to our kids. We actually moved out into the country in part so that we could teach our kids more about agriculture and conservation. Haven't regretted it.

  9. Thank heavens your post took a turn toward wild edibles. I’m with you all the way on that. Lots of classes in my area on that, generally given by top chefs. So the “poor” aspect of it has been weeded out, pun intended. Anyway it was the beginning of your post that threw me for a loop at the idea of killing a coyote. Did you eat them? Though I couldn’t personally kill any animal I can understand rabbits and partridge. But I’m an over the top animal lover, so don’t mind me. Creating traditions with your family and gathering your own food is wonderful. Fiddleheads and morels, yum. Puffballs are new to me, and I must now seek them out – somewhere.

  10. I have a friend who started hunting for mushrooms with her dad as a little girl and still does it at age 24. It’s been a great bonding ritual for them. I hope the same for you and your girls.

    By the way, now I’m dying to try a puffball.

  11. We have blackberries galore in our neighbourhood and I have found great satisfaction in picking them in our backyard or even on a run! I think it’s a great skill to keep in the family-good for you!

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