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Wiltz: Fish and weeds worth eating?

Thanks to Joyce, my sister-in-law, I have a wonderful new book entitled, Hunt, Gather, Cook by Hank Shaw. The book presents a broad range of fishing, hunting, and foraging activities in a relaxing, refreshing style that makes for enjoyable reading. You might be familiar with Hank Shaw. At the recent three-day Pheasant Fest & Quail Classic in Sioux Falls, Shaw conducted a wild game cooking seminar.

Shaw never hunted until he was 32 years old, and that first hunt was for pheasants in the Aberdeen area. Though he never dropped a bird on that hunt, it was a beginning. I found it amusing that his partner's two-day limit of six birds weren't field dressed the day they were killed. I'll quote Shaw when he was given three of the birds upon their return to the Twin Cities. "I reached in and felt a cold, squishy mass, yanked it out ... and almost gagged. I'd broken the intestinal tract, and the guts reeked."

I give Shaw credit for carrying on. For someone who has never hunted before, but at the same time is interested in getting started, I would call this book "must reading." Shaw goes on to describe his first deer, a doe, in the same detail he describes his first pheasant.

I like this passage from the "Why Hunt?" chapter: "I find I'm losing my taste for beef these days. It seems so fatty, so coarse. Wild meat is leaner, denser, and more flavorful than almost any domestic meat. This means you need less to feel full." Though I respect Shaw's opinion, I very much enjoy pork tenderloin or a red slice of prime rib of beef.

Shaw spent part of his life on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, and he's very familiar with crabbing and crab fishing. The same is true of clams. When I first got into the clams and crab chapters, I anticipated some useful material on our freshwater clams. I learned I've missed nothing. Shaw says that freshwater clams are too mushy.

A good deal of print was given to saltwater fish, and I particularly enjoyed reading about the West Coast species I've caught, including salmon, lingcod, and rockfish. However, what I want to talk about today are the things we have access to where we live. We all know about squirrels and cottontail rabbits. What I've never eaten are suckers, acorns and what I'll call weeds for lack of knowledge.

In Chapter 13, "The Misfits of America's Oceans, Ponds, and Rivers," Shaw lists freshwater drum as fine table fare. While I've noted in the past that the red meat should be removed from a drum fillet, Shaw adds that they do not freeze very well. Shaw also mentions that redhorse fillets are "white, firm, and clean tasting." I've caught redhorse downstream from the Fort Randall Dam while fishing worms on the bottom. They are a handsome silvery sucker with reddish fins. Shaw gave suckers a boost in my eyes by pointing out that they require clean water to live. He also admits that they are a bit boney.

Though Betsy and I eat wild game or fish 4-5 times a week, we've never dined on acorn soup or salad. Shaw recommends the acorns from white oak as they are far less bitter than the red oak acorns that contain tannin. Shaw notes that squirrels eat white oak acorns immediately while they bury the acorns of red oak. By burying the red oak acorns, the soil leaches the tannin from them. As I don't believe that white oak is indigenous to our area, I'm going to move on.

When it comes to wild plant identification, I know little beyond Canada thistle, dandelion, and creeping Jenny. I do want to learn. Though Shaw discusses greens that can be eaten raw or cooked like dandelions, let's look at wild greens that need to be cooked. Shaw talks about lamb's-quarters and amaranth. He says that Popeye would have been much better off had he eaten them instead of spinach. We are asked to think of lamb's quarters and amaranth as wild spinach.

Shaw says that amaranth is easily recognized by a red tinge in the stalk and red veins in the leaves. Amaranth is also called pigweed. I'll look, but I need help!

Lamb's quarters? It is supposedly tall. The underside of the leaf is silvery and slightly fuzzy. Water supposedly beads on this underside. Again, I need help. Anyway, you get the drift. There are goodies out there, and we're not taking advantage of them. You may borrow my book for the asking.