Many of you can remember Euell Gibbons. He was a sort of celebrity in the late 1960′s and early 1970′s for his books on eating wild foods. One of his books, “Stalking the Wild Asparagus,” was a best seller. I would guess many of you had a copy and may still have one tucked away somewhere.
I was reminded of that recently when I noticed the cattails flowering. A whole chapter in Gibbon’s book was on how to eat a cattail. I was also reminded of a college friend who made muffins and pancakes with cattail pollen. He simply substituted one-half of the flour mix with pollen (that’s the golden-yellow stuff above the “cattail”). He made some pretty tasty stuff.
Back in those days we did lots of “browsing.” We would put purslane, mustard, and dandelion greens in our salads. Let’s face it, adding anything to iceberg lettuce is going to improve the flavor! I must admit, however, that I have let those activities slide. But I now have my book out again.
There is not much in a cattail that you can not eat. You can eat the early shoots raw or cooked. I think they taste like mild cucumbers. The developing cattails can be eaten like corn on the cob or pickled. The rhizomes can be cleaned and prepared much like a potato, and of course the pollen can be added to flour mixtures for baking.
If you get lost in the wilderness, all you need to do is find some cattails and you will be a real survivor man (or woman). Then you can get your own television show!
For the more adventurous of you culinary impresarios who are now looking for a little déjà vu, you should give wild foods a try. Dig out your old copy of “Stalking the Wild Asparagus” or go check out a copy at the local library. There are also several other books on the topic in libraries and popular bookstores. You will no doubt have some fun, gain some good stories to tell, and add a little diversity and nutrition to your diet.
I’ll be surprised if during the course of collecting, preparing or eating these foods you don’t start visualizing yourself in button-down flared jeans and listening to “In A Godda Da Vidda.”
By the way, contrary to popular belief, Euell Gibbons did not die of Dutch elm disease. He died of a heart attack in 1975. He was only 64 years old.
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
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