I’m completely enamored with the idea of foraging. The idea of finding something growing wild that is edible (and often so delicious!) seems like the most basic of human functions. The idea of nature’s bounty right there without any effort on the part of a person is magical to me. You know, that food will actually grow in the wild. What a thought, huh?
Enamored, yes. Experienced? Absolutely not. My foraging has thus far been limited to what grew wild in the Alabama woods that I grew up in. I wasn’t terribly involved in my food chain growing up and I’m sorry to say that I didn’t pay much attention to what my parents were doing to feed me. We had a garden, yes, and a small orchard and a handful of chickens, but I never really considered them. So when we walked down to the pond to pick gallons of wild blackberries I was naturally delighted, but never thought about how awesome it was that they just grew here out of nowhere.
Blackberries and muscadines are the only things that I can remember eating from the wild (though there were doubtless other things- care to chime in Daddy?), but boy-howdy to I remember them. I still pine for blackberries and when I found a few stunted bushes growing in the woods around Pete’s parent’s house, I yelped with delight. The berries were minuscule and in really bad shape, but I still ate a few and loved them.
Now muscadines (or scuppernongs as they are accurately called in the south) are wild grape that grow all over the Eastern US (and I’m sure in other places- I just don’t know for sure). They are grape-like, but almost impossible to describe the taste or texture. I occasionally remember seeing them in the grocery stores down south, but they were outrageously expensive so I avoided them. I always liked them, but never thought much about them. They were there…great.
But on Thursday afternoon, Pete and I drove down to our CSA to pick up some eggs and as we passed a row of cranberry bogs, I was hit square in the nose by the scent of ripe muscadines. There are very few things in the world that have such a distinctive and powerful scent as that. I instinctively screamed “STOP!” and Pete slammed on the brakes and immediately dropped dead right there of a heart attack. Once he was revived, we pulled the truck off the road and walked around the banks of the bog, letting our noses guide us to the source of the sweet smell.
We saw them shortly after- small clusters of dark blue/purple berries. What I was used to were the clusters of large, bright green grapes, but the scent and taste assured me that they were very similar to what I had known as a child. The vines were difficult to reach and the fruits were few and stunted (I’m guessing because of our recent month of no rain), but they were sweet and ripe. I ate a handful or so and we took home a few hand fulls more- all we could reach easily. Pete only ate 2 or 3- not having the connection of childhood adventures to make them more delicious.
It wasn’t five minutes later that I turned to Pete and said, “ummmm…does your mouth feel weird?” His didn’t, but he sure did give me an odd look. I tried to ignore it, but my mouth and throat were feeling a very strange combination of tingly, itcy, and numb. It wasn’t long before I started to get nervous. “Really,” I asked him, “nothing?” “No honey. My mouth feels fine. You’re sure those were muscadines.” I WAS sure, but I couldn’t deny the odd feeling.
We were home in 5 minutes and before the truck even stopped moving I had bounded up the walkway to my phone to call my dad. “OH MY GOD DADDY I THINK I ATE POISON GRAPES!” I screamed at him when he answered the phone. He calmly informed me that there were no poison species of grapes, was I sure that was what I had eaten? I told him I was almost certain (grapes are hard to miss, you know, with their distinctive leaves and fruit clusters), but that my mouth felt so weird that it was freaking me out. Pete was pacing behind me at this point muttering “She’s killed me! She’s fed me poison grapes and killed me!” which wasn’t really helping. My mother asked the appropriate question of whether or not I was having trouble breathing or felt weird in any other way besides a tingly/itchy mouth. Of course I wasn’t, so her suggestion was that I was having some kind of mild allergic reaction.
The tingles were gone in about 15 minutes, and I realized that in fact, I had eaten perfectly safe muscadines and was having some sort of minor allergic reaction to them, and I didn’t die or even get sick at all.
The bag of muscadines sat on the counter until we finally just threw them away yesterday, nary a one eaten.
Foraging attempt #1: FAIL!
I won’t give up, though! And I’ll even try muscadines again if the opportunity presents itself.