Southern Stories
Sep 03/13

Where The Wild Things Are … Edible Posted by: Dan | 0 Comments

Have you ever gone picking up pawpaws and put them in your pocket? The old song made the wild fruit a happy memory for Southern children of a bygone era, but pawpaws and other wild edibles flourish still today in the South’s rich soil and high, humid temperatures.

The next time you find yourself on a walk through the woods, keep an eye out for these delicacies. And before you pop them in your mouth, make sure none are poisonous. Take your treasures home and do a thorough search on Google and with your cooperative extension agent before consuming.

Acorns – Not just food for squirrels, the meat of acorns can be dried and ground into flour for scones and biscuits. White oak acorns are particularly good for this.

Elderberries – Perhaps one of the most versatile of the wild foods available in the South, elderberries can be made into wine, jam, syrup and pies. In fact, its entire flower can be dipped in batter and fried, and the petals can be eaten raw or made into a tea. Choose blue or purple berries only when harvesting.

Persimmons – The Greeks called it “the food of the gods,” and with good reason. Persimmons can be found in the Mississippi Delta and used in everything from puddings, cookies, cakes, custard and sherbet to a substitute for coffee. Just dry, roast and grind the seeds then put through a brew cycle.

Poke Sallet – Annie wasn’t the only one who liked this weed. When preparing poke sallet, which tastes a lot like turnip or collard greens, throw out any purple parts of the plant, wash well in fresh water then boil in water a minimum of three times. Serve with some pepper sauce. While every part of the poke sallet plant is toxic, with proper preparation, you can live a long life enjoying this Southern delicacy. Use it in dips or quiche recipes to replace spinach.
UPDATE: A reader (@civilwarbore) clarifies that you should dump the water after each boil of the plant. And only consume poke sallet in the spring when it’s still a shoot. Or maybe not ever. Domesticated greens like collards might not have that element of danger, but they’re just as tasty.

Sassafras – The wild version of root beer, this tree’s roots can be brewed into a tea or chilled and churned into a delicate sorbet. Louisianans will recognize it as a signature part of filé powder for gumbo as sassafras leaves are dried and ground to make the sought-after ingredient.

Pawpaws – This fruit species is found in bottomlands and is similar in taste and texture to bananas. They can be hard to find, but pawpaws make excellent jam and homemade ice cream.

Mayhaw – A staple of autumn fairs and festivals, mayhaws are a rich berry used to make jelly and other preserves. Grown in moist soil in river and creek bottoms under hardwood trees as well as bayous, the fruit ripens in late April through May and is often collected out of the water from boats. See a recipe for mayhaw jello below.

1 gallon mayhaw berries
1/2 gallon distilled water
5 1/2 cups sugar
1 box powdered fruit pectin
1 teaspoon fresh fruit protector or lemon juice

In a large saucepan, add cleaned berries and water. Bring to boil and simmer for 30 minutes. Crush fruit and strain through 3 layers of cheesecloth. Measure 4 cups of juice and place in large saucepan with 1 box pectin and 1 tsp. of fruit fresh and stir until dissolved. Bring to a full rolling boil and boil for 1 minute. Then add sugar – stir until dissolved. Let it come to a full, rolling boil for 1 minute. Ladle into clean, sterilized jars and process in boiling water bath for 15 minutes. (Recipe courtesy of the Louisiana Mayhaw Association.)

What are some wild favorites you ate as a child … or still eat as an adult?

Because of her love of pie, KD Reep now follows a high protein/low carb diet. When not reading up on the carb counts of groceries, Reep works at Flywrite Communications, Inc., the premier marketing communications agency of Mabelvale, Arkansas. Follow her at Flywrite Inc or on Twitter: @kdreep.



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