Where the wild things are
Henri is taken back to his childhood by new book, Hunt, Gather, Cook
Rabbits are the krill of the forest: numerous, fecund, and prey to just about anything. It is their curse to be born delicious.
While it might come as a shock, there was a period in Henri’s youth when he tracked wild game and reaped the harvests of field and forest. Mon père, having spent his own youth hunting deer, waterfowl and upland game birds in his native France (and, no doubt, imagining for his only son a far different life path than the one I pursued), bought little Henri a starter shotgun for his eighth birthday. Though flummoxed at the receipt of such a gift, I was delighted by how it complemented my darling black-and-red plaid LL Bean cap (with earflaps!).
Confession: While I did in fact track and reap, I never actually “took” wild game. In fact, I fired the gun only once, and that was accidentally, when I stepped on a bootlace and tripped. I’m surprised that Father let me continue to accompany him, especially after we discovered that evening that the right ear of Diane, his beloved beagle, was bleeding and that lodged therein were several pieces of buckshot.
Needless to say, the gun was not among the possessions I packed when I left home heading for La Pomme Grande, but I retained fond memories of childhood meals made of wild game—pheasant, duck, venison—that Father brought home, often cooked in stews with vegetables from our garden, and paired with wine that he had made from wild elderberries, blackberries or dandelions.
So I was thrilled to discover the wonderful new book Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast. Author Hank Shaw grew up on the East Coast and has spent a lifetime foraging and fishing, and then took up hunting at age 32 under the mentorship of a sportswriter at the newspaper for which the two worked in St. Paul, Minn. Divided into three sections, “Foraging from Coast to Coast,” “Fishing and Feasting from Streams to the Sea” and “Hunting for Food and Fulfillment,” the book is what Shaw calls a “rough guide” to finding food in your back yard, nearby parks, streams and fields. It takes the term “locavore” to a new level.
Now based here in Northern California, Shaw continues to forage, fish and hunt, and his book is infused with personal experience and humor, as well as a genuine love and passionate respect for nature and what it brings to the kitchen and table. Indeed, as he writes after his first kill, a squirrel: “I was at once elated and horrified at what I’d done … and when I reached into the snow and picked it up, I was unnerved by its startling warmth … I’d stepped out of the audience and into nature’s drama, which can be terrible and awe-inspiring and crushingly beautiful all at once. Killing and then eating an animal you have hunted is the final act in this play.”
In addition to the vivid personal experience, Shaw offers a wide range of practical advice for identifying and preparing the harvest, from wild greens and acorns to wild boar and bluegill. He also includes lists and descriptions of what you’ll need, including a hydrometer for checking sugar levels in your prickly-pear wine and his recommended .270 caliber rifle, which he says will “kill cleanly anything from a jackrabbit to an elk.”
There are also dozens of recipes, including nettles risotto, acorn flatbread, rose-petal ice cream, root beer, periwinkle soup, “boneless” tempura shad, shark with tomatoes and pine nuts, braised squirrel aurora and Swedish moose meatballs.
Shaw also includes lots of black-and-white photos, many of him in the field, and several of the harvest. While those of acorns, mulberries, clams and smoked shad filets were fine, the three dead bunnies lined up side by side were a bit much for Henri, and the dead boar, tusk-up, was downright scary-looking.