We all are being affected by the high cost of groceries these days. And many of us worry about where our food comes from and what hidden ingredients it might contain, such as chemical-laden vegetables, hormone-filled meat, factory-farmed chicken and produce from as far away as Chile.
Eating locally grown fruits, vegetables and meat, and enjoyig the benefits of a backyard garden are just a few of the ways to guarantee that your dinner is made up of healthy ingredients. One way to save a few bucks on groceries is by exploring the exciting and untapped world of Found Food. It’s free for the taking, and fun too!
A few months ago, I wrote a blog on Collecting Windfall Apples, basically foraging for free food. Of course, this is the most basic of human ways to gather food for the larder, but few of us in the 21st century engage in the process.
So, in an effort to broaden your culinary options and suggest possibilities for spending less at the market, here are some found foods that might be available in your neighborhood.
Carrots, potatoes, asparagus and eggplant are all familiar foods, but what about Queen Anne’s lace roots, cattail roots and shoots, and cactus pads? While they might not be as quick and easy as bags of pre-washed carrots and potatoes, the results of collecting and preparing them will be worth the effort. I have, in fact, eaten Queen Anne’s lace roots, which are related to modern-day carrots. They’re quite sweet, with a strong carrot flavor. And while I haven’t tried cactus pads, I have eaten the ripe fruit of prickly pear cactus, which are refreshingly juicy and have the tartness of an apple.
I guess this category of found food — meat and seafood — is fairly obvious: trout, crawfish, venison, rabbit, turkey … the list goes on. But did you know that you can eat some barnacles, and that groundhog is considered a delicacy in some locales?
Perhaps you are wondering what all this has to do with the blog’s title word — Bugs! I was hoping that by now you would be enticed into considering wild-food foraging and might not remember that headline buzzword: Bugs! (The kitty photo with the strangely spelled caption, above, is a wonderfully comical website, icanhascheeseburger.com, that combines animal photos with creatively written captions.)
So, there is, in fact, another whole category of wild-food critters that may contain more protein than chicken — yup, bugs! Termites, grasshoppers and beetles all have a higher protein density than that roast chicken your family dines on at the Sunday noon dinner.
Creepy crawlies are highly prized delicacies in many parts of the world. I recommend you read Put the Bite on Bugs, and then hop down to your local bookstore or library and pick up a good insect identification guide. Of course, most Americans are averse to eating raw bugs, so collect a few flying or crawling specimens, give them a quick once-over in the sauté pan and enjoy a nutritious and unique gourmet treat.
The last entry in this list of unique protein sources — organ meat — may not be free, but is a good alternative to the usual meat-counter fare. Organ meat is considered by many cultures to contain the attributes of the organ: eating brain will make you smarter, heart will give you strength, etc. But the major reason these meats are revered is that they have strong, unique flavors, and may contain more nutrients than the muscle cuts we’re accustomed to eating. You can find heart, kidney and liver (and tongue, which is a muscle meat) at specialty stores and meat markets.
So think found-food. And when you’re out in the field pulling tasty wild carrots, don’t forget to check under the dead logs for a nutritious hearty treat!