Backroads: Wild Parties

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The red fruit of Staghorn sumac. Photo: Lynn Coffey.

When I moved to the Love community in 1980, several of my neighbors and I decided to host a covered-dish dinner, where everything had to be prepared from the woods.  The first “wild party” of Love, Virginia, was held in the spring and was so successful that we held another that autumn so the different foods of each season could be utilized. 

Bunny Stein and I took it upon ourselves to make natural invitations out of peeled birch bark penned with pokeberry ink and as the confirmations started coming in, we requested that each person or family bring one or two dishes to be shared.  There was a great deal of secrecy about who was bringing what, adding to the mystique and excitement of the evening.  

Yellow flowers of the Jerusalem artichoke. Photo: Lynn Coffey.

Boyd and Gladys Coffey offered to let us use their Quonset hut for the festivities so there would be plenty of room for food and people alike.

At the first spring dinner, I remember Buddy Stein brought a mushroom bisque made from wild morels that grew near his home.  

I prepared a salad made from the watercress growing in our spring branch and added meat from crawdads in Back Creek that my daughter, Heather, caught using a bit of raw bacon tied to a string.

I also made sassafras tea from the fragrant roots of the young plants along with some pink “lemonade” made from the citrusy red berries of the staghorn sumac tree.

Someone dug the watery tubers of the Jerusalem artichoke and fixed a cheesy, potato-like casserole.  

Several of the men caught fresh rainbow trout and fried up a mouth-watering main dish.

Baked venison roast & potatoes. Photo: Lynn Coffey.

There were all kinds of things to pick from and it was such fun sampling each of the creative dishes everyone had fixed.

But it was the autumn party was where we all had a chance to shine.  The fall months seemed to offer more of an abundance of foodstuffs and I clearly remember some of the dishes people brought.

Bunny had gathered acorns which she dried and later crushed into a fine meal to make acorn muffins, which had a wild, nutty flavor.

Rockwell and Ruby Harris brought a large pan of blackberry cobbler and a superb blackberry wine that we all had a taste of.

Fresh blackberry cobbler. Photo: Lynn Coffey.

Since it was hunting season, we had a huge selection of wild meats to choose from.  Boyd Coffey was a bear hunter so Gladys fixed a roast she had in the freezer, along with a tender, young groundhog baked and smothered in garden vegetables.  It was the first time I had ever eaten both meats and was amazed at how delicious they were.  Along the same line, Sonny Stein fixed a venison roast that melted in your mouth.

I hunted in the woods behind our house and came back with two fat grouse I roasted to perfection.

Again, we drank sassafras tea and someone treated us to some “coffee” made from chicory roots.  We also had grape juice made from wild fox grapes William Hatter picked near Maupin Field.

I also made a loaf of persimmon/hickory nut bread which was a dark sweet bread that complemented the meal.

The dishes were creative and seemingly endless as we heaped our plates with food gathered from the earth.  Everyone enjoyed trying out the new wild edible recipes found right outside our back doors.

Free for the taking, nature provides everything needed for a healthy and nutritious diet if we just tap into its rich source.  No preservatives or additives; just pure goodness enriched with all the vitamins a body needs for good health.

Lest I forget, the funniest part of the first wild party, Becky Hatter, who had recently moved to Love from the Richmond area and a confirmed “city girl,” brought a dish of wild rice that everyone loved.  When asked about the recipe she said she got it from her uncle.  “Which uncle,” someone asked?  With a mischievous grin, Becky laughed and said, “my Uncle Ben!” 

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