Serious Reads: Hunt, Gather, Cook by Hank Shaw
Most weeks, the closest I get to foraging for my own food is a trip to the farmers' market. But recently, as roadside trees have started bearing fruit and cracks in the sidewalk are bursting with weeds, I've wondered about the possibility and practicality of eating wild food. Hank Shaw, author of the popular blog Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, has written a new book on how to make the most of nature's offerings. In Hunt, Gather, Cook: Finding the Forgotten Feast, Shaw takes us through the basics—and not-so-basics—of finding our own food.
The first section of the book discusses wild greens and berries. I learned that amaranth, lady's finger, and borage—which I pull as weeds on local farms—can be prepared in sautés, salads, or as stuffing for ravioli. The small, sweet purple berries that I've long eaten wild in my neighborhood are mulberries, and the sour striped orbs that a friend picked for me are gooseberries. Shaw gives plenty of recipes for preparing these ingredients—and warns which will upset your stomach.
Next he turns to the sea, and discusses how to bait and catch fish of all shapes and sizes. From bass to tiny crabs, Shaw has lots of tips on how to go about preparing fresh seafood. His emphasis is on smaller catch and fish that might otherwise be discarded, encouraging anglers to be resourceful and creative. A lifetime fisherman himself, Shaw fills his pages with entertaining stories as well as advice. He is a great narrator, and brings the reader along to days spent on the beach as a toddler searching for clams, the sand between his toes.
Much of Shaw's book is then dedicated to hunting game of all sizes. He prefaces this section with a careful analysis of the ethical nature of hunting, justifying his practices and making a good case for killing one's own meat. Years of experience have given Shaw a detailed vocabulary of guns and hunting gear, which is at once intimidating and highly informative. Again he shares stories of successful and unsuccessful hunts, giving the reader a look at the sometimes emotionally turbulent nature of the hunt.
The book is peppered with black-and-white photographs of most of the foods he discusses, though I would have appreciated more imagery of the wild greens as well as of his instructions on how to break down and prepare meat. But this thorough guide makes up in detail what it lacks in imagery. Shaw is clearly an expert, but uses his authoritative tone to guide aspiring foragers rather than discourage them with complications. I am glad to keep this book on my shelf as a reference for my future food-seeking forays, and as inspiration to explore creative uses for the world's many weeds.
About the Author: A student in Providence, Rhode Island, Leah Douglas loves learning about, talking about, reading about, and consuming food. Her work is also featured in Rhode Island Monthly magazine.