Sunday, November 24, 2013

Mountain View bounty

Julie and I went to the Bean Festival in Mountain View, AR recently, and though the festival was pretty amazing, the best part was scoring a bunch of wild foods.  The first day of the festival we parked downtown behind some of the main street buildings in an area designated as public parking.  We went to check out the music and see what else was going on and then returned to the car later in the day.  We noticed two women with bags picking something off the ground near our car and we asked them what they were doing.  They said they were gathering pecans.  I never would have even thought to look for them because I've never seen a full grown pecan tree in person.  I suppose it's possible that before the festival was over I might have noticed some of the trees around town or the one under which our car was parked, but I was grateful to have had the two women bring them to our attention.  Upon looking up we noticed the only large trees shading the parking lot were pecans.  Julie's eyes lit up and I thought she might pee her pants when she realized the amount of free pecans that we could potentially get.

Looking around we noticed two more stately and venerable trees on the other side of a chain link fence where there were more cars parked.  After Julie started gathering pecans I began to wonder if we were ever going to get back to the festival.  I seriously thought she had forgotten about the festival entirely and was now determined to spend as much time gathering nuts as possible.  Julie loves getting free food in this way--gleaned from wild plants.  She has been known to go nuts gathering autumn olive berries. 

Our total wild fruit and nut score--including a heaping bushel basket of pecans

We did get back to the festival, but only after spending at least an hour and a half picking and gathering pecans.  The husks on the nuts had just begun to open, dumping delicious pecans on the ground.  With the help of a stick we were able to knock even more nuts from their shells onto the ground.  Some of the neighboring trees were climbable so we climbed up and picked the nuts directly.  A man came out to tell us that the parking area was his land and though he didn't mind us gathering the nuts, they wouldn't be any good if we picked them before they opened.  It turned out this wasn't true.  All the nuts we got turned out to be fine and all of them have been delicious so far.

Before we left the town, we were driving around scouting out pecan trees that might be available for gathering and we happened upon one on what appeared to be the property of a church.  We went in to ask if we could pick them and they didn't even seem to know they had a pecan tree on their land.  They said it was fine if we picked them.  So we spent another hour and a half knocking down nuts and picking them off the ground.   All told we ended up with about 30 pounds of nuts in their shells, which will amount to almost 15 pounds of nuts shelled.

Since then we've been shelling the nuts and roasting them to put into salads and desserts, or just to eat out of hand.  It's a bounty that we never could have imagined.  It's baffling to us that people have these beautiful productive trees and all the nuts probably just end up falling on the ground and getting eaten by squirrels.  Of course, there were probably some pretty angry squirrels in the areas we raided.  But even though we got a lot of nuts, we probably only got a tiny fraction  of what was on these massive elderly trees.  We could only reach the lower branches and most of the husks hadn't begun to split, so very little had fallen to the ground yet.  I can't imagine what it would be like to have one of those trees in my yard.  I'd be set with protein for an entire year.

While in the Mountain View area we also found a hickory tree that had the biggest nuts I've ever seen on a hickory and they happened to be delicious as well.  Although they are much harder to crack and get the meat from, the hickories have a flavor that is superior to pretty much any other nut I can think of.

We also found a number of wild persimmons on a couple of trees.  I hadn't been a fan of persimmons in the past because I'd eaten one too early, before it had fully ripened and my mouth was more or less sealed shut with the fruit's astringency.  I can imagine what Wile E. Coyote must have felt like when he ate a bunch of Alum.  But this season I was given a properly bletted persimmon fruit and have wanted to get as many of the things as I can lay my hands on ever since.  They are comparable in flavor and uniqueness to (though they taste nothing like) a mango when they are ripe enough. 

Hickory nuts roasting on a campfire

I suspect we will be trying to make it back to the Bean festival in future years.  If not to listen to the great bluegrass music and to eat stewed beans, then to gather more pecans.

Inside the hickory nut


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