What's the Point?

Okay, so we know how I’ll benefit from this endeavor. I’ll gain experience in the great outdoors that will help me write a better book set in the Adirondacks. But you, my dear reader, may well be asking, “What’s in all this for me?” Hopefully you’ll gain a little knowledge, have a few laughs, and vicariously enjoy a sense of adventure. Think of it as a modern-day Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom, where you get to sit comfortably at your computer screen – much like Marlin Perkins watching from a safe distance behind some bushes. I, on the other hand, will go out into the wild, ala Jim Fowler, and do all the heavy lifting in an effort to entertain you.

            Well, on second thought…

Entries in essential edibles (2)


Oh, Deer!

Readers take note: if the story Bambi gives you nightmares, you might want to skip this post, but if Silence of the Lambs is one of your favorite movies then the following should be your cup of venison tea (or chianti).


The carnivorous side of me was getting cranky after sampling nothing but green leafy vegetables in the Essential Edibles class at Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) on Friday afternoon. So I figured the Field Dressing Game class on Saturday morning would balance things out.

Word on the street (or trail, in this case) was that the Silver Bay staffers were snickering because they thought Field Dressing Game was an actual game where one person was “It” and the rest of us raced to come up with the best combination of L.L. Bean boots and Smartwool socks or Patagonia hiking shorts and Northface vests. But I knew we’d be dealing with deer in this class so I prepared by bringing the proper clothing. I just wondered how I’d get a deer to stand still while I put the clothes on him.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the deer would be offering no resistance during class because they were dead. You read that right: dead. Which got me to wondering exactly what the rules of this game were. But I figured that either the stakes were a lot higher than I realized or else someone was a really bad loser.

The instructors, Lou and Angie Berchielli, both outdoors people extraordinaire, batted nary an eyelash as they hauled out what we affectionately referred to as “the bucket o’ deer.”


Bucket o' Deer: It comes with an order of fries and a small drink.


Come to think of it, the deer weren’t batting any eyelashes either. What the deer were doing was giving off an odor that was very attractive to flies. I was able to take my mind off both the odor and the fact that the flies landing on the deer were the same ones I was swatting away from my face with this one overwhelming thought: “what the hell did I get myself into?”

Okay, so I've never gone hunting and have no plans to do so in the future. So taking this particular class was a little like putting the cart before the horse. Or, in this case, the knife before the deer carcass.

The BOW brochure had described the class as “hands on” – I just didn’t think they meant my hands. But it wasn’t long before I was handed a knife and began reenacting a scene from Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman.


That's Dr. Quinn, I mean me, making the first cut. Despite my best

efforts, the patient remained dead.


I’ve got news for you. The smell of the deer on the outside was nothing compared to the smell of the deer on the inside. Lou gave us a mini anatomy lesson as we removed various organs and discussed whether you leave them for the animals in the woods or take them to either eat yourself or give to other people (presumably to friends who don’t rate high enough on your gift list for fruitcake).

Once we’d divvied up the innards, we hung the deer by its hind leg, skinned it, and learned how to butcher and store various cuts of meat – now given a deceptively quaint name that sounds like something you might actually order off a restaurant menu: venison.



AFTER: Yes, the maniacal grin on my face is a little disturbing, but if there's any justice, this is the deer that just ate my hosta.

Lou and Angie also showed us how to dress goose, fish and rabbit (none of them offered any resistance, either). By then it was time to get out of the pouring rain and head to the dining hall for lunch. I had no idea what was on the menu, but I was pretty sure I’d stick with a salad.


Angie shows us how to cut and wrap a venison roast. That's me on the left, deep in thought. Remembering what I learned in the Essential Edibles class the day before, I ponder whether to serve the roast with a wood sorrel reduction or just go with my old standby - burdock root concasse.



Leaf: It's What's For Dinner

I’ve written before about Becoming an Outdoors Woman – the program offered through the New York State DEC that teaches women outdoor skills (see: Fish Tales). As someone who can’t find my way out of a paper bag even when I’m holding a compass that reads “This way out of the paper bag,” I look for any available opportunity to fill the considerable gaps in my knowledge of all things outdoors. So when the program affectionately known as BOW rolled around again, I eagerly jumped in my car and headed off to beautiful Silver Bay on Lake George.

First up on Friday afternoon: a class called Essential Edibles, which promised to teach me about the five essential edibles I’d need to know if I ever became lost in the woods. The five categories are root, stem, bark, flower/berry, and leaf, so you can imagine how my mouth was watering before the class even got started.

This class seemed tailor-made for me because if there’s one thing I hate, it’s being hungry. And since fending off bear can work up quite an appetite, I was anxious to know what I could eat in the woods once my supply of Luna bars ran out. Following a brief introduction, during which we were assured there was enough food outdoors feed us forever, the instructor asked us to go around the room and share with our classmates all the things we already knew we could eat in the wild. Women began rattling off long lists of twiggy and leafy-sounding things that would make only Euell Gibbons drool. When it was my turn, I didn’t have much to share (apparently Hershey Kisses aren’t considered “wild,” even if you find one in the bag that doesn’t have foil on it) so it got pretty quiet in the classroom. Well, there was the sound of crickets chirping (I’m not sure if they’re edible).


Then we went outside to rustle up some grub (Mmmm, grubs – are they edible?). After about 30 minutes of being shown various leaves, grasses, flowers and roots, I came to the realization that “edible” doesn’t necessarily mean things you’d want to eat. It simply means anything that won’t actually kill you. I decided to go out on a limb (get it?) and sample many of these verdant delicacies while I was under the supervision of an expert in the field (get it?).




 What do these things taste like, you ask? Well, you know how when people describe what different meats taste like they always say it tastes like chicken? (rabbit tastes like chicken, frog legs taste like chicken, roadkill tastes like chicken, you get the idea). It’s the same way with green stuff – only instead of tasting like chicken, they all taste like leaves. A maple leaf tastes remarkably like a leaf, plantain tastes like an incredibly bitter leaf. Milkweed – you guessed it – just like a leaf. Ditto for a yellow birch leaf. Some people claimed they had a wintergreen taste, but I swear they were eating TicTacs. Since I hadn’t keeled over yet, all these leaves, while not exactly tasty, did fit the class’s definition of “edible.”



By now I’d worked up a real craving for something that was not green. Since this was a class called Essential Edibles, I knew we’d eventually come around to talking about the most essential edible of all and began searching for a chocolate tree. I didn’t find a tree with chocolate but I did find a lovely pile of Raisinets on the ground.  Someone stopped me before I could see if they were edible, saying they’d been left there by a deer. (I wonder if he knows he has a hole in his backpack?)



Although I learned a lot in this class (I have a new-found respect for weeds) the most important thing I learned is that if you’re planning on hiking into the woods remember to bring along plenty of actual food and be sure to stay within walking distance of a grocery store. When the class ended, it was time to head to the dining hall. I didn’t care what was for dinner, as long as it tasted like chicken.




Don't think of this as a gardening eyesore, think of it as a salad bar.








That's me, on the far right, wondering if I'm standing on my dinner.