Then came milkweed pod season. Gotta get ’em little. She’d frown, adjust her hat, and we’d be off. Not into the woods this time but along the road and down to the pot-hole, where the first wildflowers and weeds were coming into bloom across the open fields and up the sides of the wide glacial depression. Milkweed doesn’t grow in big patches so the picking can be hard unless you’re lucky. I always seemed luckier with Theresa. We’d find a nice patch with pods only an inch or two long and take them back and cook them. We’d wash the pods, bring them to a boil in plenty of water, drain, boil again, drain, boil again and serve with butter and pepper. Heaven.
After milkweed time came juneberries and wonderful juneberry cookies. My husband loved Theresa’s juneberry cookies. He wanted to market them, Nationally, he said, enthused as he bit into the chocolate-chip-type fruity cookie.
First you have to find the trees, Theresa said, letting him down easy. They only bloom in June. Can’t find that many. Maybe a dozen or so a year is all.
Then came purslane, a glutinous-leaved plant cooked just like the milkweed pods and served with a little butter and crumbled bacon.
In August she showed me the puffballs—from small beige globes to huge basketball-shaped growths. Sliced, dipped in egg then bread crumbs, fried in half olive oil/half butter mix—I’d say puffballs taste like chicken but they don’t. It’s all pure puffball.
In between there’d be patches of wild leek. Our noses would lead us to them under the maples. We dug armfuls. They went into soups and salads and stews and meatloaves.
And then, one spring, she was gone. I was sad that first year and didn’t go foraging. But by the second year I noticed morels when I was walking and told myself nothing really ends. As long as there is memory I’ll be out in the woods looking where she taught me to look, foraging as she taught me to forage, cooking my bits of plunder as she taught me to cook them. I’ve had many teachers, from kindergarten through all those staid professors at the University of Michigan. None have been as dear to me, or as instructive, as my teacher of the woods in her beer-can hat.
Elizabeth Buzzelli writes from the woods between Leetsville and Mancelona. Her newest novel, Dead Little Dolly, is the fifth in the Emily Kincaid mystery series and is available at bookstores and on the web. [email protected]