Benefit And Joy Of Tasty Tree Treats

Jennifer Jackson
Posted 11/23/22

In Missouri, you can hunt for turkey and grow your own corn, traditional Thanksgiving fare.You can also pick dinner off the trees.Last week, Ginger Miller and Kara Entrop presented a “Tasty …

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Benefit And Joy Of Tasty Tree Treats

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In Missouri, you can hunt for turkey and grow your own corn, traditional Thanksgiving fare.
You can also pick dinner off the trees.
Last week, Ginger Miller and Kara Entrop presented a “Tasty Tree Treats” at the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) office in Clinton. The workshop focused on foraging for native foods, and featured samples of treats made from persimmons, PawPaws, wild plums and hickory bark, plus pecans and walnuts.
“These are different flavors than most people have had,” Ginger Miller said. “People either love them or hate them.”
Hunter Hodge, 7, gave it a thumbs up.
“I liked it all,” he said.
Hunter and his mother, Kristin Hodge, came from Lowry City for the workshop, along with friends Eli, 12, and Ethan, 10, and their mother, Nicole Neeld. The Neeld family lives on 20 wooded acres near Osceola, where she home-schools the two boys.
“We would like to know what we can find on our land,” Nicole said, noting they have black walnut and persimmon trees, and have planted PawPaws and elderberry.
When learning about foraging, the first thing to talk about is safety, Ginger said. Properly identifying a tree or plant is paramount, she said, noting that she always checks multiple guides. She recommends “Wild Edibles” by Jan Philips, which Ginger has downloaded on the MDC website (go to mdc.mo.gov and put “Wild Edibles” in the search bar. The MDC office in Clinton has numerous resource books on tree and plant identification, she said. She also recommends “Foraging the Ozarks,” by Bo Brown, whose new book, “Foraging the Central Plains,” is coming out soon.
Ginger also makes sketches of plants, which she recommends to help develop your eye for details.
The second thing is to be mindful of your surroundings, Ginger said. She does not forage near roadways, railroad tracks and agricultural areas, because she doesn’t know what’s been sprayed there.
‘You need to ask yourself, “Is this a place where this plant should be?” she said.
Her third rule: when tasting something new, take tiny amounts of it or rub it on your lips. If it causes a tingling sensation, you may be allergic to it and should not eat any more of it. Try one new thing at a time.
“If you learned one new plant a week, you’d have 52 new plants to eat by the end of the year,” Ginger said.
Ginger said people who moved to the Missouri territory learned from indigenous people what could be gathered and eaten here.
“They used nuts for a lot of things, and parts of trees,” Ginger said.
The Clinton area is the second best place in the country for pecans, she said, with Bates County being the best. Pecan trees are tolerant of flooded areas, and the nuts float, so spread around the floodplain, creating groves of pecan trees. The Clinton area is first for walnuts, she said.
All hickory nuts are edible, although some are sweeter than others. Boiling shagbark hickory bark to make syrup is easier than tapping a maple sugar for sap, Ginger said, but can have a rougher taste. Other plants are edible, but may be too mucilaginous or bitter.
“There is a difference between what you can eat and what is enjoyable to eat,” Ginger said.
This is the first year she and Kara have given the Tasty Tree Treats workshop. They presented it twice in Warsaw on Nov. 15 at the Lost Valley Hatchery, receiving rave reviews, she said, and twice on Nov. 16 in Clinton.
Along with learning about foraging for tasty treats, people attending the free workshop were treated to plates full of goodies — thumbprint cookies topped with jelly that Kara made from wild plums, holiday cookies and fudge made with chewy pieces of red persimmon pulp, hickory nut sandies, shagbark hickory syrup, candied pecans and walnuts.
The moist banana/PawPaw bread was a particular favorite. PawPaw, Ginger explained, is the state fruit tree of Missouri, and Missouri’s only native tropical fruit tree, having survived from warmer times out of 2,000 species that once flourished here. For those who only know of PawPaws from the “The Pawpaw Patch” song, which children used to sing in grade school, the fruit is about the size of a potato, and tastes like a combination of banana, mango and pineapple, Ginger said. It needs to be peeled, rinsed and the large seeds removed, she said.
Tasty Tree Treat tasters also tried a persimmon, which is similar to a fig in texture and not sour when fully ripe. The flat brown persimmon seeds are used to predict the weather, Ginger said. When split open, the inside of the seed shows the small white shape of a knife, fork or spoon. The knife predicts cutting through a lot of ice, Ginger said, the fork denotes a bountiful harvest, and the spoon means snow.
“We always hope for forks,” she said. “We’ve been seeing a lot of spoons.”
Treats were served by Roxanne Stockdall, Kathy Allen of Windsor, and Jeff Steffens, who are members of the Hi Lonesome Chapter of Missouri Master Naturalists, based in Cole Camp. The chapter covers four counties, Roxanne explained, and is sponsored by the University of Missouri Extension and the Missouri Department of Conservation. Master Naturalists take 11 weeks of classes, go on field trips, and help with everything from native gardens and bird and reptile surveys to prescribed burns and prairie maintenance, she said.
“You can find something to do about anything you are interested in,” she said. “We’re always learning.”
The MDC is planning more new workshops, Ginger said, including using natural plant dyes, making baskets from natural materials and sowing winter seeds. Nathan Betterncourt of Tri-Lakes Fly Fisher attended the workshop to learn more about edible plants, and helped serve treats. He is planning on offering a workshop on tying flies for fishing, he said.
A unique experience coming up on Dec. 17 at Lost Valley Hatchery: MDC is offering “Fishing with Santa.” Mrs. Claus will also be there, Ginger said, and the trout pond will be open for fishing.
For more information, go to mdc.mo.gov or visit the Missouri Department of Conservation, 2010 S. 2nd St., Clinton. Phone: 660-885-6981.

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