Living Off the Land

Forage the fresh blossoms of spring to create unique concoctions that celebrate the turn of the seasons.

Photo by Getty Images/Madeleine_Steinbach

This reflection comes from the introduction to the new book by Sarah Owens – Heirloom: Time-Honored Techniques, Nourishing Traditions, and Modern Recipes.

I grew up in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, barefoot and running free through valleys and hollers for most of my childhood. The rural customs of canning and preserving were a part of my daily existence, and the annual planting of and tending to a large garden ensured we had the most delicious, nutritious, and economically prudent diet. It was commonplace to find wild foods, in particular game meats and seasonal greens, at the table. I’d often see one of my uncles drag home a curious carcass of some sort, and my grandmother sighing in anticipation of the work ahead. Wild mushrooms regularly found their way into Thanksgiving dressings, mud turtle soup or barbequed squirrel occasionally made an exotic appearance at dinner, and to this day, poke salad and eggs are my favorite way to enjoy the persistent common pokeweed (Phytolacca americana). I now realize how lucky I was to grow up with experiences that connected me to the natural world. They shaped my priorities as an adult and encouraged my return to some of those practices while living in an urban location.

Foraging, preservation, and fermentation remain threaded through my culinary curiosity while traveling in search of knowledge that mirrors my Appalachian upbringing. No matter the location, most rural communities share similar themes of self-sufficiency based on climate and availability of ingredients. No-waste practices and scrupulous usage of each plant and animal have long been preserved by my family and in many places I’ve visited, knitting together communities and validating histories through food.

Sweet Meadow Vermouth

This recipe is an attempt to honor fall with a reflection of its most fleeting botanical highlights. You can adjust the recipe to include ingredients of other seasons as well, harnessing the distinct influence of lilac blossoms or honeysuckle, wild carrot or burdock root. The result is a beverage or mixer as joyous to imbibe as it is to make. The trick is to identify what each ingredient lends to the recipe, balancing bitter medicinal benefits with sharp citrus and lighter, more pleasing floral notes. No matter the combination, I always add a small stick of cinnamon and some kind of peppercorn to ground the mixture and give it a woody, earthy personality that plays well with most other ingredients.

Photo by Getty Images/Ales_Utovko

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