The spicebush berries have just started to get ripe, and Holly Bellebuono’s book entitled The Healing Kitchen just came out ( http://www.hollybellebuono.com ). Holly contacted herbalists all over the country asking for their favorite recipes for nourishing, healing dishes using herbs and wild foods. She has compiled quite a collection–everything from garnishes, spice mixes, and beverages, to entire meals. I told her that one of my favorite wild herbs for cooking is spicebush. Spicebush is called “Lindera benzoin” by botanists, “spicewood” by many traditional southern Appalachian mountain folks, and “American allspice” by other plant lovers. It is found from New England and the northern Midwest, south as far as eastern Texas.
I collect the berries when they turn red, dry them, grind them up, and use them in the same way I would allspice flavoring for applesauce, stir-fries, and curries, as well as in teas, chais, nogs, and other beverages. In her book, Holly also mentioned that I use the twigs for tea, and as a flavoring for wild game. She didn’t have space to include the back story of how I was first introduced to the use of spicebush twigs in traditional Appalachian cookery. The story begins like this:
“Doug, I got you a ‘possum.”
Even on the phone, I could immediately recognize Lee’s familiar mountain drawl.
“You want ‘im? He’s a fat ‘un.”
Lee lived a few miles down the road in a little mountain community named Bee Log, North Carolina. He and his wife had befriended me when I was living in the area. Lee would call me whenever he had a ‘possum. He kept chickens and it seemed like he regularly had a ‘possum raiding his chicken coop. He would either catch it live in a box trap, or he’d shoot it when his dog treed it in the yard. Being a certified possumologist, when someone calls me about a ‘possum, I feel duty-bound to answer the call.
I never knew what condition the ‘possum would be in when I arrived–whether it would be alive, “grinning” and snarling at me from the box trap, or lying there dead. If it was alive, we would stuff it into a sack or a crate.
I’d say, “Thanks, Lee, that ‘possum‘ll be good eating.” And then I’d take it out into the national forest and let the poor thing go. If he had already killed the ‘possum, I would take it home and cook it.
Lee considered himself too affluent to eat ‘possum. Almost every visit he would show me his shelves of canned goods and his two freezers crammed full of deer, beef, chicken, pork, and bear meat. Even though he wasn’t planning to eat the ‘possum, he always had a lot to say about the subtleties of ‘possum cuisine. He wanted to be sure I prepared it properly.
I can remember him holding a particularly robust (but dead) ‘possum by the tail, practically salivating as he pinched the hind legs saying, “Now look at the fat hams on this critter, Doug. Now if you want to cook ‘im right, git you a mess of spicewood twigs. Cut ‘em with your knife so they’re sharp, and then when you get that ‘possum all skinned and cleaned, stick them little twigs in the meat and fill him up till he looks like a little porcupine. Then you par-boil him till he’s tender. See, them twigs’ll cut the gamey taste and give the meat a good spicy flavor. Then bake him in the oven with some sweet taters all around, and buddy, you gonna have some fine eatin’ “
I did just as he advised, and he was right; that spicewood flavored ‘possum meat was indeed, mighty fine eating. Since that time I always try to use spicewood whenever I cook wild game. Now you’ve got the whole story. Next time you’re cooking a ‘possum you’ll know what to do. Maybe spiced ‘possum will be in Holly’s next healing recipe book!
The Summer Sale is still going on!
Feel free to check out the products page of my website
for the Summer Sale.
As a special bonus, I’ll include a free copy of my Crawdads, Doodlebugs and Creasy Greens book with every order.
Crawdads, Doodlebugs and Creasy Greens
Songs, Stories, and Lore Celebrating the Natural World
Discover how to catch crawdads, puree pawpaws, gobble greenbriers, noodle catfish, tickle trout, cook squirrel brains, twist a critter out of its hole, and predict the weather with a persimmon seed. Learn how to greet a doodlebug and which rabbit’s foot is actually the lucky one. Hear tales about Queen Elizabeth when she was courted by a frog, Copper John Higgins when he swallowed a lizard, and Davy Crockett when he tried to grin a squirrel out of a tree.
The 64-page book features two dozen songs with musical notations, more than 90 original illustrations and a plethora of stories and lore.
Bound for Carolina CD
A Musical Journey Celebrating the Plants, Animals and People of the Southeast
An All Music Recording featuring the original tune, Big Black Snake
From Oh Susanna to Old Joe Clark, from the crawdad hole to the railroad yard, Elliott wails on his harp and sings a collection of blues, contemporary, traditional, and old-time songs celebrating country life, the natural world, and especially the people, the plants, the critters, and the rich environment and culture of southeastern North America. Elliott is accompanied by fiddles, guitars, banjos, mandolins, bass, drums, buckets, bottles, rattlesnake rattles, frog croaks and even a few blue yodels. This all-music recording features seven newly recorded songs as well as 14 favorites from previous albums. Special guests on this project include, Phil and Gay Johnson, Billy Jonas,Wayne Erbsen, and Todd Elliott.
Oh Susanna • Froggie Went a’ Courting • Big Black Snake • Rattlesnaking Papa • Old Joe Clark • Strawberry Picking • Dandelions • Creasy Greens • Root Blues • Crawdad Hole • Mole in the Ground • Bullfrogs on Your Mind • Bulldog on the Bank • Cluck O’ Hen • Who Broke the Lock • Ain’t No Bugs on Me • Sail On Honeybee • Bile them Cabbage • Left Hind Leg of a Rabbit • West Virginia • All Around the Water Tank
Normally $15 — NOW only $10 http://www.dougelliott.com/products.html
An Evening with Doug Elliott DVD
Stories, Songs, and Lore Celebrating the Natural World
Elliott performs a lively concert of tales, tunes, traditional lore, wild stories, and fact stranger than fiction–flavored with regional dialects, harmonica riffs, and belly laughs. One moment he is singing about catfish, the next he’s extolling the virtues of dandelions, or bursting forth with crow calls. He also demonstrates basketry, ponders the “nature” in human nature, tells wild snake tales, and jams and jives with his fiddler son, Todd.
Normally $20 — NOW only $15 http://www.dougelliott.com/products.html