You may have noticed we Whitakers like to eat. A lot. So much, we started a mini farm in our back yard to keep the food flowing. In addition to our home goat dairy, rabbitry for meat, and our 22 egg layers, I have started researching foraging. It started with greens. At first, eating dandelions was both for health benefits and also for spite, as if eating them would scare them out of our yard. But then I began seeing more and more possibilities. There are people out there who literally get all their greens on their morning stroll. People that forage fruit from front lawns and call it a “clean up service.” Apparently, if you look around, there is enough free food available to keep our paleolithic ancestors smacking their lips.
If you have fished, you have foraged. Nothing better than lake trout grilled over the fire! If you have gone mushrooming, you are a pro at foraging. (That is on my bucket list, by the way.) If you are a hunter–not just a trophy hunter, but a freezer full of venison hunter–I salute you. Damon has explored the culinary possibilities of worms and said he is not opposed to raising other bugs. We ate a “wild” rabbit we caught in the process of obliterating our garden. On a similar note, I might be persuaded to eat gopher, if we could ever catch one of the evil critters. Foraging intrigues me (and not just flora and fauna I am mad at.)
So when my hubby came home from an evening in the canyon with a surprise for me, I was elated. No, he didn’t pick wildflowers. I had stayed home with a sick kid while Shea ventured up East canyon for a family party. It was late when Shea came trudging in with 3 worn out and mud covered children. Usually, he would be exhausted too from a night outnumbered by kids, but the mud couldn’t hide the boyish grin on his face as he held up a plastic bucket like a trophy. I noticed the peculiar movement of the mass right away. Then the swampy smell hit me. They were beautiful. Crayfish, crawdads, mudbugs…a rose by any other name.
I was seriously thrilled on a late Saturday night to realize that I would not have to worry about Sunday dinner. Shea, the formidable forager, had brought home a feast!
If you have never caught crawdads, grab a bucket and enlist your little ones; it is an adventure. They thrive in still water, like a slow moving stream or the edge of a reservoir or lake. Find a comfortable spot on a shoreline, you may be there awhile. You have to wait till dusk, when crawdads are most active. You need some premium bait. Hot dogs, for example, will not do the trick. But chicken necks…irresistible! The easiest way is to tie your bait to a long string and throw it from shore as far as you can. Then you wait. Pull your string in slowly, inch at a time with long pauses in between. The little buggers will clamp onto the meat, and hang on tight right up to the point where you can bend down and scoop them up. Slow and steady is the key. Grab them by the thorax and you will be most likely to avoid a pinch (there has to be some risk involved or where is the fun?) Put them in a bucket of water and go get some more!
Anyway, this was by far the biggest haul ever made by my tribe. There were easily 75 or so of them. The largest crawdad filled my whole hand.
Cooking them is really a breeze. I was wishing I had corn on the cob and some kielbasa so we could do it Southern style. But you make do. We whipped up some garlic butter and got the pot boiling.
The kids were so proud and excited, like warriors after a hunt. They have always wanted to do a lobster boil. This is probably as close as we will get. Damon wanted to see if they really turned red. They do. Becca wondered if the crawdads would scream. They didn’t. Even Tayler, our princess, was captivated. I have never had so many helpers at dinner time.
Half the fun of eating is the process of cracking into them. The kids felt as though they had license to play with their food. There were lots of laughs and jokes as we tried to demonstrate the best way to open the claws and tails. And did they eat them? Yes! You probably aren’t surprised that Damon and Shea, my “garbagemen,” devoured their dinners. But even my girls were eager to try it. All but Zaida, who refuses anything that didn’t come in a box. Sigh. But she enjoyed opening them up and handing her spoils over to daddy. All in all, it was a fun, different dinner. The kids felt like mighty adventurers and crawdads taste infinitely better than dandelions.
We enjoyed ourselves so much, I read up on crawdad farming. No, it won’t be added to the purple barn lineup anytime soon, but we do dream of an aquatic addition sometime in the future. Some of you will think this is interesting, some of you have done this before as kids, and others will be horrified. I am getting used to the mixed responses. But even as I write this, I am bracing for our next adventure in eating….goat. See you next time!