Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Throwing Sticks and Seasonal Picks

“What do you call a boomerang that won’t come back? A stick!” –Old saying.

Long Range

The Chase

Throwing sticks are a form of non-returning boomerang that takes on a variety of shapes but retains one standard function…small game hunting. These were some of the most important hunting tools used among indigenous peoples ranging from Africa to Europe, Australia to the Americas in ancient times. Unfortunately, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife does not recognize these implements as acceptable means to acquire food, so all we can do in this state is carve these deadly tools and target practice. Still, it is very fun to refine the shape of your personalized throwing stick and refine your accuracy at a distance. Not to mention, if you were lost, and your life depended on it, this is a very easily made tool that requires a very little learning curve to master.

Properly Identifying Wild Currents 

Close Up of Wild Currents

Newly Ripening Elderberries

Out in the desert again, abalone and I made our way to the shade of a small riparian corridor of willow and cottonwood. On the way we noticed that the wild currents were ready to harvest so we took a few minutes to forage. We could also clearly see that this season’s delicious elder blooms were finally stepping aside for droves of blue elder berries which were already large and healthy. I look forward to making my first batch of elder preserves this year.

Triumphant Dog

Abalone swam in the little brook until she vomited…talk about fun huh? Then we made our way into the desert scrub and started practicing with the throwing stick. Abalone is a great friend to bring along on these adventure for many reasons, one of which is that she enthusiastically retrieves throwing sticks again and again.


Mix 'em in the Batter!

Great with a Little Honey

When we arrived home I cooked up another poor college student’s favorite, wildcrafted currant cornmeal muffins. Not a bad way to end a good day.
If you're interested, I made a little video a while back of carving these throwing sticks with all stone tools...
Keep the old ways alive!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Fruits of the Urban Harvest Part III: Fried Foraged Bananas and Coconut Ice Cream

Well, the bananas we gathered the other day on our urban foray were finally ripe, and I had ideas.

 Chelsea looked up a recipe and we customized it to fit our culinary preferences. A sweet gluten free batter was quickly whipped up and we had crispy golden brown bananas in the cast iron skillet a few moments later.

Both Chelsea and I were presently surprised by how well this dessert turned out. 
Got bananas? Give it a try!
Keep the old ways alive!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Fruits of the Urban Harvest Part II: Loquat Salsa Fresca

“Man, these loquats are so sweet…it’s like eating Red Bull!”- Alex Izzarelli’s first taste of loquat fruit.

I really can’t discuss the delectable little Chinese fruits known as loquats without remembering our old friend and Alex and my first boss, Blanch Hunt. Doctors had given this cute little old lady two weeks to live…that was eight years before we met her. She was not just a survivor, but the type of individual who truly appreciated the little things, especially in the garden and orchard. 

One afternoon as I raked leaves, Blanch walked out and had a seat next to me to chat while I worked. “Grab me one of loquats will you Raul?” I chuckled handing her one of the peculiar fruits as I reminded her that my name was Kevin. Her last faithful gardener, Raul, had been with her for nearly 10 years, and as long as I worked for her, Blanch called me Kevin only about 2/3 of the time. As I raked a bit more, I watched her out of the corner of my eye. She first peeled the yellow fruit and then proceeded to eat the fruit from around the central pits. “Mmmmm” she said raising her shoulders and squinting with a smile as she savored the satisfaction one only gets when they taste a fruit that is perfectly ripe right off of the tree. “O.K.” I said now convinced I was missing something big, “what is this? A Lo-kwal?” The spell of the sweet fruit was broken as Blanch opened her eyes frowning at me with disapproval and pity  “Lo-quat!” she corrected, “have you really never had one?” I shook my head, now realizing that I really was missing something. “Grab another one,” Blanch instructed, “and grab me another one too!” I set down the rake and reached up into the tree. “Not that one!” she laughed, “use your 6’6” height and get us some good ones!” I chuckled and after a little time, located a pair that met her standards. She showed me how to peel them, how to eat around the pits, and how to know I was getting the good ones that afternoon.

Since those days, Alex and I routinely foraged for these fruits throughout the state. One of the great things about this little fruit is that it grows in abundance on the tree, throughout the country and city, and indeed throughout the state of California. As a matter of fact, Alex just returned from New Orleans where he found an abundance of free food in the plentiful loquats growing there.
We had hoped to press and ferment our first batch of loquat wine this year, but with the amount of time I have been dedicating to my Master’s thesis, I did not find ample time for that this year (but we are hopeful for next year). However, with the fruits of my urban foraging adventures with Nicholas Santos the other day, I discovered a new loquat delicacy, Salsa!

A neighbor spied me eyeing an old and very fruitful chilli plant (really more of a bonsai tree) growing curb-side under his kitchen window. He told me in a friendly broken Chinese-English explanation, that the peppers were very hot and that if I saw a ripe one on my walk by one day, I should feel free to grab it and a few others. I don’t think he knew who he was offering this exclusive access to. In a single moment my catchment area had expanded!

The diced foraged chilli, homemade sea salt, foraged lemon juice, foraged loquats, and store-bought cilantro and onion made a perfect blend and an absolutely fantastic salsa. It was so good I said out loud “I can’t believe I didn't think of this sooner!” 

Try it for yourself…it would be perfect on fish, but last time we got out spearfishing was the first time I've been skunked in over a year (Nicholas will be posting that day’s successes soon), so I will have to wait until the fish come to us again to try it out.

When you can, don’t go store-bought, letting the wild fruits rot, go out and gather wild foods of any type, don’t pass them up when they’re sweet and ripe! Keep the old ways alive!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Pit Roasted Yucca: A Learning Experience

“We learn as much from our failures as from our successes”- Nicholas Santos after tasting an inedible bitter yucca heart

We dug a pit using the digging stick in conjunction with abalone shell scoops. They worked so efficiently it was really quite surprising. The pit was lined with granite nodules Nicholas and I had gathered in the desert and a hardwood fire of mesquite, Manzanita and ash wood burned down to coals while heating the metamorphic cooking stones. The yucca heart that we had hoped was good for eating, was placed in the pit, covered with the stones and covered over again with layers of yucca leaves and prickly pear pads before being sealed in with earth.

The following day we excavated the pit which was still warm after more than 24 hours.

 It took us a little while to remove the leaf stalks from the heart, but once we did we were left with a very nice looking piece. 

However, looks can be deceiving. The yucca heart was clearly not what the ancestors of the region would have been targeting as it was far from sweet, and bitter, bitter, bitter! We chalked this one up to a learning experience and hope our future roasts will be more successful.

We were left with an abundance of leaves however, so we will be working with those in the coming days. Waste not want not.
Keep the old ways alive!

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Fried Yucca Blooms: An Instant Classic

Gathering Yucca Blossoms

On a whim Nicholas and I set out to a favorite spot to get the dog back in the water. Armed with a digging stick, throwing sticks, bushcraft knowledge, and the new alcohol-stove my brother had fashioned me by upcycling a cat food can, we headed up the canyon to a grove of alder and willow. Once Abalone had thoroughly worn herself out swimming in the creek, we set up our temporary camp. I battered the yucca blossoms we had gathered the day before and got the alcohol stove going in a flash…and man did that little thing generate some heat! We were sautéing in no time flat and just about as fast as Nicholas and I could whittle willow chopsticks, the food was ready.

Blanched Blooms Ready to be Battered and Fried

Alcohol Stove in Action



The trick with yucca blooms is to get them while they’re still closed I have been told, however, as we were a little late in the season, this wasn't an option for us. I followed the advice of a Native American monitor I had worked with a few weeks before, and blanched the blooms three times to help remove the bitterness that the blossoms can contain once opened. As we tasted the first round of fried goodness I could say with assurance that this technique worked wonders, and the dish was an instant classic. No bitterness was evident to me, and the flavor and texture were similar to what I have been told squash blossoms exhibit.

After the feast, we broke camp with a leave-no-trace mentality, and headed back onto the desert heat in search of a young yucca heart to pit roast. We knew we were a bit late in the season, but I was determined to dig the best one we could find, roast it in an earth oven, and give it a taste before moving back north. Once we identified what we thought to be a manageable size and what we hoped was ripe from the observable signs, we set to work with the digging stick.

Digging stick in Action

Triumphant Forager

In very little time we were rewarded. Back in the shade we processed the yucca, removing the roots and leaves. I pounded and rinsed a few of the leaves to separate the fibers and twined cordage to bind the remaining leaves for transport. We wanted to use them to cover our earth oven when we got around to roasting. Nicholas pulverized the roots and made a soap to wash up with in a southern California Native American style. We were both really impressed with how sudsy the soap got, and how well it worked.

Pounding Yucca Leaves to Separate Out the Fibers

Yucca Heart and Leaves Bound in Freshly Twined Cordage

Yucca Root Soap-A Good Forager Leans Something New Every Day

On the hike back we target practiced with the throwing sticks and kept a sharp eye out for the massive rattle snake Chelsea and I had encountered a few weeks back. The path was clear and the sticks flew with ease to great distances. It was a great lazy Sunday, and the dog was so tired when she got home she slept for an hour. Mission accomplished! We’ll keep you posted on the pit roast. Keep the old ways alive!
Words- Kevin Smith, Photos-Nicholas Santos and Kevin Smith 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Fruits of the Urban Harvest Part 1: Freshly Foraged Grapefruit and Lemon Palomas

“Bro! I brought you some grapefruit straight off the tree!”-Mitch Evens

It was the Friday after our highly successful afternoon urban foraging, and that evening as the sun set low in the sky and it began to cool off, my wife said with a smile “We should use some of those grapefruit for a couple Palomas!” The Paloma is apparently Mexico’s most popular tequila drink, according to a recent Sunset magazine article. If you can believe it, it's supposedly even more popular than the margarita. The drink requires 2oz of grapefruit juice, 2oz of club soda, half a lime or lemon squeezed in, and 2oz of tequila. It is one part tasty and three parts delicious!

Chelsea used a foraged lemon, and foraged grapefruit for the base, and I lined the rim of our dollar store glasses with homemade and freshly foraged sea salt. She shook the concoction over ice and added a few lemon wedges for garnish before we stepped outside to enjoy this smooth citrus drink.

Freshly Foraged and Homemade Sea Salt

Mixing Things Up a Bit


Of course, we had a few minutes so we killed some cans with the slingshot. Well, Chelsea killed them, I am pretty sure I just winged them.


Chelsea Shot the F out of This Can!

Abalone Loves to Shoot

We found that dried beans work great for slingshot ammo in the city. Even if they ricochet, they are so light, they will not crack a window!

So there you have it, got a grapefruit tree near by…give it a shot!
Keep the old ways alive! –Words- Kevin Smith, Photos-Chelsea and Kevin Smith

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Urban Foraging: The Fruits of a Good Harvest... Literally!

"Can you believe someone would actually buy rosemary?"-Expert Urban Forager Izzarelli

NOTE: All landowners were previously contacted before our foraging endeavours. Consent was granted to harvest the goodies you will see in this post, and I highly recommend that any foragers attempting to forage in this manner seek out this permission as well. For those that don't (which we cannot endorse), try a backpack instead of a basket as it is less conspicuous, only target trees with piles of rotten fruit below them indicating a general lack of interest in this food source, never cross onto private property and target limbs growing over into alleys, and ride a bike or board as your get-away will be fast and adaptable to any urban terrain.

Monkeyman forager and his Papaya

We at Countryman understand that for many readers, the thought of yourselves going out into the wild to gather edible foods can be a stretch. Often times these locations seem far away and nearly unattainable. BUT WAIT, and listen to this limited one time offer. You, yes YOU, can forage too, in the comfort of your own private concrete jungle! Today's post is all about the abundance growing, and sadly often rotting, in nearly ever ally in the city. Our adventure begins in an average neighborhood 10 minutes from the heart of the downtown Los Angeles metropolitan area...

"There's a papaya about to fall off the tree at the end of the block," I said over the phone to my buddy Nicholas. "I am free tomorrow, can it wait?" he replied, sensing the urgency in my voice. "Yeah," I paused, "it can wait till then, but a day or two longer and we'll lose that gem." We hatched a plan for an urban foraging expedition the following afternoon after school.

By the time Nicholas arrived on his board I had mapped out the "catchment area" (to use archaeological terms pertaining to the local region accessible to a given group of foragers). We took off down the alleys on our boards and began our "work" with a lot of laughs. The first stop was a loquat tree laden with fruit. I piped up with a grin, "According to the all knowing Wikkepedia, so you know it must be true, the loquat was considered the fruit of wisdom in ancient we'd better pick some of those!" Nicholas set to the task cutting multiple clusters off the tree with the homemade knife he'd finished the previous night.

Loquat Harvest 
 Next we were off to a banana tree...yes you heard me correctly...a banana tree in L.A. (there are actually quite a few of them). I had been watching this bunch for far too long and half had already spoiled. It was clear that the time to act was now, and we made short work of it.

Banana Harvest 
From there it was to the oranges, kumquats, lemons, manderines, etc.

And finally the sugar cane...

Talk about contentment huh?

All in all it was a heck of a harvest for an hour and a half of good fun. Just wait till we show you what we did with it all.

Kings of Foraging
I've said it once, and I'll say it again, there's abundance out there going overlooked every day. On our journey we also had the chance to spy passion fruit, figs and avocados that were all nearly ripe. Whether you live in northern CA and have access to blackberries, or Sweden and have access to lingonberries, there are foraging options everywhere in this world if you know where to look. Forage ethically and "follow your own inclination, but do regard the policemen around the corner." Keep the old ways alive! -Words- Kevin Smith, Photos- Nicholas Santos and Kevin Smith.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Spearfishing and Beach BBQ

"Get out of Malibu Lebowski! Get out of Malibu deadbeat!"- The Big Lebowski

Sometimes I feel like an outsider when I dive in southern CA. Folks don't really know what to make of a crew of hooligans grillin' on a $20 POS BBQ they picked up at the local grocery store. But when they see these miscreants ride a wave in on a Banksboard hooting and hollering, peel off their masks and snorkels, lay their spearguns on the sand and start pullin' fish out of their goodie bags, they are really pressed for words. One local was walking by with his kid one day, my buddy and I pulled some fish out to admire our catch and the child was transfixed. The Dad said with a condescending tone, "enjoy it while it lasts, you get married and I'll see you at the mall sitting on a bench reading the paper with me." Both my buddy and I shrugged it off and went back to showing the boy what an adventure was all about. We showed him the fish, told him the different names, where they could be found, and how we caught them. Finally they left and my buddy turned to me, still looking at the sad father and said under his breath with a chuckle, "don't put that on me! Just 'cuz you lost your sense of adventure doesn't mean I gotta lose mine!" After that, I relayed stories of growing up with a happily married father who, with the support of my wonderful mother, led us spearfishing, camping, backpacking, hunting, etc.

Anyways, this is an average day adventure off the shores of a beach community that will likely never understand us. Nicholas and I headed out early to the Kwiki Mart (our go-to spot where the drive is short and the shelves are always stocked). I got in the water first and occupied my time with a smile on the sandy sea floor mesmerized by the abundant sand crabs in the shallows who dug into defensive trenches as soon as I appeared. These little guys are a staple of both rays and corbina, so they were not taking chances with me. I meant them no harm they soon found out and they quickly adjusted to my presence.

When Nicholas hit the water we headed out to the kelp beds and off shore pinnacles. Taking our time and stalking through the kelp forest, the undersea environment opened up to us in its vastness. Nicholas got some good shots early on and I landed a few fish while enjoying the presence of other unique sea creatures. Nicholas said he saw a calico and a small angel shark, I saw a baby leopard shark, a swell shark, giant kelp fish, and an electric ray. It was a little tough getting the shot of the electric ray from a foot away...I will admit I was paying as much attention to the LCD screen on my camera as I was to the potentially hazardous touch of this cute little sea monster!

We rode a wave or two onto shore and as we changed into our dry cloths, the coals were already glowing. A few foraged Nopales cactus pads were searing on the grill by the time the fish was fully cooked, and though we were just using some store-bought salsa and avo's gifted to us after a recent party, our feast was still absolutely forigerriffic! 

We used the Banksboard as a makeshift windbreak to keep the cooking fire efficient in the breeze, and we enjoyed every bite! Nicholas turned to me at one point and laughed out loud, "Man, so many of my friends would be jealous!" I chuckled biting into another freshly forager and grilled fish taco, "I know...mine too!" As we sat there on the beach listening to the waves lapping on the sand, warmed by the coals, we were greeted by a pod of dolphins who lazily breached and dove in circles in front of the rock we had just hunted. The setting suns rays reminded us of past days in northern California and Oahu.

All in all it was another great day to be a forager, and a day in the sea we will not soon forget! Bare feet in the sand, fish tacos in hand, grins to share, and the dolphins are there, setting sun rays, adorn this day, we are one with earth and sea, and so we are free. Keep the old ways alive!
Words- Kevin Smith, Images-Nicholas Santos and Kevin Smith.