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Into the Outdoors: Unusual Food

Well, as this is being written, the Allegheny once looks like chocolate milk, and is high and swift. Hopefully, it will settle down soon.

One of my all-time favorite television shows was “Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern.” If you’re not familiar with the show, the host travelled all over the world, eating the foods he encountered in each culture he visited. Some of the food items featured are things I’ve eaten, such as octopus, sashimi, fish eggs, chicken feet and squid. In fact, I once even ate a couple of fried grasshoppers. A kid in one of my classes brought some back from a band trip to New York City. Dares were exchanged, and, before long, several students and I were chowing down. Fried silkworms aren’t all that bad, either. Of course, those come nowhere near to the level of weirdness featured on the show.

By now, you are probably wondering where all of this is leading. While not necessarily bizarre, there are some foods around here that could be considered at least unusual. A number of years ago, sheepshead, or freshwater drum, started turning up in the Allegheny River. I’ve caught a number of them while fishing for walleyes in Lake Erie, but they’re relatively new around here. I’d always heard that they were unfit to eat, and never tried them. Then one day, as I was walking along the river, Bob Campbell, a well-known local angler, called me over. He handed me a plate with a breaded fish filet on it and told me to try it. It was delicious, the flavor being somewhat reminiscent of tilapia. In fact, when he said to guess what it was, I think I said tilapia. As it turns out, it was sheepshead. If you catch one of these, they are fairly easy to recognize. They look sort of like a carp, but not as ugly. They get their name from a noise they make with a bone in their skull.

Speaking of carp, that’s another fish many consider to be inedible and, for the most part, they’re right. However, Johnny Logue, who is somewhat of a legend on the Allegheny, once served me some smoked carp. I’ll have to say that it was as good as any smoked fish I’ve ever eaten, and I love smoked fish. Suckers are also pretty good smoked if you can put up with the bones.

Dandelions are an often overlooked taste treat. Both the greens and blossoms are edible. When it comes to the greens, get ‘em when they’re young, or they can be a bit on the bitter side. Use them just as you would leaf lettuce or endive. They make a delightful salad if wilted with a mixture of vinegar, sugar and bacon grease. The blossoms can be coated with batter and fried, and they taste a bit like mushrooms. Once again, you need to harvest them when they first come out. The next time you feel a bit adventurous, give them a try. Sadly, though, you’ll probably have to wait until next year, as the season is just about over.

Here’s another one that isn’t really strange, but you might not have thought of it. The cheeks of walleyes are nothing short of out of this world. True, it takes a lot of them to make a meal, but they make a really great snack. Just scoop them out and save them until you have enough.

And finally, there’s the good old groundhog. When cleaned and prepared properly, they are as good as any wild game. Cleaning them in warm weather is certainly no fun, but, if you can stand it, the meal is well worth the effort. I have found that I can no longer stand it. Personally, I always liked them best on the grill, after a night of soaking in salt and vinegar water and a short parboiling, but you can cook them the same way as you would rabbit or squirrel or, for that matter, chicken. Old Bub’s mother and aunt could turn them into a real taste treat.

I hope you enjoyed this little “unusual food” column. Seriously, give some of these things a try. You’ll be glad you did.

My son captured this photo of a bald eagle at the Brady’s Bend Access. Magnificent bird.

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