Aug 10, 2017

Food For Thought

A few weeks ago my daughter, Mary, asked if she and some friends, girls AND BOYS, could go camping at our hunting land after they finished their finals at Xavier Catholic High School in Appleton. Although my initial gut was HELL NO, Mary can be quite convincing, so I acquiesced -- with the threat that I could be lurking in the woods at any moment during their outing. To be honest, I was worried sick about this trip because as a father of three daughters, I am acutely aware of the potential hazards organic to that combination of teenagers. 

But this group allayed my fears by regularly keeping me updated on their shenanigans via frequent texts. I stayed at my brother's lake house that night, a mere 6 minute drive away -- and to this day none of them know for sure if I actually was snooping around the woods reconnoitering them. I will never confirm or deny my whereabouts that night.

The next morning, after the young mob departed, I drove to our property to conduct a final police call. I was pleasantly surprised to find they had left the grounds cleaner than when they arrived. That alone is a good sign of future success for these young adults.

When I asked Mary what her friends liked best about the trip, she said, "It was so peaceful! We had tons of fun hanging out in the barn, building a bonfire, hiking in the woods and ‘hammocking.’ Mostly though, we liked the food best!" She said that the boys were raving that the grilled burgers were the best they had ever eaten. Then she said, "And, Dad, in the morning we had the best bacon and pancakes ever!"

Interesting, I thought. Perhaps they just got lucky and were able to find the best possible ingredients for the pancakes and the finest USDA Grade A meats at the Walmart Superstore in Berlin. I should shop there more often. 

But then I got to thinking. The best burgers and brats I've ever eaten were also consumed right there at our land, on other people's land, or at picnics and Green Bay Packers tailgate parties. The best pancakes, bacon and eggs I've ever eaten were also consumed on the deck of our shack after a morning bow hunt. Come to think of it, the best coffee, beer, and darn near everything else I've ever eaten or drunk was best right there at our land or elsewhere in the great outdoors.

I've written often about my hunting trips to Georgia with my dad and several of my Army buddies. Although I love chasing the Peach State's abundant deer and turkeys, by far the best part of the entire trip is the "low country boil" we concoct at some point during each trip.

Some of my fondest memories of my childhood include eating various foods in the outdoors. Some of the food was bought at places like grocery stores and bakeries, while other food was growing right there where we were hunting, fishing, camping, scouting or hiking. 

I remember one outing as a young boy woodcock hunting with my dad. After hours of trudging through brush, my dad shot a woodcock on the edge of a wide ditch. Dad made a great shot, but the bird folded on the opposite side. As we crossed the ditch, dad reached down and grabbed a handful of what I thought were weeds. To my amazement, he stuffed the handful of greens into his mouth and said, "Try some. It's watercress and it's good for you." It was the best "salad" I've ever eaten.

That sort of thing happened often with other foods as well. Like most bow hunters, we spent a lot of time scouting in July and August and often found ourselves along the edges of growing corn fields. I recall, again at a very young age, peeling back the young ears of corn -- field corn, mind you, that is generally not for human consumption -- and filling my belly with the tasty little yellow morsels usually destined for the cows. 

I also recall the many family drives through the Wisconsin countryside in the spring looking for wild asparagus in the ditches along the roadside. I'd bet most of you would agree there are very few things as tasty as a fresh sprig of wild asparagus. 

More recently, I recall a time scouting for deer with my buddy Art Dumke. Art and I came upon an old wild apple tree. Art grabbed one of the apples, took a bite and said, "This is the best apple I've ever eaten. You have to try one." I did, and it was the best apple I'd ever eaten. 

I’ve experienced this phenomenon with many other "wild" foods but also with store-bought items -- as Mary and her friends learned. One of my earliest memories of the outdoors was a day my dad took my brother Bill and me fishing on Pine Lake in Waukesha County. I think it was in the spring because I vividly recall bobber fishing for spawning crappies.   The second most vivid thing I remember was that the weather was miserable. It rained the entire day, and the temperature was somewhere in the upper 40s. I don't remember if we caught any fish, but my number one most vivid memory is that of a jelly doughnut I bought at Pornat's Bakery that morning before leaving West Allis. Under normal circumstances I would have wolfed down that doughnut in two bites. That cold, rainy day I nibbled slowly on that delectable treat and -- you probably guessed it -- to this day it was the best jelly doughnut I've ever eaten.

What I've come to realize is that food, any food, just tastes better in the outdoors -- especially if it's shared with those we care about. Don't believe me? Try this. Think of your top three favorite Friday night fish fries. Then, go fishing with family or friends and catch a few walleyes, northerns, bass or panfish. Pull up on the bank, fillet them, bread them and then fry them in oil on a Coleman stove. No offense to the proprietors at Wisconsin eating and drinking establishments, but NONE of them can hold a candle to shore lunch.


So why does food just seem to taste better in the outdoors? My guess is that it really isn't about the food at all but much more about the people we are with and the incredible power nature has to make anything better.

I understand that some of you may not hunt or fish and that you will never find yourselves crossing a ditch filled with watercress -- and even if you did, I'm guessing you wouldn't reach down and grab a handful for a quick snack. But I'm guessing that all of you will go fishing, camping or hiking this summer or you will attend at least one backyard picnic, bonfire or tailgate party. When you do, take note of the foods you are eating and also take note of the tastiness of those foods. 

Mary and her friends had a blast camping at our land. Some of these kids had very little experience in the outdoors but all experienced the glorious peace that only God, through Mother Nature, can provide. These kids went to the woods to have fun and decompress after finals, and the peace they found manifested itself in many ways but most notably as they broke bread together with foods they eat on a regular basis in restaurants or the comfort of their homes. 

At Badger Sportsman, our wish is that you too get outside often with the ones you love. We hope that you experience the wondrous power and peace that nature has to offer. We know that you will most certainly see and feel it in the birds, animals, plants and insects. You will feel it in the wind; in the sights, sounds and smells, and you may even experience it during a cold rain shower. Mostly though, we believe you will experience that peace and wonder while sharing food, any food, with the ones you love.