In the five years that Mistletoe State Park has held its wild gourmet dinner, participants have always had a good time.
Marilyn Grau, a park volunteer who is one of three organizers of the event, said the dinners are held quarterly and have seen as many as 20 participants.
“We had our first wild gourmet dinner in January 2007 and Sheryl Silva, Cathy Black and myself have been consistently involved,” she said. “Others come and go. We never know how many to expect. We might have three guests or 20; five to 10 is the norm.”
This quarter’s dinner will be held Feb. 17 at the park, with dinner starting at 2 p.m. and lasting an hour to an hour and a half. Participation is free with the $5 park pass and registration is not necessary.
“We advertise it as a potluck and suggest that guests go online and find a recipe, then try their hand at whatever’s available,” said Grau. “But rarely do guests actually bring dishes.”
The meat dishes served at the game dinners have included snapping turtle, deer, alligator, shark, squirrel, wood duck, rabbit and grasshoppers.
“We’ve enjoyed a lot of wild ‘vegetable’ dishes including kudzu – in many forms – dandelions, cattails, wisteria blossoms, watercress, cactus and more,” added Grau. “We do a lot with acorns – breads, muffins, desserts, and some dumplings that are to die for. We never have wild mushrooms because none of us are expert enough to know the good guys from the bad guys. And by the time you figure out you ate the wrong one, it’s too late.”
Desserts are among the favorite dishes of participants. Among the desserts prepared over the years have been mulberry and elderberry pies, persimmon pudding, wild blueberry bread pudding, pine-tip shortbread and muscadine cobbler.
“We frequently use wild items as seasonings, including wax myrtle and wild onions in season,” said Grau. “We’ve had a great rose petal soup, venison chili and spiderwort soup that would remind you of cream of asparagus soup. We had a hardy squirrel stew at one dinner and everybody went back for seconds.”
Drinks – pine tea and hot sassafras tea – are also on the menu. American Indian lemonade, made from the dark red Staghorn sumac berries, has also been enjoyed by the group.
“We’ve found that you can make tea from almost any plant, including acorns,” said Grau.
Organizers hope participants will learn to be more adventuresome in their eating, and learn to identify which wild plants are edible and which ones to avoid.
“We show folks how to prepare the wild foods for eating and encourage them to try them at home,” added Grau.
To learn more about the dinner, call the park office at (706) 541-0321.