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Euell Gibbons

Given Rene Redzepi's acclaim for plucking dandelion leaves alongside the asphalt and serving them up on a large white plate alongside some kind of reduction, I wonder where Euell belongs in the conversation. So I'm gonna dig in for a few days, and would be glad to hear what other folks think and remember about the man while I do.

When I was growing up, he was a punchline. Now he would be an industry.

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  1. I remember my Mom picking dandelion leaves from our lawn in Levittown and trying to make us eat salad made out of them. She was always into the latest trend! She finally gave up and tried making dandelion wine instead....that's my Mom.

    This song is what I remember myself

    1. Wild dandelions are too tough and strong flavored for salads. Maybe if they were cooked they'd be better. I just feed them to my tortoises.

      2 Replies
      1. re: EricMM

        I mix them raw with a green leaf lettuce and use them like radicchio, as an accent. or cook them like I would collards.

        1. re: hill food

          I could add to this, but I don't know if it's the time or place.

          he did open a lot of eyes. I love any DIY effort.

      2. Definitely a punchline for me too. "Ever eat a cotton ball?" was the SNL version, as I recall. But for a really enlightening and entertaining read, look at John McPhee's profile of him. It's in The New Yorker (paywall, unfortunately) and also his collection "A Roomful of Hovings."

        3 Replies
        1. re: monfrancisco

          Forgot to include the second sentence: "Many parts ARE edible."

          1. re: monfrancisco

            All is not lost; the New Yorker profile is included in "Secret Ingredients", the anthology of the magazine's food writing and cartoons. Well worth a trip to the library, bookstore, or e-reader.

            The wild greens discussion reminds me of "Get Your Ya-Yas Out", David Sedaris's hysterical, politically-incorrect essay about his senescent Greek grandmother. It is included in his book, "Naked", but IMO is best experienced on audio version, narrated by the author.

            1. re: greygarious

              oh wow I'd forgotten that one - when their Ya-Ya is out foraging the neighbor's yards swathed in black wool and not speaking a word of English.

              I can't read his work in public or in bed as I find myself giggling too much.

          2. Ahhh, Euell. I remember him being on Merv Griffin in the 1960's talking about "stalking the wild asparagus." He also did a commercial plug for Grape Nuts cereal claiming they tasted like "wild hickory nuts" (whatever they are.)

            1 Reply
            1. Italians immigrants to the US and many Italian-Americans have been picking roadside dandelions for many, many years now and cooking them.

              2 Replies
              1. re: ttoommyy

                My husband's uncle was into picking roadside cardoon, he had a special patch on the side of Southern State Parkway. He called it "road weed".

                His Sicilian grandmother used to stuff tiger lilies the way most stuff zucchini blossoms. Doesn't seem to have killed any one!

              2. On Central Florida radio and TV, we had Marian Van Atta. All things growing in the sub-tropics. Learned how to identify asparagus from former hone sights from her. Had a habit of rewarding us writing students in class with a wide variety of whatever was ripe at the time. My introduction to different bananas, guavas, pineapples, etc.

                1. My recall of him i that he would have been a part of the foraging movement...all well and good, provided you know exactly what you're picking (and that it's worth the effort...)

                  Doesn't change the fact that I wouldn't touch anything grown alongside the asphalt with a 10-foot pole -- I have no appetite for week killers, exhaust fumes, and the myriad of unidentified substances people throw out on the side of the road.

                  12 Replies
                  1. re: sunshine842

                    I prefer to forage in the woods, then you get a little exercise at the same time ;-)

                    1. re: coll

                      when we lived in France, I envisioned myself traipsing happily through the woods, coming back with a basket filled to the top with all sorts of lovely woodland mushrooms.

                      So I bought a guidebook -- on two facing pages were one kind that is edible, and on the opposite page, a deadly variety.

                      After reading the text a half-dozen times, and peering at the two pictures for five minutes and realizing I couldn't tell the difference, I opted to just buy mushrooms from people who know what the hell they're doing....

                      1. re: sunshine842

                        I don't bother with mushrooms, I have a book too and it sort of confirms my fears. My husband does work with someone who's wife is from Poland and she occasionally sends a jar of pickled mushrooms home with him, those I eat with no ill effect so far.

                        I look rose hips and beach plums in the scrub by the beach, or wild grapes in the woods, things like that. Hoping to someday have the time to expand my repertoire.

                        1. re: coll

                          I absolutely love mushrooms, especially the wild ones, so it was a pretty sobering experience! An interesting quirk in France is that pharmacists are trained to identify mushrooms, so you can take your harvest in to have them double-check it. I figure I'd spend the whole day slogging through the woods just to have the pharmacien upend my carefully-cut treasures into the garbage as he tried valiantly not to laugh at the stupid americaine...(and my pharmacien wouldn't have laughed in my face...he's far too nice...but he'd have doubled over once I left, I'm sure!)

                          I do not, of course, walk past a grove of wild berries or an old fruit tree that's been forgotten- one of the best was a fig tree we stumbled across that was bent over under its load of sweet figs. We didn't strip it clean, but we had a few lovely meals!

                          1. re: sunshine842

                            Oh those figs sound so good. Our pharmacists at CVS are wonderful, wonder what they'd think if I dropped by with a bushel. There are so many in the pine barrens around here, but I'll leave it to the experts until one wants to take me under his or her wing.

                            Our yard used to be part of an old farm, we didn't mow it all down like some in the neighborhood and I was rewarded with gorgeous strawberries (most on the edges of the lawn!) and tiny blueberries and raspberries. Unfortunately the squirrels and birds get the bulk of it.

                            1. re: coll

                              I'm giggling at the reaction you'd get if you brought in a basket of dirty mushrooms and set them on the counter at CVS....

                              1. re: sunshine842

                                I'd just tell them I recently moved here from France and feign surprise at their ignorance ;-) Actually there's a lot of agriculture where I live, so who knows?

                                1. re: coll

                                  unfortunately there are no edible wild mushrooms naturally found on Long Island I understand....

                                  1. re: Gastronomos

                                    The people in Polishtown Riverhead would disagree, but I doubt they'd give you any leads either. All I know is it's somewhere where there are power lines, and that I'm not dead yet.

                                    1. re: Gastronomos

                                      Take a look at my avatar. All foraged on Long Island, one day in September, 2012. All delicious. I'm still here....

                                2. re: coll

                                  i can just picture a cvs pharmacist being presented with mushrooms! LOLOL

                      2. wild dandelion greens, parboiled, or blanched, drained and boiled again until tender, dressed in lemon juice, salt and copious amounts of olive oil. a staple on Greek tables for centuries

                        1. I loved Stalking the Wild Asparagus and Stalking the Blue-Eyed Scallop. From the first book I discovered poke weed. (Remember Elvis' "Poke Salad Annie"?) I'd been pulling them out of yard because they're poisonous, but when they're just tiny new shoots they're delicious. Fortunately, they're very hardy and all the plants I'd pulled up came back! Preparing them properly is a bit of a process, but worth it. I tried milk weed pods and milk weed blossoms too. The tiny pods were really good, as I recall.

                          From the "Scallop" book, I discovered how to open sea urchins to get at the roe (uni!). In those days, shallow water along the coast of Maine, was carpeted with urchins. I imagine you'd be arrested now for harvesting them. Beach peas were certainly edible, but I never found enough to make it worthwhile. Wonderful memories, anyway!

                          6 Replies
                          1. re: Pat Hammond

                            Poke Salad Annie was written & performed by Tony Joe White, not Elvis. Gator's got yo' granny...

                            1. re: rjbh20

                              Gonna cook me up a mean mess of it.

                            2. re: Pat Hammond

                              Dad has been telling me about eating poke as a kid. We get it in our back yard if we don't mow long enough, but by the time we recognize it it's gone purple and toxic.

                              I've wanted to try milk weed pods since I saw them on Chopped Canada. Apparently you can buy them by the jar up north.

                              1. re: ennuisans

                                toxic? I thought you just had to stew the heck out of older poke in a pot likker treated with some vinegar (and fatback or jowl - or other cheap pork bits) to get the bitter out.

                                1. re: hill food


                                  Looks like cooking is the key to safety with older plants. And apparently (according to the Straight Dope forums) the confusion comes from the word "sallet" which means "cooked greens", being confused with "salad" which often refers to raw greens. Unfortunately SD quotes a deleted website for that information.

                                  1. re: hill food

                                    I cooked only the very young shoots and even those I'd boil 3 times, changing the water each time. This was back in the late 70s, if memory serves. I probably wouldn't fool around with it now. I would like to find a bed of legal sea urchins though!

                              2. i remember we thought he died young for all his "health food" lifestyle.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: alkapal

                                  Gibbons died on December 29, 1975, at Sunbury Community Hospital in Sunbury, Pennsylvania.[1] His death was the result of a ruptured aortic aneurysm, a complication from Marfan syndrome.

                                  From his Wiki. If he had Marfan's his longevity may be considered impressive.

                                2. He may have been a joke back in the sixties (You-All Gibbons) but he influenced the likes of Alice Waters and presaged the local/sustainable movement which is burgeoning today.

                                  1. I remember Euell Gibbons from my youth as the man with the 'golden rod and hickory nuts'.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: John E.

                                      My recollection from my youth was the boys at camp giving each other Eull Gibbons wedgies. Talk about painful!!! This was in the mid 70's.

                                    2. My Mom and Stepfather always respected him and talked about foraging and medicine from wild plants. It's really inspired me, I love to forage myself and now I just have to use what I collect!

                                      1. When I lived in Germany as a teenager, my biology teacher did not show up one day. She ate poisonous mushrooms, and died. That's all it took for me.

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: pitterpatter

                                          Yike. And that's the BIOLOGY teacher.

                                          That's my deal with mushrooms -- if you get nasty dandelion greens, they just taste bad and you're grumped because you had to throw them away after walking around to pick them.

                                          Bad mushrooms? Even if it's not lights out, you're horribly, horribly ill -- when the risk outweighs the benefit, I'm out.

                                        2. Euell Gibbons books, which I read in the mid-70's to early 80's, had a big impact on me. His passion in the books was contagious. They eventually led to me developing my favorite hobby of foraging for wild edible and medicinal plants, and a Masters degree in Outdoor Education, becoming a certified wilderness guide and climber, and spending ten years of my life (the 90's) working in the wilderness, leading groups climbing, canoeing, etc. I still forage several times a year, and us the plants to make tinctures and syrups which I used in my old winery, distillery, etc. and nowadays in making cocktail bitters and syrups.