PAT NEAL: Things could be worse

We’ve heard a lot about supply chain problems lately. It’s nothing new to people who hunt, fish and gather wild crops to augment their food supply. Where it’s a story of feast or famine. Of too hot, too cold, too much rain or not enough. Our supply chains are constantly interrupted by the weather, bureaucratic edicts and the sketchy nature of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

Things could be worse. The shipwrecked Russians on the Hoh River in November 1808 would have had a tough Thanksgiving celebration had they known about it.

All they had to eat was their dog, tree fungus, their walrus hide boots and gun covers of sea lion skin. Later they upgraded to dried salmon and salmon eggs packed in sealskin bags that congealed into a mass called “stink eggs.”

These days, even the poor people can do better than that. With a little luck and gasoline, we can get food that is finer than anything you can buy in the best restaurants.

At Thanksgiving, wild foods can be better than store-bought.

First, we’ll need a bird, and by that we don’t mean a turkey. They don’t live here.

The centerpiece of this celebration will be a grouse. Not just any grouse. We’ll need a blue grouse. One that was feeding on blueberries or blue huckleberries. Whatever you call them, berries give a certain flavor to the birds that eat them.

This is part of an ancient tradition that pairs meat and poultry with berries in everything from pemmican to cranberry sauce with turkey — which reminds me.

Now that we’ve had a frost, it’s time to pick the cranberries out of the Pleistocene bogs they inhabit. Redolent of pomegranates, these tiny scarlet orbs are perfect with grouse, but remember: whoever bites into the bird shot has to wash the dishes.

Coincidentally, the frost has nearly put an end to that other necessity, the golden chanterelle mushroom. Whether they are fresh, dried, frozen or canned, chanterelles are required to cook grouse and other holiday dishes.

Dried, these mushrooms can be ground into a powder that, when added to water, can serve as an infinitely superior substitute for the usual box of salty, industrial chicken broth filled with unpronounceable additives.

Dried chanterelle broth can serve the same purpose in gravies, stuffing and, of course, that king of the Thanksgiving side dishes, the green bean casserole, with tastier, healthier results.

But that is not all. The light frost puts the final touch on what many consider the king of root vegetables, the parsnip.

These have fallen from popular favor, largely because no one knows when to pick or how to cook them. After a frost, they are cored, cut up and parboiled. Then cooled and coated with a spectacular sourdough breading, fried and finished with a champagne sauce that, of course, uses the chanterelle gravy for a base.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

First, we must have appetizers.

For that, we’ll stick with the two standbys, oysters and smoked salmon. The oysters are steamed open. The top shell is removed. The remains of the bivalve are covered with steamed spinach and/or pesto, horse radish and parmesan then placed on the barbecue until everything is melted together.

The smoked salmon is mixed with onions, dill and more cheese. Yes, we put cheese on just about everything, all of which is toasted on buttermilk biscuit toast points. Add some mashed potatoes and venison mincemeat pie, and we have the poor people’s Thanksgiving dinner that sure beats dog meat, tree fungus and stink eggs. Happy Thanksgiving.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via

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