Nature Wonder Wild Food Weekend

Adventures in West Virginia – The Nature Wonder Wild Food Weekend by John Kallas

November 1, 2000 – Wild Food Adventurer Newsletter – Volume 5, Number 4

Pulp of the paw paw fruit

One of NWWFW’s participants separating out the seeds and skin from the pulp of the paw paw fruit for a variety of dishes.

Last September I had the pleasure of attending the 33rd annual Nature Wonder Wild Food Weekend. This is the longest continuous running wild food conference in North America. The event is supported by the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources and is held at North Bend State Park in Cairo, West Virginia.

I originally learned of this event back in 1980 while reading Stalking the Faraway Places by Euell Gibbons. In Chapter 10, Gathering of the Wild Gourmets, he talked about Nature Wonder Weekend – impressed with both the program, and the abundance of wild food dishes.

I arrived in West Virginia a couple of days early to conduct some wild food research. Edelene Wood, the long standing president of the National Wild Foods Association, was my host. She put me up for the night and then drove me to sites where I could photograph and collect wild foods.

We saw persimmon at a local cemetery, American chestnut at a friend’s house, prickly pear cactus growing along an alley, and spicebush in a wildlife park.

Edelene showed me some of her wild food memorabilia, including photographs of Euell Gibbons, and her scrapbook of wild food news clippings.


Participants attending in groups of 4 to 6 could opt to stay in log cabins during the weekend. Cabins supplied everything a hotel room would, with the addition of a kitchen and a fireplace. The Lodge (Not pictured here) is the Park’s hotel which is the center of conference. It houses meeting rooms, the feast, and the main dining room.

Euell Gibbons was one of the first presenters at Nature Wonder Weekend over 30 years ago (2007 is the 40th anniversary). He also was a charter member of the National Wild Foods Association. A nature trail at the park was named in his honor.

That evening, Edelene dropped me off at North Bend State Park, the site of the conference. It’s a beautiful place set in the mountains. The lodge is where most of the weekend’s events are held. Participants can also stay in log cabins or campgrounds. Tame deer are commonly seen, and at night the stars are breathtaking.

The next day, Friday, I re-familiarized myself with the grounds and continued my wild food reseach. It had been 16 years since my last visit and I enjoy studying the plants of the area.

After dinner, I put the finishing touches on my keynote address for that evening’s slide presentation. The talk they asked me to give was “How Wild Foods Are an Adventure”. This was a wonderful topic for me,

John Kallas and other wild food experts

John Kallas and other wild food experts at the conference. Clockwise from upper left: Dr. Peter Gail, Samuel Thayer, Dr. John Kallas, Mike Krebell, Dr. Elwood Fisher, Edelene Wood, and Fred Fromhart

because “adventure” is one of the main reasons that I find wild foods so intriguing. I wanted to share that enthusiasm with the audience.

Aside from Edelene Wood, participants at the event included regular conference wild food experts, Fred Fromhart (West Virginia), Dr. Elwood Fisher (Virginia), and Bill Faust (North Carolina), as well as visiting experts Dr. Peter Gail (Ohio), Samuel Thayer (Wisconsin), Mike Krebill (Michigan) and myself (Oregon).

The Big Day

Saturday after breakfast I helped lead one of two wild food walks around the grounds. Some of the plants we saw along the trail included butternut, sourwood, wild ginger, wild grape, sugar maple, eastern hemlock, sassafras, shagbark hickory, horse chestnut and poison ivy.

The Saturday Wild Food Feast

The Saturday Wild Food Feast
Attendees bring wild foods, spend Saturday afternoon formulating then into various dishes, and then serve them in one big feast. So participants are serving and being served all at the same time. Paw Paw ice cream is served at the base of this picture.

After lunch, back at the lodge and in the cabins, participants prepared wild food dishes for the late afternoon wild food feast.

Wild foods prepared included wild blueberry ice cream, pawpaw ice cream, persimmon ice cream, black raspberry ice cream, red raspberry ice cream, dandelion pizza muffins, sauteed chicken of the woods and sulfur mushrooms, wild soup (containing wild rice, milkweed pods, hog peanut, cattail rhizome flour, and wapato), pawpaw bread, catfish bisque, sweet and sour venison balls, persimmon frosted cake, pawpaw taffy, persimmon cream pie, pawpaw cream pie, wild blueberry cake, beauty berry jelly roll cake, blackberry flummery, quail in wine sauce, salmon pate, wild rhubarb jam, violet jelly, dandelion blossom jelly, wild strawberry preserves, thimbleberry jam, roasted chestnuts, chestnut dressing, venison sausage, roasted raccoon, wild mint tea, elderberry fizz, Indian (sumac) lemonade, smoked trout, venison, and salmon, wild blueberry pancakes, persimmon cinnamon pancakes, black cherry syrup, and maple syrup.

After stuffing our bellies at the Feast, the lodge served dinner. Gluttony prevailed and I ate again. Groan! Between breakfast, lunch, the Wild Food Feast, and dinner, I had eaten enough to last me for two weeks. If you attend Nature Wonder Weekend, either skip Saturday’s Lodge dinner or use your meal ticket instead, for a late night snack. That is, if you have room.

That Saturday evening I gave my second talk and slide presentation “Wild Food Adventures I’ve Had”. I talked about my discoveries and experiences harvesting and learning about

 prPreparing ratttlesnake meat.

Cleaning, processing and cooking were everyone’s jobs. These people are preparing ratttlesnake meat. Which tastes in many ways just like chicken.

wapato, making birch bark spaghetti, digging clams, and gathering cattail pollen.

After my talk, Peter Gail and I were inducted into the National Wild Foods Hall of Fame. Sam Thayer, Mike Krebill, and Isabelle Sargent were winners of the wild food cooking contest.

Sam’s “Wild Rice Thing”, was a casserole containing wild rice, cattail rhizome flour, milkweed silk, ramps, and fiddleheads. Mike’s “Wild Fruit Bread” was a black walnut bread containing many wild fruits including blueberries and cranberries, and served with mayapple marmalade and wild grape jelly. Isabelle’s “Wild Fruitcake” was judged the best wild cake. It included 24 kinds of wild nuts, berries, and fruits.

Sunday morning, after breakfast, was the question and answer period that ended the conference. In the afternoon, I continued my wild food research, photography, and plant collecting.

Peter Gail was kind enough to invite me to travel with him back to his home in Cleveland Ohio. This gave me a chance to get to know him better and to conduct more research in yet another part of the country.

Persimmon Pie, Paw Paw Pie and a Beauty Berry Jelly Roll Cake.

More of the foods served at the Wild Food Feast. Persimmon Pie, Paw Paw Pie and a Beauty Berry Jelly Roll Cake.

The wild food spread

The wild food spread resulting from Friday evening’s wild food contest in 1983. Things are pretty much the same today. Dishes on this table include bunchberries in pudding, high bush cranberry sauce, steamed crayfish, rice root in a cheese ball, wild blueberries in mixed fruit, and pawpaw pudding among other delicacies.

Peter gave me a tour of Cleveland, nearby Amish country, showed me the future home of Goosefoot Acres, in Windsor, Ohio, and took me to the site of his annual Dandelion Mayfest in Dover, Ohio.

I returned to Portland with a variety of wild foods packed in my suitcase, including the pawpaws discussed in this newsletter.

Want a wonderful experience? Attend a future Nature Wonder Wild Foods Weekend. It is inexpensive, enlightening, and well worth your time. See lots of people actually doing this wild food thing in a big way.

All in all this was a rewarding event that would be of interest to any wild food enthusiast. Take a trip to West Virginia some Fall and join the frenzy. The 48th annual Nature Wonder Weekend is set for September 18 – 20, 2015.