At the store there’s no 2% milk or the hotdog bun section is bare or our favorite breakfast cereal has all been consumed by the locust swarm – the shoppers who got here a little earlier than we did. Immediately, the mind turns toward survival snaring, the digging of choice tubers or the use of mussel-shell fishhooks. If we’re destined to starve, we’re not going down without a fight. And starvation is for the locust swarm anyway – not for you.
I’m likely the least concerned person you know during this “raging pandemic.” And it’s not just because because deaths are very concentrated around those about to die anyway or because I’m more likely to die in a car accident, it’s because I’ve survived long term stays in the wild. It’s amazing what this does for one’s confidence – always having it in the back of your head that if all this develops into the very worst sort of apocalypse, one involving napalm, enhanced interrogation chambers, horsemen and the like, I am able to live comfortably in the depths of the forest. It’s a good feeling to know that you have what you need at the ready and you’re ready to go.
Food is not the highest priority when one sets out to survive in the wild; warmth, shelter, water and triage if needed all come first. Then, when you’re secure, it’s time to think about eating something. This brief article will expand on a revelation that hit me this last winter: For Pennsylvanians (at least), if you know your fish and you know your mushrooms, you will never starve. One could also make the case that if you’re equipped to take down a deer, you also will never starve in Pennsylvania, but I’ll leave that one for someone with more expertise.
Fish are a top-notch source of protein and not one that first springs to mind for just everyone. Survivalist types tend to veer toward trapping of mammals or the ingestion of arthropods before exploiting the aquatic bounty all around. Here are four fish you should be familiar with if you want to never go hungry, in Pennsylvania and beyond (a small selection of what’s actually out there):
- Channel Catfish: This one is listed first because of its pervasiveness in our waters and also because of the potential protein payload. Also, this fish can be among the easiest fishes to locate and learn to catch. And channels are susceptible to set lines – hooks and sinkers left hanging from branches overnight that can be checked in the morning and which fish while you take care of more important things.
- Freshwater Drum: These little-appreciated river denizens don’t offer the kind of meat you’re likely to order from a menu anywhere but they do offer edible flesh that can sustain life, qualifying them for mention here. These fish are also mentioned because of their robust numbers and bulk. Though ordinarily fish of rivers or lakes, many cruise into streams in late spring and much of the summer (where they spawn).
- Bluegill Sunfish: It’s simply numbers and wide availability that places bluegills among my sustenance fishes. Bluegill are also not picky about what they eat, so a wide variety of small flies, lures or baits may be employed successfully.
- Brown Trout: If streams are the waters you have to work with, which may well be the case in your mountainous post-apocalyptic bivouac, learn to pursue brown trout. Brook trout and sometimes rainbows are present but browns offer a little more meat and they’re the fish that Pennsylvania’s Fish and Boat Commission has been vigorously introducing for more than a hundred years now. There’s generally no shortage of them.
If you don’t feel like eating fish day and night when times really get tough, supplement your diet with mushrooms, which are beyond plentiful in the Pennsylvania woodlands. As with fish, you’ll need to put in some serious time learning these pre-apocalypse, if you’re going to depend on this for survival after the food supply withers. And also, as with fish, this group is generally among the healthiest stuff you could be eating anyway, even if there is no collapse of civilization to justify it. Here are the mushrooms I would start with:
- Pheasant Back: It’s among the first sizeable edibles to appear in the spring, coinciding with morels, which are not listed here simply because they’re generally a lot harder to find. These can be found in massive quantities and prepared in a simple fashion. Check on dead wood, standing and fallen, generally mid-April on through the spring and then often again in early fall.
- Oysters: You’ve most likely seen these in bulbous clusters on the side of a live or dead tree at some point. They seem fairly abundant through a significant portion of the year – mid spring to mid-summer, also appearing seemingly randomly at other times, including the middle of winter. This is a soft and easily prepared mushroom.
- Chanterelles: This is a wonderful mushroom that blossoms from the forest floor in shaded glens across the state. It’s usually yellow to orange and what it lacks in bulk it often makes up for in quantity and quality. Fruitings occur in late summer.
- Chicken of the Woods: This is typically an early Autumn mushroom and is an obvious pick for a source of survival food. Finding this fungus is the equivalent of taking down an elk for those more “gatherer” than “hunter.” They’re easy to spot as they advertise themselves with almost fluorescent orange hues. Finds range from a few ounces to 10 pounds or more. Check fallen logs in shady places though they also appear on standing dead wood and even live trees.
Of course, all this is just for starters, and doesn’t even approach the breadth of fine foods available for free in the woodlands between Pymatuning Lake and the Atlantic Ocean. And all of these fine edibles can be enjoyed without the pretext of apocalypse as well – no need to wait!
Then too, maybe I’m just thinking all this due to my earlier lunch: walleye sandwich, morels, ramps picked this morning and pepper root. For those of us who refuse the government – mandated grocery store mask, lack of foodstuffs doesn’t have to be a problem.
Some more foraged stuff from recent weeks: