Monday, June 24, 2013


There I was, enjoying the daylights out of these long, long days of June, reading the local paper in the backyard of my urban cabin, when a headline caught my eye:

It’s been a while but here we have our first sighting of the Wildman for 2013, timed perfectly to the first super-moon of summer.

Ain’t that just like Coyote?

The Wildman has been lurking on the outskirts of our civilization since the very beginning of tamed society, usually appearing as figments and fancies of the imagination: centaurs, minotaurs, mermaids and werewolves, shamans turning into eagles, hunters becoming the hunted, husbands waking up as buffalo, bear or antelope…

…doomed souls who answer too frequently the call of the wild: Merlin and the Green Knight, Tarzan and Mogwai, Santa Claus, the shipwrecked kids from The Lord of the Flies and, my favorite, the half-man half-plant superhero called Swamp Thing.

But it’s wrong to pigeonhole the Wildman as pure fiction.  Sometimes, he is as real as you and me, right there in black and white.

That’s Joseph Knowles, one of the most famous Wildmen in American history.  That’s a publicity shot, when he made his triumphant return to Mother, and civilization, after spending two months, living like a primitive, in the Maine Woods near Bear Lake.

He turned wild in August 1913. 

Surrounded by the New England mass media of the day, he stripped down to his jockstrap, took a few drags of a cigarette, said a hearty “See you later, boys!” and jumped, head-first and barefoot, into the wilds.

According to his memoirs, he constructed a little lean-to shelter in the pine woods, learned how to forage and hunt and fish, how to build fire, carve weapons and make clothing.

Before leaving the rat-race, he was an illustrator and cartoonist, so he also spent the free days observing the College of Nature, as he liked to call it, drawing the placid, pastoral scenes on the backsides of birch bark.

It was a story that captivated the nation back in 1913.

Have you ever noticed that stories of the Wildman, no matter what’s happening in the bigger world, always make it through the scuttlebutt, always seem to get some sort of headline?

According to the press, Wildman has legs.

Now, let’s see what he’s doing over there in California.

A 56-year old man with long wild hair and beard tossed a spear at a passing vehicle in Sacramento, California.

A caller told police that a man standing on the road had hurled the spear at the vehicle.  The spear then became stuck in the vehicle’s front fender.

It was not clear why the wild man threw the spear.

Ha!  Not clear why?  Open your eyes, Reuters!  The answer is very clear.

It’s called traffic, man.

And sometimes it’s a doozy. 

Cars and more cars everywhere you turn, major roadways closed, construction around every corner, watching out for bicyclists and pedestrians and jaywalkers, bumper to bumper all along the highways, nothing but volume up and down the Roosevelt Boulevard all the way from Academy to the Blue Route…

…it ain’t easy being cooped up in a sweltering car, inching forward to the next detour or the next red light.

If you got any bit of Wildman in you, it’s horrible…just a bunch of expensive cages sitting still on the hot asphalt, pumping exhaust and burning fuel, going nowhere.

And as far as trees go, there’s not much to see along most highways…

…frigging ailanthus.

It’s enough to make anyone batty.

That’s why I keep a few road-side trees on my mental map, just a few notable and rare trees always on my radar, sturdy and dependable landmarks right along the roads and highways that make the slog through traffic just a little more bearable.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


In 1747, a young British wife of an Irish soldier wrote and published what would become a most popular book.

Her name was Hannah Glasse and the book was The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy.  It was reprinted twenty times by the end of the 1700s and could be found in just about every kitchen in the English countryside and the American colonies.

It is considered one of the first collections of rural recipes, designed for the home and the hearth instead of the court and the castle, and written in plain English to help and instruct wives and domestic servants instead of chefs, hunters, butchers and gourmets.

It was the first cookery book to take into account a house’s purse and economy, favoring the local herbs, fruits and wild game that could be found and hunted, for free or for cheap, in the typical rural village, out in the street markets or along the country roads.

This, in itself, was revolutionary.  The subtitle of the book says it best: far exceeds any Thing of its Kind yet publifhed.

At the end of her introduction, Hannah Glasse states her simple mission: only hope my Book will answer the ends I intend it for; which is to improve the servants, and save the ladies a great deal of trouble.

Flipping through the table of contents, there are recipes for every sort of occasion and audience. Chapter Four is entitled: To make a number of pretty little dishes fit for a supper, side dish, and little corner dishes for a great table.  Chapter Ten contains recipes under the heading, Directions for the Sick, and Chapter Eleven is written For Captains of Ships.

There’s even a recipe for moonshine, plus directions on how to make homemade wines using raspberries, quince, cherries, elderberries and dandelion.

She cooked with a whole different menagerie of animals.  Sure, you got the usual proteins of beef, pork, poultry, mutton and eggs, plus salmon and carp and cod, anchovies and mackerel.

But then there are recipes for tame ducks, teal, wigeons, woodcocks, snipes, partridges, pigeons, lark and eel.

One of her most famous recipes is for traditional jugged hare.  We would call it rabbit stew except, when making jugged hare, you stuff the hare in a jug and place the jug in the pot of simmering broth.

That’s a technique that hasn’t survived into the twenty-first century but I’m not complaining.  In the end, Hannah’s directions are to just pick apart the meat from the bones of the hare and add it to the flavorful broth, serve hot.

Skipping that step seems okay.  Saving trouble was Hannah’s goal, after all, and in today’s modern kitchen, actually jugging a hare seems like a whole mess of trouble.

But what about the first step of her recipe?

Go catch ye a hare.

We've made it pretty easy to skip that step too.

Well, not me.

Not this time.  Not now, especially not now. 

Citybillies, these are the days and nights of the Strawberry Moon and there is plenty of food out there for the taking, just ripening on the vine, ready to be plucked and picked from the mean streets of the city grid and into the warm kitchen of the urban cabin.

So, in the great tradition of Hannah Glasse, I humbly present Cookery with Jon Spruce

…wherein I will forage and prepare one of spring’s best recipes, featuring two of my favorite Strawberry Moon ingredients.


First step in this recipe?

Fetch ye some honeysuckle.