Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Cat Tails are Edible

Every country girl needs a faithful dog. The one on the right is Ladybug- she comes into the story a little bit later.

If could be any writer, I would probably choose to be a combination of Dave Barry and Roahl Dahl. Both of them are just so quirky and clever. I hope to always keep an element of humor in the things I write.

The following story first appeared in the Kern Valley Sun last summer. I have an unfortunate tendency to skim directions without reading them closely, and occasionally this leads to some interesting misadventures for me.


I was raised in the suburbs. As a child, I lived in the Los Angeles area, and for most of my adolescence, I lived in Bakersfield. In both of these places, nature seemed very far away, and the wildest animal we ever saw was the occasional possum dead on the side of the road. When I moved to the Kern Valley, I was pleased to discover the amount of wildlife and nature we have in our area. Unfortunately, I know almost nothing about wildlife or nature, and that is why I experienced the following adventure.

Near the end of July, I was sitting in my trailer, looking at the internet. Somehow, I stumbled upon a website that talked all about how to forage food from the wilderness. It talked about Sumac, Watercress, Stinging Nettles, Blackberries, and Cat tails. As I was reading, I realized that I knew right where there was a big stand of Cat Tails nearby.

I skimmed over the article and found that there are many different uses for Cat Tails. You can use the roots to make starchy dough. You can eat the bottom of the plant just like asparagus. But what really interested me was that you can use the pollen of the Cat Tail just like you would use flour. There were recipes for Cat Tail Pollen pancakes, Cat Tail Pollen biscuits, and even Cat Tail Pollen Cookies. I could wait no longer; I put on some long pants, boots, and a hat, grabbed some bags for collecting the Cat Tails, and whistled for my faithful black Labrador, Ladybug.

Together, Ladybug and I hiked across streams and through the wilderness to the Cat Tail stand. The website had told me that it would take about twenty-five Cat Tails to make a cup of pollen, so, since I wanted two cups, I collected over fifty tails. (Don’t worry, the stand is quite large, and I barely made a dent in the remaining cattails. The website had informed me that cattails reproduce using their root system, so I knew that collecting the tails would not deplete the cattail population.) The website had said that the pollen should fall right off the tails, but it didn’t. I collected the tails anyway, but I began to wonder if I should have read the article more carefully.

Now I had a whole bag of Cat Tails. I was feeling very proud of myself and Ladybug and I virtually pranced back to the trailer. Once there, I investigated the results of our foraging.

The tails were a rich brown color, and the outside of the tails were hard. I started trying to pull the Cat Tails apart. I tried cutting the fluffy brown stuff off the stalk. I tried grabbing it and pulling it off with my fingers. At no point did the stuff fall off easily. It also wasn’t yellow, like the website had said it would be. I wondered if perhaps the writer of the website was used to a different species of Cat Tail. After almost an hour of tugging and pulling at the Cat Tails, I had gotten the brown fluff off of five Cat Tails, but I had far more than a cup of what looked like brown and tan cotton.

It did not look like flour, and it did not look yellow. I tasted a little bit and realized it didn’t taste like flour. It didn’t taste bad, but it didn’t taste good either. It tasted like what it looked like: brown cotton. I wondered if the writer of the website had any idea what he was talking about. I planned to write her an informative e-mail. I even tried to sift the stuff. It jammed the sifter and did not appear to be turning into anything even approaching the consistency of flour.

Finally, I decided to begin trying to make some cookies with it. I added flour to it and mixed the two together. Now it looked like flour and cotton mixed together. I stared at it a few moments, and then it struck me, maybe the website writer knew something I didn’t. I realized that perhaps I should reread the website before I went any further.

That’s when I found out that the brown fluffy stuff I had worked so diligently on was not pollen. It was Cat Tail Cotton. The pollen only comes out in Early May and June and can be shaken off of the Cat Tail Head during that time. You can’t cook anything with Cat Tail Cotton, but it is useful as a lining for jackets and parkas. It’s just too bad I don’t know how to sew. After the three hours I spent on that adventure, I decided to take a nice, long nap and live to forage another day.

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