Nature’s Spoils

The New Yorker
November 22nd, 2010

Burkhart smells some “high meat”

A few miles north of downtown Asheville, in a small white farmhouse surrounded by trees, two of Katz’s acquaintances were doing their best to emulate early man. Steve Torma ate mostly raw meat and raw dairy. His partner, Alan Muskat, liked to supplement his diet with whatever he could find in the woods: acorns, puffballs, cicadas and carpenter ants, sumac leaves and gypsy moth caterpillars.

Muskat was an experienced mushroom hunter who had provisioned a number of restaurants in Asheville, and much of what he served us was surprisingly good. The ants, collected from his woodpile in the winter when they were too sluggish to get away, had a snappy texture and bright, tart flavor, like organic Pop Rocks. (They were full of formic acid, which gets its name from the Latin word for ant.) He brought us a little dish of toasted acorns, cups of honey-sweetened sumac tea, and goblets of a musky black broth made from decomposed inky-cap mushrooms. I felt, for a moment, as if I’d stumbled upon a child’s tea party in the woods.