[Nyerges appeared on Howser’s show in 2000, in an episode called “Survival Foods.” Nyerges is the author of “Guide to Wild Foods,” who teaches classes on plant uses through the School of Self-Reliance.]
I was saddened today (1/7/13) by the news that came over the radio that long-time TV host Huell Howser had died. Many California residents have enjoyed his series of shows seen locally on KCET -- California Gold, Visiting, and others – for over 20 years.
Though sometimes criticized for his low-key Southern style and his “soft” subject matter, Huell created a very popular program because he avoided unnecessary controversy and showed us the people of our State.
With Huell, we went to all the natural sites that we never had the chance to go to – places where you see freshwater shrimp, or turtle, or Indian grinding stones. He took us into businesses and we got to see how guitars were made, how tofu is packed, and how patrons enjoy their donuts.
He introduced us to all the colorful people that make California what it is. I was one of those people. Huell’s producer called me over 10 years ago, and we decided to take Huell on a walk in an urban setting and show him that food is everywhere. We went into an empty lot one spring, with the bustling early-morning traffic of the freeway just behind us. While my wife Dolores beat her Taos drum and told Huell about the traditional way to pick plants, I showed Huell and photographer Luis Fuerte some of the common edibles in that very uncommon place.
We looked at mallow and lambs quarter and willow and nasturtium. And even though we were in downtown Los Angeles, we were a stone’s throw from where the original inhabitants of that Yangna village once lived. We weren’t far from the Los Angeles River – now a cement ditch – where those original Tongva inhabitants would have fished, hunted, washed, and collected the same wild foods that we showed to Huell that morning.
When we met before the shooting, Huell wouldn’t let me explain any of what I had planned for the day. “No, don’t tell me any of that,” he responded. “I want it all to be fresh for the first time,” and he was really sincere. “My only rule is that when I began to walk, I want you to move with me.” OK, so simple.
So as Dolores and I moved from plant to plant, picking leaves for what would be a wild Los Angeles salad, Huell would respond with amazement that he was actually eating wild plants from a vacant lot simply because I said they were edible. His photographer Fuerte moved around us rapidly and gracefully, as if dancing.
“You know, that’s really good,” Huell would say with all his Southern sincerity, as he chewed on a leaf.
That show, which was part of his Visiting series, and which he called “Survival foods,” aired at least 20 times on television. We had a great day with Huell, and very much enjoyed our wild-salad “toast” that we made at the end of the show “to the Old Ways.”
Though he had called me to do another segment in the mountain wilderness, it appears we won’t be able to do that.
I am sure many, many people have similar stories of this brilliant man with a simple formula. He knew that everyone had a story, and he took the time to bring those stories to each of us. I will miss him a lot! He became a legend, and is now a part of the California Gold of which he so often spoke.
[Note: “Survival Foods” DVD is available from California Gold, or from the Store at www.ChristopherNyerges.com.]