Did you know you can actually cook full meals with some flora and fauna around the River? Maybe grandma will let you bring some of these recipes to Thanksgiving!


Deer meat can turn people off. Those that have had bad experiences with it typically think it is too tough, but it all depends on how the meat is handled and cooked. This first recipe has the potential to cook with multiple local organisms: venison tenderloin with blueberry sauce. Many of the ingredients can be found locally and/or can be grown in your garden, including onion, garlic, mushrooms, blueberries, rosemary, potatoes, and spinach. It can also be slightly altered to be a duck or goose dish, instead of venison. 

The next recipe is for venison burgers! Every person has different preferences for their ‘perfect burger’: cheese or not, how many times to flip it, and so on. The most important part is to add fat to the venison before grinding it; you can use pork, beef, or lamb for this part. Most of this ingredient list requires a grocery store, but the burger can be topped with veggies from your garden!

Blue Crab

Who doesn’t love crab legs? Whether you’re on a beach vacation or chowing down at home, crab takes a lot of work, but the sweet reward makes it so worth it.  In true Paula Deen fashion, this recipe for garlic butter boiled crabs has a short list of ingredients, and the most important part is, you called it, butter. The garlic and parsley can be grown in your garden, and the rest requires a short grocery store visit.

So far, these entrees require a lot of labor, but this next one is a prepare-it-and-forget-it slow cooker appetizer: crab dip! Some of the ingredients can be grown in your garden – and while it calls for canned crab meat, we prefer local-caught blue crab!


Fun fact: pawpaws are the largest edible fruit that grows natively in the United States! With soft flesh and notes of banana, mango, pear, and melon, the pawpaw also boasts high levels of Vitamin B6, thiamin, riboflavin, Vitamin C, and other nutrients.  From salsas to breads and custards, these fruits can make a long list of yummy foods, but I can bet you’ve never had pawpaw ice cream! And if you want another sweet option, you have a variety of options. A group at Kentucky State University compiled an impressive list of pawpaw recipes including pies, cookies, cake, and so much more. Happy baking!


Most people consider these weeds, but why not turn them into a deliciously nutritious dish? This recipe for pan-fried dandelion greens is a great vegan option, and depending on your level of commitment, you can actually find the whole ingredients list in nature and your garden. It can also be adjusted to preferred levels of spice. 

Pasta is an easily adaptable dish, and dandelion greens are a simple and nutritious addition with Vitamins A, C, and K as well as iron and calcium, among other minerals. This vegetarian-friendly pasta with dandelion greens can easily be altered to be vegan-friendly as well. Make the dish yours: change the type of cheese or add in some fresh veggies from your garden!


Native persimmons are appropriately named American persimmons. This persimmon variety is a plum-shaped, orange, waxy fruit that is an excellent source of fiber, as well as vitamins A, B, and C. Jams and jellies come in all kinds of varieties, and persimmons are no exception. Four ingredients is all that is between you and some homemade persimmon jam!  Buy, or better yet make, some bread to go with it, and you’ve got a delicious snack. 

Even better than four ingredients is two, especially when they can both be found locally: persimmons and honey! Fruit leather sounds off-putting, but homemade leathers can be delicious and nutritious, something that’s easy to make and tuck into kids’ school lunches. 

From location to identification to preparation, following the specific directions and guidelines of the many resources available online is a good way to maximize flavor and minimize risk.  There are many ways to combine and prepare the delicious foods found within the James River watershed – so have fun, get creative, and happy eating!