Grace Veronica Firth, 81, an author and regular Washington TV talk-show guest who discussed cooking and wild edible plants, died July 29 of pneumonia and complications of Alzheimer's disease in San Antonio, where she had lived for the past 15 years.
Mrs. Firth immersed herself in the natural world and, like her friend Euell Gibbons, the celebrated authority on wild foods, she spread her knowledge in print and through television. As a child living with her grandparents, she learned to garden, forage, cook, preserve, pickle, can and smoke-cure foods, and her grandfather taught her how to ferment beverages.
While working toward a degree from the University of Southern California, she worked part time in a comedy-dance routine at a Los Angeles nightclub.
An adventurous soul, she lit out for the Alaska territory after her graduation in 1945. Her ship collided with an iceberg en route but limped to Yakutat for repairs before heading on to Seward.
She lived in Alaska for nearly a decade, teaching in the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Seward Indian Boarding School and in remote villages throughout interior Alaska. She enjoyed skiing, hiking, hunting and flying her Piper Super Cub. She often landed on glaciers above Seward for ski trips.
When love came along in 1953, she married and moved back to the Lower 48. She and her husband bought 45 acres of woods and rocks in the Virginia Piedmont, built a cabin and raised a family there. Mrs. Firth kept a big garden and put up produce. She hiked the woods and collected the wild edibles, baked bread and made cheese, wine and beer; she celebrated the spring wildflowers and protected the trees.
"Gardening takes a plot of land, a hoe and willing muscles. Scratching the soil, harvesting garden fruits, are peaceful results. With a garden, there is hope," she wrote.
In 1966, the Firths established another retreat at Scientists Cliffs on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. She received a master's degree in sociology from George Washington University in 1968.
Elinor Lee, a retired food editor at The Washington Post, wrote about Mrs. Firth in 1977, noting that though she never met Mrs. Firth, her television appearances were "deliciously different. My favourite was the day she made homebrew."
Mrs. Firth wrote four books: "A Natural Year" (1972), "Living the Natural Life" (1973), "Stillroom Cookery" (1975) and "Secrets of the Still" (1983). She was a regular on WTTG's "Panorama" talk show in Washington with hosts John Willis, Maury Povich and Bonnie Angelo, and later with Baltimore talk-show host Oprah Winfrey.
She was a member of Potomac Foragers, which The Post in 1978 described as a "find-your-food-in-the-woods crowd . . . a strange mix of little old ladies in work shoes, sturdy young women in hiking boots and adoptive woodsmen who survive in the city to earn their weekends in the forest." Mrs. Firth was found at the time stirring gravy over the hot iron of a wood stove.
Born in Fairfield, Conn., she moved to St. Joseph, Mo., at age 10 to live with her grandparents. She received a teaching certificate from Northwest Missouri State Teachers College, then taught for a year in a one-room school before working as a stenographer by day and attending business school by night. In 1943, she moved to Los Angeles to attend the University of Southern California while holding down two part-time jobs, including the nightclub gig.
In 1989, she and her husband moved to Air Force Village II in San Antonio, but they regularly returned to Maryland and Virginia to visit.
Throughout her life, Mrs. Firth loved to write. She published short works until the late 1990s, when she became ill.
Survivors include her husband of 50 years, Lewis Firth of San Antonio; three children, Martin Firth of King George, Va., Marie Lotzgesell of Monroe, Wash., and Penny Firth of Vienna; a sister; a brother; and seven grandchildren.