I remember as a small child being strapped into a red jogger stroller at the crack of dawn at our family’s house on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and embarking on walking adventures with my Gram, my aunt, and my mom. First, we walked down the windy dirt road, then down the hill
past Nauset Lighthouse and Nauset Light Beach, and from there
we ran the infamous ‘Loop.’
It is the same loop I run on my own now, every season of each
passing year. I am inspired and aware of my surroundings
because I was taught to be. We watched for ‘rabbies,’ as my
Gram would call the baby rabbits, and we were quiet when we
saw deer feeding on patches of grass fresh with morning dew. I
remember Gram pausing on the hill across from the lighthouse to
observe very special green globes which appeared like magic on
a certain plant tucked in among the poison ivy, wild blueberry,
Virginia creeper, and bearberry. They were beach plums, and she
would vigilantly follow their progress over the summer as they
changed from green to pink to a deep-but-soft bluish-purple.
And then, finally, we would pick them.
Foraging is a waiting game. It requires patience and persistence
in the anticipation of nature’s bounty. Some days there is
a feeling like a runner’s high in discovering one particular
ingredient. You get a taste of something good, something that
is just perfectly ripe and in-season, and it must be gathered in
that moment, whether you’d set out for that item or not, whether
you’d brought the proper knife or clippers, baskets or boxes.
Other days can be discouraging if that sought-after ingredient is
not found, or if it is insect-ridden, unripe, or past its prime.
For me, foraging is a practice and it has taught me to see things
most people do not notice, like the tiny tips of new growth
on Norway spruce trees in the spring, or a small lump of pine
needles in a mixed oak and scrub pine forest that, if you are oh-so-lucky, just might have matsutake mushrooms hiding beneath
them come fall. With practice comes a feeling of being in tune
with the seasons and the harmony of nature.
I do not forage for my full-time job. Not yet. I have a background
in Communications and Environmental Science, but my calling
after graduating at Boston College in 2010 was to work in the
field of sustainable agriculture. The lure of the outdoors, and
working with my body and my hands to grow food, turned
my gears in a way that a typical nine-to-five job could not. A
passion for foraging came later after apprenticing with “Evan the
Forager” in Maine and Vermont who gave me a real foundation
of wild food knowledge to play with and build on.
My love for food and the curiosity to learn its application in the
kitchen led me to work with my older sister. With twelve years
between us, my sister J’aime taught me to taste and appreciate
food from a young age. She has been my teacher in the kitchen
of her and her husband’s farm-y style and ingredient-driven café,
Sunbird Kitchen, here on Cape Cod.
This past summer, I worked closely with a different restaurant
on the Cape called Ceraldi, foraging for them depending on
the availability of wild ingredients. Michael and Jesse Ceraldi
approached me about foraging for wild foods and gathering
farm-grown ingredients from farmers markets, also working
a few nights a week in the kitchen of their beautiful seven-course-tasting restaurant in Wellfleet. This allowed me to see the
ingredients I was picking interpreted by an immensely talented
chef whose menu changes daily to honor the seasonality of
available ingredients, both wild and cultivated.
One fairly regular wild vegetable on Ceraldi’s menu is the
abundant samphire, a coastal plant which begins to crop up in
early to mid-May on Cape Cod. Samphire is the sea vegetable
that wears many hats. It is samphire to some, seabeans,
glasswort, pickleweed, and sea asparagus to others. It creates
a temporary settlement on the bayside along the water’s edge
from May until September, when the tippity tops begin to turn
yellow and eventually an autumn red, a sign they are too bitter
and fibrous for eating.