Monday, May 29, 2017

Late Spring Seashore Foraging

Last weekend we made a trip down to coastal Rhode Island to visit a barrier beach and an inland tidal marsh to check the progress of several seaside edibles. The majority of coastal areas in Connecticut are fiercely private and ocean access is very limited all year. Up until Memorial Day, lots of the Rhode Island shore is easily accessed and the beaches haven't become "private" for residents only, and all of the state beaches haven't started charging yet either. It was cool and breezy, but still warm enough for bare feet in the sand!

Beach plums flowering

The beach plums (Prunus maritima) are flowering profusely this year, which is a great sign for us. The last two summers we had fairly bad beach plum harvests because of late frosts that killed most of the blossoms in the spring combined with a horribly dry summer that stunted any fruit. We are all out of beach plum jam and wine in the pantry and look forward to the harvest in late August. Beach plums are essentially little plums that grow wild among the dunes, wonderfully concentrated and wild in flavor. They are often no larger than a quarter, and have a single pit inside. In good years we can fill our cooler in about an hour; then it takes us an evening or two spent in front of the TV watching something on Netflix while we pit them all by hand for cooking and eating. Totally worth it!

Beach roses flowering

Beach roses (Rosa rugosa) have put out new compound leaves, their prickles are ready for unsuspecting bare feet, and the pink and white flowers are just starting to open. We do collect the fragrant petals to use for syrups and teas, but it is the hips that provide a great food source. In this species of rose, the hips are large,1--1 1/2" wide. We carefully (prickles!) pick them once they have ripened to deep orange or red in the summer, cut them in half to scoop out the hairy seed-like structures and any caterpillars inside, and can eat them raw, make jam, a fruity sauce, fruit leather, or dehydrate them to use later. Their flavor is sweet-tart, and very similar to apricots, and they are wonderfully high in Vitamin C.

Small sea beans in the marsh

Seabeans (Salicornia maritima) is a salty treat that can be eaten raw, plucked from tidal areas. They are also called glasswort, samphire, or sea aspargus. They are juicy, succulent, annual plants that are very salt tolerant and have a great crunch. We use them raw mostly to season foods as the salty component--chopped into grain salads, topping savory fingerfoods like deviled eggs or blini, and mixed into dips. We also pickle some to use all year.

Male pollen cones

The red pines at the beach were a little ahead of their traditional schedule when it came to pollen production this year, likely due to an unexpected heat wave earlier in the week. We gather the male pollen cones and bring them home to collect the nutritious pollen. They get dried, tossed about to loosen the pollen, and sifted to remove debris, then we keep the pollen in the freezer to use all year in batters and smoothies.

Bayberry flowers and immature leaves

Bayberry shrubs are flowering (Myrica pensylvanica) and starting to put out new leaves. The flowers don't look like a traditional flower, rather like little pine cones on the stems, but the leaves already have the savory, spicy smell. These are not the same as Mediterranean bay leaves, but our native eastern North American equivalent. We use them like traditional bay leaves--in soups for flavor. While they are tender now, they will get tough and leathery in the summer, and can be collected and dried to use all year. We also collect the hard, grey berries later in the summer to extract a natural wax from their outside, and have used it to make fragrant candles.

Visit the eastern seashore now to look for plants to collect later in the season. Beach days aren't just for the kids anymore!

#wildfood #foraging #beachforaging #the3foragers #beachplums #rosehips #seabeans #samphire #pinepollen #bayberry


Elise Leduc said...

Thank you for posting the pictures of the bayberry flowers. I had been noticing these lately, and was unsure what they might be. I can easily recognize bayberry bushes at other times of year, but I was unfamiliar with this phase.

Trees Planet said...

Nice post. I love nature. I also like your post. Thanks.