A few weeks ago, Sally and I went out to the Martha's Vineyard on a tugboat. It was a decked-out tugboat, one with a kitchen and a bathroom and three tiny bunks. We spent the night in the harbor in Oak Bluffs, and we had dinner at a place called the Lambert's Cove Inn in West Tisbury.
It was spectacular. The idea behind the trip was to go visit my friend Siobhan's cousin Abe, who cooks at the Lambert's Cove Inn restaurant, and at the same time, for me to interview his foraging friend Kevin Brennan. Kevin is 17 and about to graduate from high school and in the best way possible, very idealistic.
He is passionate about food and natural history and tradition. Two years ago he read a book called Tending the Wild, and it changed his whole outlook on food production. The book is about how Native Americans in California managed the land to make it productive—how they harvested, tilled, sowed, pruned, and burned wild plants. The idea was to live sustainably through eco-system management, to get the most food by taking care of the wild plants that already grew on it rather than planting annuals every year.
Kevin got a job last summer in the Lambert's Cove kitchen. The chefs there—Max Eagan, the head chef, and Siobhan's cousin Abe—were also into foraging. Max took Kevin out and showed him the best spots for berries and herbs on the island, and Kevin built a trailer for his bike so that he could ride around with a cooler collecting wild foods for the kitchen. He found raspberries and black raspberries and blackberries and blueberries, and even raspberry-esque fruits called wineberries. He collected beach plums, grapes, stinging nettles, and glasswort or sea beans along the shore. Max and Abe featured them in their cooking, and Kevin got even more interested.
When we were there, they made us a foraged feast: striped bass baked in an egg white and salt cast, littlenecks, local fried squid, Vineyard oysters, pickled local ramps, sautéed mushrooms, and a watercress salad made from greens foraged on the island. Dessert was local strawberries with homemade ice cream and bruléed sugar—amazing!
In a few weeks Kevin will be back on the Vineyard. He's graduating from high school, and his plan is to enroll in a low residency agricultural college, get more involved with the farming community, and to settle down on the island. He wants to forage and start planting for permaculture. I didn't know much about permaculture until I talked with him. I'll share what I learned in next week's Local Food Report, when I talk again with Kevin.
Until then, here's a starter list of common wild edible plants:
Beach pea: Lathyrus japonicus
Beach plum: Prunus maritima
Blackberry: Rubus fructicosis
Black raspberry: Rubus occidentalis
Dandelion: Taraxacum officinale
Evening primrose: Oenothera biennis
Fiddlehead: Osmundastrum cinnamoeum
Lowbush blueberry: Vaccinium angustifolium
Red raspberry: Rubus strigosus
Serviceberry: Amelanchier spicata
Stinging nettle: Urtica dioica
Sumac: smooth, staghorn, & winged
Wild grape: Vitis riparia
Wineberry: Rubus phoenicolasius