Foraging for Wild Food
Foraging for Fiddleheads
Historical Wild Foods from in Vermont
Foraging can be a casual gathering when berries ripen at the edge of the field. At first it seemed the only wild foods growing on my property were berries but as I began to look into the history of my farm, my family and the history of Vermont, I began to think about those first settlers and what they could possibly find to eat upon their arrival in the wilderness? What wild edible foods were available to them?
Then I began to realize that many of these wild foods are still available for foraging. In early spring there are dandelion greens, fiddleheads and milkweed shoots. There are wild berries throughout the summer.
But wait, there are not only plants but also wild animals to be eaten. There are fish in the streams and ponds. There are ducks and geese near the water. There are wild turkeys in the clearings as well as deer, moose and bear.
Vermont has an abundance of wild edible foods for foraging. Put on your hiking boots, grab your guidebooks and come discover the wild edible foods of Vermont...
Interested in Foraging - Back to a time when foraging was the only option...
Food in the Wilderness
Land was expensive and wild game was becoming scarce in Connecticut when Daniel and Rebecca Rix decided to move their family to the wilderness of what would one day be called Vermont. With a family of six children and one on the way they packed up what few belongings they could carry onto an oxcart and walked up the Connecticut River, turned right at the White River and on to Royalton.
There were practically no roads or bridges so carrying the food needed for such a long journey would have been difficult and once they arrived there were no stores, there were no neighbors to trade with so they must have relied on wild edible foods for at least the first year.
What foods were available to them? How has the availability of wild foods changed over time? What wild foods are available in Vermont today? What wild foods are still gathered and eaten in Vermont today?
These are the questions that we will try to answer in this unit study.
Gathering EdibleWild Foods before the Crops come In - Wild Edible Foods for the Rix Family in 1780
18th Century Family
The first year must have been very difficult for the Rix Family. Until land could be cleared and crops grown. They must have had to rely on wild edible plants and animals for most of their food. The amount of food they could have taken with them would have been very limited. There was no store in Royalton. The roads were almost non-existent.
Find out about the edible wild foods still available in Vermont. With a knowledgeable guide you can go on a hike and try out many of the wild foods still available in the woods.
Wild foods that are found on Garner Rix's farm today include: raspberries, black raspberries, blackberries, fiddlehead ferns, mushrooms, Timothy grass. Red Clover, White Clover, honey, and Cattails.
NOTE: NEVER eat wild foods that you don't know for sure are safe.
18th Century Cooking - The 18th Century Kitchen
Eating Wild Edible Foods
There were no stoves in the 18th century. Cooking was done over open fires or in fireplaces.
One of the greatest dangers to women was the possibility of her skirt burning as she tended to the fire.
Surprisingly, wool does not easily burn which would have helped prevent a woman's dress from catching on fire..
Food was cooked in large iron pots hung over the fire. Meat was roasted on a spit. A dutch oven was used for baking.
Onions and garlic turn an ordinary soup into something delicious. Luckily there are ramps, or wild leeks growing on Garner Rix's land. Ramps can be chopped and sprinkled over a bowl of soup or dried for later use. Be sure not to pick too many together so that they continue to spread and produce year after year.
Sustainablely Harvested Ramps
Wild Ramps or leeks are delicious in salads, sandwiches, soups or quiches. If you are traveling through Vermont in the spring, be sure to stop by one of the farmers markets. Gizmos Pickled Plus often has Wild Ramp Quiche available for sale. Just call them to see which market they will be at.
Ramps give your food an oniony or garlicky flavor. How about chopping some up over fresh caught trout?
Catching Wild Trout for Food - Vermont Streams and Rivers were Teaming with Fish
When Garner Rix and his family moved to Vermont the streams and rivers were teaming with fish. The water was clean and no dams had been built that impeded the annual migration of the salmon.
Garner and his younger brother, Joseph, probably had the task of catching enough fish for the family. Do you know what kind of fish became the Vermont State Fish?
How to find Wild Morel Mushrooms
Venison and Wild Morel Mushrooms
Mushrooms are delicious in soups, stews and quiches but one of my vary favorite ways of eating morels is in a venison stew.
Venison Stew was most likely a common dish for the Rix family. Venison could be kept frozen through the winter or smoked to preserve it throughout the rest of the year.
- Cut up a chunk of venison.
- Put some lard into a dutch oven and brown the meat.
- Add onions, garlic or ramps and sauté until tender.
- Add celery, carrots, potatoes, Cattail roots, etc.
- Season with salt and pepper
Add water or broth and simmer for several hours. Serve with homemade bread..
Wild Deer - Venison Stew
Deer were probably not as plentiful as they are now because few fields had been cleared and there were still wolves to keep the population under control. Still it was possible for Daniel Rix to occasionally shoot a deer which would have provided a lot of meat as well as leather.
The deer were probably cooked into Venison Stew with wild garlic and any roots and vegetables gathered during the day.
Winter Foraging For Wild Edibles
Hunting for Wild Bear - Imagine going on a Bear Hunt
Going on a Bear Hunt
Imagine that you are going on a bear hunt with Daniel Rix. Maybe he is teaching Garner and Joseph for the first time how to quietly walk through the woods looking for the food that will feed their family.
If you are teaching small children about life in the late 18th century the book Going on a Bear Hunt by Helen Oxenbury is fun to read and then discuss what it was like to really go on a bear hunt and the need to provide food for the family.
If they were searching at the beginning of August they might have found wild blueberries. Have you read Blueberries for Sal by Robert McClosky? You also might like some of the activities my children and I enjoyed when we created for our Blueberries for Sal Unit Study.
We also liked reading the book, Jamberry by Bruce Degen. Jamberry celebrates the various fruits that ripen and can be foraged here in Vermont throughout the summer months including: strawberries, blueberries and blackberries.