Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Finding Supper In A Swamp

We take for granted the ease with which we forage for food. Yesterday I was in Sussex, tripping over tofu in the health food store, then collapsing over cupcakes at Mrs. Dumpster's (not her real name). The Superstore and Sobey's were just a muffin's toss away. In short, Sussex is a fountainhead of food.

I drove home with my booty, as well as my groceries. Do you remember when booty referred to treasure? If you do, then you're probably a rum-soddened pirate. This begs the question, why are you reading my blog and not out raiding health food stores? You can't live on rum alone you preposterous patch-eyed privateer! Even pirates need veggie burgers once in a while.

When I returned home and unloaded the Golden Hind (my pirate car, not the 'other' booty), I had a thought. What if I didn't have the luxury of driving to Sussex to go shopping, then what would I eat? Looking around my yard, I saw little that looked appealing. I could munch on lawn clippings or tree bark, and lick salt off the driveway (isn't that how the Tim Horton's lunch menu was discovered?). I came to the conclusion that I'd starve if I had to live off my shady one acre of ground, though I might be able to find some "delicious" looking grubs if I started turning over sod.

I put on my grubby clothes and gum boots, knowing that salvation was nearby in the form of fiddleheads. Fiddleheads, for those of you who only eat iceberg lettuce while wearing blinders, are a fern that grow along river banks and on the periphery of swampy areas. They flourish in the wilds of eastern North America, in the kinds of places where it's not uncommon to hear a lone banjo being played.
Fiddleheads are a nickname, in the same way that 'scary pink-eyed freak' might be applied to porch-sitters who play the banjo. The more common name for fiddleheads is ostrich fern, named for the mature frond's likeness to an ostrich plume. I guess some 19th century botanist, who had recently returned from rodeo riding ostriches in Africa, saw it fit to name a North American plant after an African bird. He probably also coined the term 'magic mushrooms', likely on the same day. I much prefer the Latin name, Matteuccia struthiopteris, it rolls off the tongue more musically than fiddlehead.
Each and every spring fiddleheads pop up in my neck of the swamp. I'd never picked them in my life which makes me a quasi-pathetic New Brunswicker. I've also never eaten partridge or played bingo at a Lion's Club (though I once played Scrabble at a cougar's crib). Something had to change. I announced to my son that we were going to find some fiddleheads and feed the family, so we piled in the Golden Hind and made our way to the Grand Lake meadows.
I thought that fiddleheading would be an arduous affair, but it turned out to be pleasant and rewarding. We picked about 10 pounds of fiddleheads in an hour. It felt great to be outdoors. I was a little worried about my back as fiddleheading is performed in a prone position. I didn't fixate on my lower back while I was bent over...I was too busy listening for the sound of banjos.

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