Before I launch into my multi-part post on the Native Shores Rendezvous, allow me to plug this event and other Wild Food Adventures led by John Kallas as a worthwhile expense of time and money for a would-be forager. If you’re like me, there’s no substitute for on-site learning from someone who knows the subject. Like mountaineering, fishing, birdwatching, and so on (fill in the blank with your favorite activity), there’s only so much you can learn from books. Identifying shellfish, seaweeds, and plants in their habitat—with real live specimens—is an approach that works.
The Rendezvous commenced Friday evening with a welcome introduction at the “lodge,” a rough-hewn house a block from the beach in Rockaway, Oregon. John gave us some handouts and talked a little bit about what we would be doing for the rest of the weekend. In short: foraging, lots of foraging. After breakfast the next day the two-dozen attendees carpooled a few miles south of Rockaway to our first stop, where we identified and collected edible seaweeds, including Fucus, sea lettuce, and nori (pictured). These we would add later to a soup and also eat raw in a salad. Oh, and btw, the flavor is excellent, if hard to explain, and the texture will appeal to anyone who likes their pasta al dente, with a little snap to it.
Learning about edible seaweeds was one of the main reasons I signed up for the Rendezvous. The info provided by books and the Internet just isn’t enough—for me, at least. Seaweeds are tricky. I needed to have the different species identified for me, and I needed info on processing, cooking, and storing. One of the great things about seaweed is that you can dry it and store it for long periods of time. Reconstituted in water, dried seaweed is nearly identical in flavor and texture to fresh.
On the way back to the parking lot John picked a clump of winter cress, also known as yellow rocket or bittercress (Barbarea vulgaris), which normally would be a desirable edible, but because this particular bunch was growing beside train tracks, he explained, it was out. Train tracks and a swath of land on either side of them are some of the most polluted, chemically-laden areas in the country.
Our next stop, an estuary to the south, was especially productive. Most of us limited on cockles, a species I had never dug for, as well as butter clams and a few giant gapers. Digging in the exposed sand flats produced a few smaller cockles, but the best way to get them was to use our rakes in less than a foot of water. We found a cooperative forager willing to pose for an instructional:
When they’re not underwater, cockles reveal themselves with two tiny holes side by side in the sand, called a “show.” Further out on the flats we found the dime-sized shows of butter clams. Gapers’ shows were even larger. To get the gaper (pictured), you had to dig a trench about two or three feet deep and work toward the big clam without damaging its shell. Although this was true of butter clams as well, I found that digging with my hands was more effective. The gapers are cool looking clams, with huge necks, but they can be tough and they’re hard to process. The butter clams are tastier, although it’s best to rest the clams in a bucket of salt water for 24 hours, periodically aerating the water and keeping it cold, so they expel their sand. The cockles can be sandy too, but since they’re best suited for chowder (being a chewy clam) you can clean out the sand as you steam and chop them into more manageable pieces.
Our forager gave a quick lesson in hunting down butter clams:
While we were digging clams the game warden dropped by. A few things I learned in the friendly exchange: Leaving your shellfish license or driver’s license in the car is a no-no and you will be fined. Collecting clams over the limit with the intention of throwing back the smallest at the end is also a no-no and you will be fined. Joining John on a clam digging expedition means you look honest enough to not bear too much scrutiny—which is lucky, because several in our party had either left licenses behind or were carrying too many clams.