I grew up in cities: Beijing, New Orleans, Houston, and the Chicago suburbs. For me, living off the land went as far as growing a single bean sprout in a yogurt container filled with soil bought from the local gardening store. Once a year, my family would go grapefruit picking in a orchard about an hour and a half away by car. So coming to Sitka, it’s been quite change to be in a small town where people pride themselves in being independent: fishing, gardening, harvesting beach asparagus, berry picking, and so on. Here are some of my adventures so far in Sitka.
Here’s a close up of a salmonberry. They grow everywhere in Sitka. I have a love-hate relationship with them. By that, I mean I love them but they are so distracting. It takes me twice as long to get anywhere because I stop and eat a lot of salmonberries on the way. They’re not very good for making jam or pies though because they’re not so sweet.
2. Beach Asparagus
Beach asparagus, (or Salicornia) is a lush, bright green plant that grows in saltwater. You harvest it during times of low tide when it’s above the water. Brooke and Paul (Alina, another intern’s host parents, check out her blog here!) took us up some mysterious water passage where we passed about twenty different islands to find their “secret” harvesting spot.
Alina and I went on a Sitka Conservation Society boat trip to this little island to see marine life on a low tide. There, I held a sea star. I touched a barnacle. I learned about the basalt rocks that made up the archipelago of islands only 600,000 years old. (They’re only babies in the geologic time scale). On the island, I kept seeing patches and patches of seaweed, bull kelp, and sea lettuce. I broke off a bit of some seaweed and tasted it. It tasted great (or at least edible) so Alina and I harvested some. I love the word harvest. It’s loaded with so much meaning. I think of farmers, the Native Alaskans, and on a grander scale, all humans. Our ancestors spent much of their day consumed with harvesting, cooking, and eating food. And now, here I am in Sitka, spending all day documenting the process of harvesting, cooking, and eating food, all while figuring out how to cook, grocery shop, and live on my own for the first time.
The pot of seaweed was pretty gross. There was a lot of salt water stuck in between the seaweed membranes which bursted as the water heated up. Mmm, salty sea soup. Anyway, it was way more trouble than I thought it would be to cook the seaweed. I had to wash each leaf about seven times to get rid of the sea mucus stuck on it. Then, I boiled the leaves, let them soak in water overnight to get some of the salt out. The next day, I washed them again. got rid of all the spiky thorns, and finally cut it up and made a seaweed salad. The seaweed salad was delicious, so I suppose it was worth it.