In early September, Rupert and I spent a lovely morning with a friend (and Ironwood tomato and blueberry picker) participating in the local activity of collecting dulse.
The tides – some of the highest (and lowest) of the year – cooperated, so that we didn’t have to be down at the beach until the civilized hour of 8:00 am. Our friend, Garnet, has been collecting dulse every year for the better part of 3 decades, so he knows the beach, and the timing, as well as anyone from this area; the perfect guide and companion for our excursion.
We brought Hazel with us, along with some empty feedbags to collect our harvest, and started off by following the tracks left from a tractor that had ventured out at some point in recent days, most likely to launch a boat. The half-hour walk alternated between solid ground and slippery, squishy mud, but I was the only one who fell down (and was able to right myself before Garnet could get his camera out of his pocket, thankfully).
Hazel stayed pretty close to us at first, but then ventured further and further away as the tide continued to go out. We actually walked relatively quickly and then had to pause to wait for the tides to recede a little further before continuing on to the dulse beds. The break was fine, though, as it gave time for Garnet to recount more tales of fishing in, and adventuring around, the basin over the years.
When we arrived at the beds, our tour guide gave us a quick lesson on how to harvest the dulse, and we started right in. My favourite part of harvesting was picking up the “leaves” attached to a small rock and giving the whole thing a “flick” of the wrist to release the rock.
Dulse can (should?) only be collected during the highest tides of July, August and September, so by the time we arrived the beds had been pretty well picked over and some of the leaves were starting to look a little worse for wear. Hazel couldn’t quite figure out what we were up to.
As we were bent over gathering the dulse, the tide continued to go out, so that every time you would stand up and look around the landscape would have changed. At times it felt as though you could walk all the way to Blomidon…at others it appeared as a moon scape. I enjoyed the scenery as much as the dulsing (thus Rupert did most of the bending and gathering, and his back was soaked from carrying the dripping bag!).
The tide turned as we were out at the dulse beds, and you could feel the slight change in the wind. Around us was silence and a vast expanse of sea floor, laid exposed to the air and sun, but a mile further out, the reversal of energy was beginning. The Bay of Fundy is truly awe-inspiring!
Back at the farm, I laid out the dulse on sheets to dry (as instructed by Garnet). Directions were to turn the fronds every few hours, but I was extra diligent the first time and knew that I would probably be more neglectful as the day went on. The dulse needs to be thoroughly dry before storing, which generally means about 3 days out in the sun, taking it in out of the dew in the evenings, and making sure not to let it get rained on.
On day 3, after the drying dulse shrivelled enough to be condensed on to one sheet, we were heading to the annual Sheep Sale; I left the dulse laid out in the “fibre room” upstairs so that we didn’t need to worry about hurrying home to beat the dew. The next morning, when I went to check on it, I was dismayed to find that it had lost the crispiness that it had gained from the previous 2 days of drying. I was embarrassed to tell Garnet that I had ruined our first lot of dulse, but his sister, who also helps with our tomato harvest, reassured me that I had done what I supposed to, and that the key to good, salty dulse is 2 days in the sun, 1 day inside to “sweat”, and then 1 more day in the sun.
Indeed, the salt had come out to the surface, and the dulse became crispy in the sun once again. Now we are storing it in the packing house, and I’m trying not to worry about it as it takes on the moisture from the atmosphere and becomes flimsy. I’m looking forward to tossing some fronds on the woodstove in the winter; apparently they become like thin, crispy chips. Garnet’s wife eats it in sandwiches of homemade bread with butter, and friends put it in soups as a flavour enhancer and thickener.
I wonder what the CSA members will do with it… hj