For Tom Seymour, foraging is the way life should be

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BRUNSWICK — On the last day of general fishing season, Tom Seymour was not where he’s been for as long as he can remember: out on the water.

Instead, he was making a presentation about mushrooms to residents of the Thornton Oaks retirement community.

If Seymour, a 64-year old Maine Guide and author of several guidebooks, was disappointed, he didn’t show it.

Instead, he regaled the retirees with stories of his foraging excursions, and offered tips on preserving mushrooms (don’t put them in a plastic bag because they turn to mush) and cooking them (slice them like a steak and fry).

While his publisher, Nancy Randolph of Just Write Books, chopped and sauteed chanterelles, black trumpets and fiddleheads for everyone to taste, Seymour signed copies of his “Wild Plants of Maine” and “Forager’s Notebook” and tried to identify the various fungi people described to him.

But it wasn’t until a walk through the woods after the presentation that Seymour’s foraging skills started to really shine. Instead of blending into their surroundings, plants seemed to shout their names to him, and he stopped often to discuss when and how to harvest curled dock, high bush cranberry and stinging nettles.

The nettles, he explained, can be boiled and drained. He likes to save the juice until summer time, when he mixes it with lemon juice for a refreshing tonic.

As he walked slowly through the woods, he explained that wild plants, game and fish account for more than 70 percent of his diet.

“I couldn’t afford to live entirely out of the supermarket,” he said.

He wouldn’t want to, either.

“For me, foraging is a way of life,” he said.

Seymour starts foraging each year as soon as the snow melts, picking plants like wild evening primrose, and continues until snow falls again. Wild plants are high in vitamins, he explained, and he often prefers to eat the weeds that invade his garden over the vegetables he planted.

He supplements his plant diet by hunting, and fishing from the pond behind his house in Waldo, which he stocks with trout.

For income he writes books, and gets most of the writing done on days when it’s not nice enough to be outside.

Being an author is only the latest in a string of jobs Seymour has held throughout his life. In addition to guiding hunting and fishing trips, he worked as a fire tower warden and serves as a pastor at his church.

Recently, he said he’s been noticing an increased popularity in foraging that he attributes to a resurgence of the “back-to-the-land” movement. More people pay him to teach classes on identifying wild edibles, and he gladly obliges them.

He advises new foragers to learn one plant at a time, rather than trying to learn to identify hundreds.

During the nature walk that followed his presentation at Thornton Oaks, he found the first wrinkled, gold cup – a chanterelle – peeping through a mat of dead leaves on the side of a trail. They had popped up all over a 20-foot square section of the forest, and about two pounds of them were quickly picked.

It doesn’t seem right to call what Seymour does “foraging” because he rarely heads into the woods on a mission to find food, educational excursions aside. Most of his successful expeditions begin as a stroll through his woodlot, and end with a basket (or sweater) full of chanterelles.

Other times, people call him to identify some weird fungus that appeared beneath their porch, and he ends up taking home half of it.

“It’s reaping what you didn’t sow,” he said.

And it is, for Seymour, the only way to eat.

Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext.123 or Follow her on Twitter: @guerinemily.

Sidebar Elements

Tom Seymour shows off some curled dock that he found growing alongside Pennellville Road in Brunswick. It’s best to eat it when it’s young, he said, before the leaves become bitter.

Chanterelles and black trumpet mushrooms that Tom Seymour found on his woodlot.

Tom Seymour considers a chanterelle he found in the woods off Middle Bay Road in Brunswick. The yellow mushrooms are best sauteed with butter, he says.