Living in the Gulf Islands gives us a bounty of food – and not all from agriculture. People sometimes forget that we are surrounded by a coastline rich in food. We have had some of our best meals from the sea and its shoreline with roasted oysters, wild salmon, clam chowders and even seaweed. A few years ago my husband Glenn was teaching his daughter to drive. Because it was a stressful activity, there were frequent stops at the various beaches on North and South Pender Islands. At each rest stop, Glenn collected bull kelp that had been tossed onto the beach. He arrived home with a pickup truckload of bull kelp – some for the garden, and some for the kitchen. He had heard that you could eat kelp, so he wanted to give it a try. He washed, and chopped, and boiled, and seasoned, and boiled some more until he came up with a very tasty soup. It is not only tasty, it is also very nutritious and rich in trace elements. I have a bad elbow that feels much better after some kelp soup. Now from late spring to early winter we have our occasional pot of kelp soup to enjoy.
Here is the recipe: 1 long bull kelp, fresh and firm. Cut into bite sized pieces, including the leafy part. Soak in fresh water for ½ hour. Rinse and simmer for 2-5 hours until tender. Meanwhile, chop up 3-4 large onions, lots of fresh garlic, 1-2 cup of fresh ginger, three cups of diced celery, and 5 large carrots. Use a light chicken or vegetable soup stock as a base. Right at the end cut up a whole lemon into small pieces – discard the seeds – and simmer in the soup for another half hour. You can add seafood to the soup if you wish.
I don't know if the native population of the Gulf Islands enjoyed kelp soup, but they did hunt and gather much of their food. They were even engaged in mariculture on our shores with the construction and maintenance of clam gardens on beaches ranging from the San Juans right up the coast to Alaska. A clam garden is a clam beach that is tended by a particular family over the generations. Rock were piled along the low-tide perimeter to prevent the beach from eroding. The primary focus was on the culture of butter clams – as anyone has tried them can understand why they would be so popular. The clams were smoked and strung on ocean spray sticks to be eaten “on the go” or to be traded to natives inland. The usual month to harvest them had “r”in the name ie December, November,....
Only recently have clam gardens been documented and discussed. Two experts of note are Judith Williams, who wrote “Clam Gardens – Aboriginal Mariculture of the West Coast”in 2006 and Dr. John Harper, a marine geomorphologist. Judith Williams became interested in the clam gardens in 1993 after she observed them on Quadra Island. Dr. Harper tried for years to have the clam gardens acknowledged by provincial archeologists after he observed and documented them while mapping the coastline for the provincial government in 1995.
Although only recently acknowledged – and hesitantly at that – by the provincial archeologists, clam gardens have been long known by some people with traditional knowledge. It is probable that the midden at the bridge between North and South Pender had a viable clam garden before the canal was dug. Other locations are highly probable in the Islands Trust area but were not identified by the archeological surveys. Sometimes natives come over from the Saanich area to dig clams on the Gulf Island beaches, perhaps in their family clam gardens.
Many of our preconceived notions go out the window sometimes, if we let them.