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Kayak Bill - Foraging


Nov 2, 2005

I Am far from an expert on the ins and outs of the hunter-gatherer lifestyle. As interested as I am in the topic, I find that my distaste for all stages of food preparation makes it more likely that my hair will grow back than that I might become someone you should look to for guidance on what to eat in the wild. I do know a little bit about Kayak Bill, though.

I have great admiration for individuals who have learned to live off of the land and sea and I hope to someday attain that knowledge. For now, I will study the accounts of foragers, fellow paddlers and the rich history of our First Nations who host our visits to their territorial waters. Perhaps the most celebrated BC Coastal paddler of our time who succeeded in living off the land was Billy (Kayak Bill) Davidson.

Obviously, fish played a primary role in his diet for its nutritional value and because it was so easy to come by. He also ate a lot of clams and mussels. Mussels were a favorite for their size and flavor. Large mussels provided “steaks” that were easy for him to prepare. Whether he was ever sick from PSP is not known to me.

Though there are many types of “vegetables” that grow on or near the shoreline he primarily ate Goose Tongue, Sea Asparagus, Wild Carrot (Queen Anne’s Lace) and Wild Pea of some sort. The flowers and buds of the Wild Carrot were eaten and as far as the Wild Peas go, he stuck with new branches that were still curled up like a bud. The peas, themselves, were not eaten. While Goose Tongue and Sea Asparagus are easy to discern, both Wild Carrot and Wild Peas look very similar to poisonous plants that can be lethal. I’ll pass on those two.

Bill would also harvest deer and seals. Seals became more important to his diet as he moved further out from the mainland and his First Nation’s sources of Oolichan grease. He had been utilizing Oolichan grease for dietary purposes but the Oolichan fish is rendered down to oil by the ton. It’s a messy process that requires infrastructure and labor. Not something that a solitary individual would provide but he found that oil rendered from Seal blubber replaced his need for Oolichan.

Bill would choose a small-ish seal to shoot so that he could manage getting it back to camp. He would skin it and then remove the blubber layer from the meat. The blubber was cut into small cubes about 1” square. Any smaller than that and it was too small and slippery to handle. The cubes of blubber melted down to oil when put into a hot flying pan. The oil was poured into containers for storage.

The meat was cut up into pieces that would fit in his large pot and boiled until it fell off the bone. It was removed from the pot and the oily water was thrown out and replaced with clean water. The meat was squished up by hand into a hamburger-like texture, mixed with sea water and made into patties. The patties were then smoke dried over the fire, placed into stacks and stored.

To prepare them they were put into water overnight and allowed to rehydrate. He would put some seal oil in a pan, add the seal burger and cook. He claimed that the seal oil tasted like bacon grease and that the seal meat was indistinguishable from tender beef. He felt that the “too-strong” flavor that kept folks from choosing to eat seals was mitigated by pouring off the initial water and boiling it again with fresh water.

Next came the flour and rice. These staples were brought from town. Usually Shearwater. The flour was used for making chapatis. He mixed sea water with the flour and added oil for flavor. The chapatis were made over the fire, dipped into oil and eaten. Rice would be prepared with chunks of fish, bivalve, seal or “vegetable” added.

When Bill traveled, he would carry a container of blubber oil and a stack of dried seal burgers. The oil would last as long as bacon grease before turning rancid. Goose Tongue and Sea Asparagus are everywhere so they could be quickly be gathered most anywhere that he camped.

Aside from using the seal oil for food he used it on a rag to keep his knife and tools from rusting as well as oiling his .22 rifle.
Another great read thanks. I have eaten seal stew a number of time over the year and the flavor was much like beef. I have never tried the fat though but I have heard it's an acquired taste, my wife's grandfather (who was Kwagiuith) used to jar it in chunks the old people really liked it but not so much the younger ones of today. I was wondering if Bill ever used to eat seagull eggs first nations would gather them at a certain time of the year apparently they are quite tasty.
Thanks Rob!
I don't know if Bill ate Seagull eggs or not. I haven't found any accounts of that but, honestly, there just isn't that much documented about many of the details of his life. You probably know that Brandon Pullan has been writing a book on Bill's life. He has spent a great deal of time with his family and friends and when released, I anticipate that the book will provide a lot detail on all phases of Bill's life. Watch for it. https://gripped.com/gripped-outdoors/upcoming-book-incredible-billy-davidson/