Eating Wild Things in Jolicure

Labrador Tea

Labrador Tea

Living in the country provides many opportunities to graze and harvest wild berries and plants – particularly in areas like ours in Eastern Canada where there was a lot of abandoned farmland and nature had overgrown and reclaimed its place. We quickly learned to identify the plants in our vicinity and to learn which were edible and which were best left untouched.

We tried many things like wild Tansy Tea and Labrador Tea that grew along our lane way and along the edge of the forest.  We did it as more of an experiment to see how they tasted. They never became a habit like our Red Rose brand orange pekoe tea that we drank all the time. (Nor did we use them medicinally.)

LambsquartersWe gathered the wild greens called Lambsquarters. It grew like a weed in our garden so we were more inclined to rip it out of the ground than cherish it, but we did eat it in salads and cooked it like spinach on occasion.

The area we lived in (Jolicure) was connected to the great Tantramar Marshes – you only had to go a few miles in most directions to find your way to the these wetlands. So there were many boggy places around – not only in the marsh proper.

Not far from our house we found a lovely patch of cranberries growing in one such bog. We were able to pick these for ourselves every year, but we had to act fast because other locals would show up and pick them too.

Wild cranberry bog, photo by Chris Seufert

Wild cranberry bog, photo by Chris Seufert

They grew right on the edge of the forest in an old cleared field.

We also had raspberries near the house – but instead of local people, we had to be quick to get them before the birds and wildlife found them. They were hard to get quantities of – so you’d just eat what you could find right away and enjoy the sweetness in the fresh air.

Wild strawberries grew along our road and in various small patches near our house.

wild strawberries

Wild strawberries

We sometimes did manage to pick enough for a few pies – but again it was a challenge to beat nature to the prize.

There were other wild treats growing around our house like the patch of Fiddlehead ferns that grew in our backyard by a big old stump; we could harvest them once or twice a season for a few meals – usually as an accompaniment to the fresh trout my father caught in the lake.

Wild fiddleheads

Wild Fiddleheads

To pick blueberries we went to a commercial blueberry farm and used blueberry rakes to gather the fruit. Here we were guaranteed enough to freeze for the winter.

And on occasion we harvested the fallen fruit from abandoned orchards – though this fruit had to be used for making jelly – as it was generally worm ridden and had to be carefully cleaned for use.

We  experimented with our rose hips from the wild roses that grew along our lane. We made rose hip jam one year and brewed a tea from them on other occasions – rose hips are very high in vitamin C.

Rose hips, photo by Andy & Susie Vanable

Wild Rose hips

Once we tried making dandelion wine because our friends made some that was yummy and we had an endless supply of organic dandelions – but ours wasn’t a great success – it turned out more sludge than wine, but we tried.

We didn’t harvest wild mushrooms, of which there were many varieties. It was too chancy a risk that we’d poison ourselves and we didn’t trust our guide books for identification. Its important to really know what you’re doing with these things…

King Bolete mushroom (Boletus Edulus)

Here’s an example of what is considered an edible mushroom: “… An unknown bolete is safe if it does not bruise blue after being cut, is not red on the underside of the cap, and does not taste foul.
Small amounts should be consumed when testing an unfamiliar bolete.”

We had a stand of giant fungi that grew on our property along a tall stand of pines; a wind break treeline at the back side of the house. I loved looking at them with their big and brightly colored caps – but I was very wary of them and never touched them as someone had told me they were Death Angels, a very poisonous and deadly fungi.

I’ve since found out that what we had were toadstools; a kind of fungus that is also poisonous (you can die from renal failure after a long and horrible decline) and psychoactive. So they were pretty much just as bad as Death Angels  and  Death Cap Mushrooms (all three kinds of mushrooms are in the same family). These are the mushrooms famous in European folklore and fairy tales and you can see why…

Fly Amanita, Amanita muscaria var. guessowii

This is the same kind of yellow and orange toadstools that we had – ours were huge – like a foot tall and 6″ across: Fly Amanita, Amanita muscaria var. guessowii.

Toadstool, Fly Amanita

We had giant red toadstools too: Fly Amanita.

When I was in college at Mount Allison University a group of students got hold of a bunch of local, wild, hallucinogenic mushrooms which they happily ate until someone realized they were full of worms – upon which all of them got violently sick and apparently had really really really bad trips.

The moral of this post isdon’t eat what you don’t know!


The Great White North

It was mid January 1973 the day the giant moving van showed up at our house in Bronxville, NY.

The moving guys first loaded all the heavy stuff from our house into the truck – boxes of books, boxes of records and the Encyclopedia Britannica set – some wardrobe boxes and a couple of mattresses and some paintings – but then there was no more room for all of our furniture and other belongings. A second truck had to be sent for.

Ford Maverick c 1971

The Safran family car by this point was a Ford Maverick c 1971. I had no idea we were driving around in what is now considered a muscle car. The one shown here is a bit souped up compared to our blue model.

We had a schedule of some sorts, and we couldn’t wait – so we left my Nanny in the house to make sure the rest of our stuff got loaded onto the second truck, and we got into our car with our cat and drove away.

I remember sobbing hard in the back seat – the sight of my Nanny waving goodbye was too much for me – I knew deep down I’d never see her again.

At least we had Babby with us in the back seat in an old green wooden crate. If Babby hadn’t been there I’d have been histrionic – as it was my father yelled at me to shut up and stop crying.We drove out of our neighborhood in silence and onto the highways that took us north to Canada.

We drove all day and late into the night, till it was dark and snowing – I’m guessing we were somewhere in Maine when we stopped. We pulled up to a dark, cold looking motel and got a room for all four of us and then smuggled the cat and his litter box inside and spent the night in there in misery. I don’t remember what we ate but probably cold sandwiches that my mother brought.

Adele Safran, Lorne and Joanne  Bell and Luke the dog

My mother Adele, my Uncle Lorne and Aunt Joanne Bell, and Luke the dog – one of my bestest buddies ever.

The next day was more driving – more roads and endless forest. We arrived at my aunt’s house in Jolicure, New Brunswick, Canada before dinner and it was a relief to be out of the car and into a warm and welcoming home. It was my mother’s birthday the next day  – January 18th.

We spent a couple of days at my aunt’s place as I recall, waiting for the moving trucks to arrive. That was alright by me because they had a barn and a house full of animals to visit including a horse and a goat, cats and a big fluffy dog.

One of the moving vans eventually arrived at my aunt’s farm one day during a heavy snow storm. We all piled in our vehicles and drove along with the van to our new home about three miles down the road into the woods.

The road to our house was a dirt road and deeply rutted and covered with ice and snow. The moving van wasn’t prepared for this and slipped and ditched itself suddenly just below our laneway. The rest of us stopped in horror and stood helplessly in the middle of nowhere in the freezing cold and heavy snow, wondering what would we do? The house was situated up a very long narrow drive up a hill – were we going to have to carry everything out of the truck and lug it there? How was the truck going to get out of the ditch?

The abandoned house down our road

This is a shot taken from our road looking towards the abandoned farm nearby. It was the only house visible for miles. Beyond that were woods – and in the other direction were woods.

Luckily my uncle had it all covered – he drove out to the crossroads and enlisted a few neighbor farmers to come along with their tractors and they managed to pull the truck out of the ditch. (The first of many times the local farmers pulled us out of ditches). The moving truck then actually made it up the lane to the farmyard and unloaded our stuff into the house. Only the first truck had shown up – the second truck didn’t arrive for weeks…

The Red House in Jolicure at dusk

The Red House and its barns in Jolicure at dusk. You can see that the buildings are located on the top of a rise. If you walked over the rise to the other side you’d see Long Lake and forest.

By nightfall we were alone in the house with the kitchen stove burning and the furnace kicking in to warm things up. Thanks to the moving company, we had tons of boxes but little in the way of furniture. So we sat on boxes of books and ate mac and cheese from a mix made in one pot for dinner.

My father sensed that some levity was needed on this night of drama – we had landed in a centuries old house isolated in the woods with no other house or light in sight for miles – the cold was oppressive, as was the darkness outside. So he pushed aside some stuff from the living room floor (the front parlour) and found some old LPs and the record player (which was a big heavy piece of furniture and so had been included in the load) and played records and taught us to fox trot. It is a brilliant memory – the golden light of the only lamp in the room; the 1940s music playing; and dancing with my father in this old farmhouse in the middle of nowhere.

We were in this together now for better or for worse.

Jolicure: temporary mailbox for the Safran family

A breadbox became our temporary mailbox when we moved to the red house in Jolicure. It wasn’t long before the postman refused to go down our road to deliver mail and we had a real mail box put up at the official corners of Jolicure proper.

Let’s Fast Forward to 1972

In the fall of 1972 I entered grade 7 at Burrough’s Junior High in Yonkers, NY. Let’s just say I didn’t adjust to the change…

Betty Safran with hand made model of Parthenon 1972

This is me in 1972 just a few months before entering junior high. I’m shyly posing with my to-scale handmade model of the Parthenon. You can see that I was what they’d call today a geeky kid – thoughtful, sensitive – not a tough nut.

At the time that Burroughs was built about 4 years earlier it was meant to be a revolution in education – take the sheltered middle class kids and mix them with the rough tough kids and things will even out. However the experiment didn’t go well – at least not while my sister or I were there… gangs of kids controlled the halls with violence (I only went to the washroom once at Burrough’s – it was too scary to be alone in the halls and bathrooms) and tormented kids on the buses.

Burroughs Junior High, Yonkers, New York

This is my old alma mater Burroughs Junior High in Yonkers, NY. Isn’t it an attractive prison-like depressing institution?

And one day a mobile race riot came (they were going around in buses) and our school was then surrounded by riot police decked out with all their gear and vans… it was a fun place.

Not only did I develop a strong bladder, but I also started having intense stomach pains that lasted for several years after that…

Betty Safran and Babby

This is sweet me with Babby the neighborhood Tabby.

Things in Manhattan were really devolving too – check out the movie American Gangster by Ridley Scott if you want an atmospheric tour of what it felt like in the city in the 70s.

And in our neighborhood a Mafioso boss broke building codes and built a house across the street from our house and trucks came and went at all hours as did big men (think the Sopranos). We heard from a neighbor soon after we left Bronxville that the guy’s pretty little wife was killed by a car bomb.

And there was a new presence of drugs in the schools and on our quiet streets – I went out to school one day and found a whole pile of used needles on the slope of our yard near the sidewalk….

My parents had been talking about moving somewhere remote and away from New York  for a few years. Real estate catalogues from Ireland, Australia and the rural US, were lying around the house. Even though I hated my new junior high – I didn’t want to leave my home, my Nanny who lived next door, or my beloved Babby, our visiting tabby.

In the spring of1972 my parents decided to go up to Eastern Canada and visit my mother’s eldest sister Joanne and her husband Lorne, and look for some cheap rural real estate that we could move to.

Willy Rayworth house Jolicure

This is how my sister first saw the red house on the hill – from a canoe on Long Lake.

After looking at several remote houses on a windy and open marsh, and a couple of Victorian charmers in small towns, they quickly decided on a red farmhouse about 3 or 4 miles from my aunt’s farmhouse in Jolicure, New Brunswick. This was the house that my sister fell in love with about a year earlier when she was up there visiting.

Locally it was known as the Willy Rayworth House. It had been famous for its spring water and for the dancing parties that had been held in the large kitchen in its heyday. The house when we saw it had been abandoned for some years and looked pretty in a shabby, run-down kind of way.

I guess I didn’t realize at the time that we were going to move to this house forever more. So it came as a shock when it became a reality. I remember lying under the Christmas tree in 1972 looking up at the flashing lights and weeping because I didn’t want to leave, and my father yelling at me to stop – we were moving and that was final.

And we weren’t allowed to tell anyone where we were going…

My Beginnings: 1960 New York

betty safran bernard safran myartsyodyssey nyc black and white photography Time Magazine  New York Paintings Hello, my name is Betty. I want to tell my story because I think it’s unique, and interesting, and sometimes crazy. You see I grew up with two artist parents in a suburb of New York City during the 1960s.

When I was born in 1960 my father was quite a famous artist and had a following because he painted some of the most compelling portraits for the cover of Time Magazine in the history of the publication ( We were living the high life – cruises, trips to Europe, fancy parties, shiny patent leather shoes… but twelve years later we were eating fried bologna for dinner, and sharing a house with a woodchuck, shrews and bats. In early 1973 we moved from NY to an isolated, run down farmhouse in Eastern Canada, which some people might say was in the backwoods of nowhere.

betty safran bernard safran myartsyodyssey nyc black and white photography Time Magazine  New York Paintings betty safran bernard safran Time M

Our house in Jolicure, New Brunswick, Canada circa 1973, looking up the drive from the road.

I always knew my family was different from my friends’ families. Our lives were steeped in art – art in the museums we went to all the time, art history at the dinner table, art being made at home, art on the walls. I never knew anyone else who had a nude painting of their mother on the living room wall – and it wasn’t just one nude – she was all three of the Three Graces!

My Dad eventually got tired of his painting of The Three Graces, and in 1973 he ended up using it to fix a wall in the hall of our farmhouse. First he scraped most of the painting off and then totally painted over it with white latex paint. That was the end of the Three Graces.

Other nudes of my mother were hung or see-able in the studio where friends, family and neighbors saw them – ugh.  Here she is as Bathsheba…

betty safran bernard safran myartsyodyssey nyc black and white photography Time Magazine  New York Paintings betty safran bernard safran Time M

Bathsheba by Bernard Safran, January 1963, oil on masonite 27.5” x 52”

I have a lot of stories to tell about my artsy life.

Please join me in my travels through time – I hope you’ll find my tales enlightening and entertaining.