Sean Rowe refers to seasons as flavors. Spring is fresh, green and crisp. Summer is sweet–and even sweeter as it progresses. Fall is dense, nutty and starchy. He’s acquired all this from the wild foods he harvests while foraging, or “wild crafting.” It’s been his truest passion for more than 20 years and is the premise of his new web series, “Can I Eat This?”
“It encompasses this idea of going out into the landscape, whether that be suburban, rural or deep woods, and harvesting wild plants form the landscape…that people have forgotten about, that actually make amazing food,” Rowe said.
On the show, which Rowe directs and edits with the Troy-based film company Chromoscope Pictures, the musician/ experienced forager guides guests, ranging from local chefs to fellow musicians, through some of his favorite spots around the Capital Region. Places like the Tech Valley campus near WMHT studios, lush with milkweed, nanny berries and hazelnut that he has sustainably harvested for years, careful not to take too much from a species in order to let it thrive.
“He knows how to take just enough where it won’t damage the plant and keep it from reproducing,” Chromoscope filmmaker Nick Spadaro said.
“I want to take them out into the field and have them taste something for the first time. To have them feel the texture of it, to taste it, to really wrap their senses around this new thing they’ve never tried before,” he said.
“His passion for it is really cool because you’re around it and you find that you start to get hyped about it too,” Spadaro said. “I come back from these shoots and I’m like, “Did you know we can eat dandelions?’”
On one adventure in the deep woods, Spadaro recalled, Rowe shocked him by picking out some stinging nettle to cook for lunch. “I thought it was a poisonous plant, but the second you boil it you can eat it like a green, like spinach.”
The guide and his guest will then head back to his kitchen–with every corner, nook and cranny covered in jars of dried or drying nuts and herbs, powders and other goodies– to cook up a simple dish with their plunder.
“His kitchen looks like an alchemist’s lab,” jokes Chromoscope’s Jamie Spaulding.
The series’ first episode will start off with Rowe’s favorite wild cooked green, patience dock (Rumex patientia).
“I was so excited to start with this plant for the first episode because I think any chef would really appreciate the flavor and texture of it,” he said. “It’s lemony and tart but also rich like spinach. It’s unbelievable and gets really tender when you cook it. I cook it up with olive oil and garlic. Things like that, you don’t want a huge big heavy meal in the spring and that’s great plant to start with that comes out really early in the spring.”
“Can I Eat This?” aims to highlight foraging in a way no television show or web series has been able to do before, showcasing wild foods as an integral asset to a meal, not an emergency one.
“With Naked and Afraid and all of those shows, nature is a thing to overcome and you’re trying to get by until you’re rescued. This is the opposite of that. This is specifically going out into the landscape, becoming a part of it and trying to find the best food that you could imagine,” Rowe said. “It’s not about a push to survive its a push to enjoy life.”
If not for the wealth of knowledge of edible wild foods you can find in your backyard, the series is worth catching just for its theme song: “My name is Sean Rowe/ and I know I got a really low voice/ but don’t let it scare off your kids/ come forage with me and we can all rejoice,” he sings cheerfully.
“What it boils down to is that it’s really fun,” Rowe said. “I think it made my life better and I want to share that passion with other people now.”
Episode One: “Dock & Saddle” is available on Sean Rowe’s YouTube channel now: