Thursday, March 03, 2016

Sam Consylman, forager extraordinaire, 1941-2016

Sam Consyman after pulling onions in his Lancaster garden. Photo by Robert Libkind.
Sam Consylman, a retired auto radiator repairman whose passion was foraging, organic gardening of both common and unusual produce and teaching younger generations about growing and gathering food, died Feb. 26. Sam, who won a round against colon cancer nearly 20 years ago, was 74.

I met Sam when Earl Livengood operated his produce stall at center court in the Reading Terminal Market. Sam was a friend of Earl and helped out at various farmers' markets. But Sam also supplied Earl with choice morsels he found in forests and lowlands: wild berries, greens and, most delectable of all, morels.

At his Lancaster home Sam had a small scale gentleman's farm, with everything from root vegetables to fruit trees.

Sam Consylman at Fairmount Farmers Market.
Photo by Robert Libkind
Among the many things Sam taught me was the living definition of "dead ripe".

During a visit to his patch of green Sam led me to his small orchard and found a peach lying on the ground which, he told me, wasn't there a few hours go. Some ants had already found it, but Sam brushed them off, surgically removed the spot they had been working on, and handed it to me. It was incredibly juicy with a subtle but absolutely peachy flavor: the perfect peach. And dead ripe, having just fallen, naturally, off the tree.

Sam also loved rediscovering foods from other cultures and our past. I rarely saw him so excited as when he told me about his first crop of yacon, a South American tuber

He was gathered a native American food well-known in Appalachia: poke.

Each fall Sam would dig up pokeweed from his favorite Lancaster County foraging ground and store them buried in sand on two six-foot shelves in his basement, stacking them tightly to preserve moisure, and watering them daily to "mimic the same way they'd get moisure in the wild". By January they start to send out edible roots, which you can use like you would asparagus. The leaves, berries, taproot and older shoots are poisonous.

Although the garden took up much of his retirement time, Sam was hardly averse to meat. In addition to being an avid freshwater fisherman he regularly took to the field with his gun. He had agreements with some central Pennsylvania farmers to patrol their lands of pesky varmints, and the result was a regular supply of ground hog for his wife, Mary, to fry-up. He brought the chicken-fried rodent to Philadelphia to share with some of his farmers market customers. Quite tasty.

He shared his passions with young people. In addition to being a supporter of the Manor FFA (formerly known as the Future Farmers of America) in Millersville, Sam was also dedicated to at-risk youth, leading a series of Smart Angling fishing workshops for the Lancaster County Youth Intervention Center under the auspices of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

A memorial gathering will be held at the New Danville Fire Company, 43 Marticville Road, Lancaster, on Friday, March 11 from 2 to 8 p.m. Contributions in his memory may be made to the Manor FFA, c/o Penn Manor High School, 100 E. Cottage Ave., Millersville PA 17551.

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