In Fairfield’s early years, the widely accessible forest offered a bounty and variety of sustenance through the seasons. Native people established their winter settlements in wooded areas where they could hunt, forage for edibles, and find shelter. English colonists owned woodland lots which they used to harvest lumber for fuel as well as for building homes, ships, barrels, and other needs.
As farming grew, forests shrank: by 1850, less than 30% of Connecticut was forested (today it is more than 50%). Forests continued to be a place to hunt, to find wood for fuel as well as wild berries and other edible plants, and to connect to nature.
Turkeys are native to America; first domesticated by the indigenous people of Mexico, they spread through what is now through the American Southwest (or were domesticated a second time by that region’s indigenous people). Introduced from Mexico to England in the 1500s, turkeys were raised there and featured in the markets of London, often purchased for special occasions. The “first Thanksgiving” in Plymouth did not in fact include wild turkey (the Wampanoag brought deer and the English men contributed ducks or geese). Roast turkey became the center of American holiday tables later due to its association with English feasts. Here in Fairfield, wild turkeys could be hunted in the woods, while domesticated ones might be raised on farms along with chickens and geese.
Wild edibles in the Fairfield area provided essential nutrients year-round, and marked seasonal change when they bloomed. Eastern white pine needles offer more vitamin C than lemons and oranges and make an excellent herbal tea. Black and yellow birch twigs or bark can also be used for teas and medicines. Some well-known wild plants that were and still are actively managed within the region of Fairfield include strawberries, blackberries, May Apples, corns, hickory nuts, chestnuts, and Jerusalem Artichokes.