▲ The gathering and preparation of gosari, or fiddlehead fern, remains a popular activity with Jeju women. Photos by Kang Soy, left, courtesy Jeju provincial government
Every morning, between April and May, Young Sun Kim wakes early, often before daylight, and starts her day by traveling with friends into the mountains. Once there, they will spend hours hunting for and harvesting the gosari, or fiddlehead fern, plant. The flower, picked while still in its infancy, is traditionally used for Jaesa, an ancestral rites ceremony that celebrates the life of relatives who have passed on. The young form of gosari isn’t particularly eye-catching. It is small — short and very thin. The stalk of the plant is grayish, while at the top small buds split off and tip the young plant green. As it grows, it resembles common bracken and can become quite large. Plants often grow together and can cover large areas in a dense thicket. Gosari is frequently used as banchan, one of the many side dishes served with meals.
There is plenty of discussion on how best to prepare gosari, almost all of which starts with when best to pick the plant, with all agreeing that it should be while it’s still young. Gosari is then usually dried in the sun, to kill off any germs, and then boiled. Commonly, the person preparing the dish then adds soy sauce, onions, garlic, sesame seeds, sesame oil and any other number of their preferred ingredients. Gosari is often stir-fried with glutinous rice and served as a side dish. The main flavor comes from the fern, giving the dish a unique flavor along with a soft chewy texture.
During the short two-month season when gosari is harvested, it is rare to pass a day with local women without hearing them talk about the plant, its uses and the amount that they or friends have picked on any given day. The majority who pick the plant are women and mostly older than 40. The practice originated mostly with women who needed to earn an extra income. After finding and picking the plant, these women could sell their produce at Jeju’s five day markets, to street vendors or anyone else they could find to buy.
Chung Bok Im set up on the sidewalk early to sell her wares, and by midday, she was still there. She and a friend were selling local products and greens that they harvested from the surrounding areas. Next to Chung was a large bowl filled with gosari, which she had already dried and boiled. It takes at least three hours to find and gather three kilo-grams worth of gosari, she said, which she sells from the sidewalk for 5,000 won per kilogram. “In the morning I pick it, at night I boil it, and the next day I sell it,” she said.
Picking gosari is no longer simply a means to make money for Jeju residents and many who do so now have different motivations. A new class of women, such as Kim, who pick and prepare gosari often do it simply as a hobby or pastime, a social event with their friends or some even for exercise. The common theme for these women of why they choose to harvest the plant is two-fold but with a common thread: healthy exercise that also puts healthy food on the table.
For women like Kim and Chung, picking the gosari plant fills two different needs. Chung relies on the plant to help her family financially, while Kim uses the picking almost as a leisure activity. But one thing is true for both women, picking gosari has been a lifelong activity, one they first did with their parents and one they surely will do with their children and, perhaps, even their children’s children.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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