Berry season has begun! Berries are one of the most common foraging foods to be found in the North, and we’ll be reporting on them as the different varieties reach maturity and get added to Suzanne’s larder. Wild strawberries are starting to emerge, but here we’ll have a look at haskap berries.
Haskaps are the first domestic berries of the season to ripen. They generally grow well throughout the north, and taste like a combination between a sweet blueberry and a tart green grape.
In addition to eating them raw, haskap berries can be made into jams or fruit leather. Or try them mixed in with vanilla ice cream. And they freeze well so they can be enjoyed throughout the winter.
In Dawson City, Yukon, Maryann Davis of Tundarose Garden sells fresh haskaps and haskap jam at the Dawson Farmers Market approximately every other Saturday while they last. Emu Creek Farm (run by Diana and Ron McCready) supply Dawson’s local restaurants with haskaps. Both are helping out Suzanne with a source of haskaps for her year of eating local. And if you would like your own haskap bushes, they can be purchased from Klondike Valley Nursery, run by John Lenart and Kim Melton.
Miche here. When you go up to visit Old Crow you never know what that unique and generous community will send back with you — a haunch of caribou traded for some Taku River sockeye, or several pounds of King salmon roe. This year a friend and colleague presented me with a whole, wild, specklebelly goose.
I had never tasted a wild goose before. Bringing it home to Whitehorse, I plunked it in the freezer while I decided how to cook it.
The specklebelly, or greater white-fronted goose, migrates through Old Crow every fall and spring on the way to and from their nesting grounds in the Arctic. These geese are an important part of the traditional diet in Old Crow.
In early May the hunters were out on the Porcupine River, bringing home the birds for the family pot.
Every year, the hunter who got my goose gives all the women in his family a bird for Mother’s Day. He tells their men, who cook the goose, to follow the magic formula: 2-2-2. That is, slow-roast the specklebelly with two cups of water for two hours in a 200°F oven.
According to Ducks Unlimited, the specklebelly “provides the makings for one of the most delectable wild game meals you’ve ever eaten.”
This cook concurs. I followed a modified 2-2-2 formula, and that specklebelly was the best wild fowl I’ve ever tasted. Thank you Old Crow.
Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in elder Victor Henry has taught Suzanne to see with new eyes.
Victor generously agreed to show Suzanne and ethnobotanist Leigh Joseph how to harvest wild rhubarb around Dawson. It seems like Victor can spot wild rhubarb a mile away! In the process, Suzanne also learned to look at her environment in a new way. She can now spot these plants easily (maybe not quite a mile away) and since has noticed wild rhubarb in many of her foraging locations — even in her own yard!
When Victor was a kid living at Moosehide (just down river from Dawson) he and his friends used to pick wild rhubarb and then sneak some sugar from the house to dip it in.
Victor suggests picking wild rhubarb before it flowers, when the stalks are young (late May to early June around Dawson), not hollow, and when they are juicy when cut and squeezed. Peel back the leaves and eat wild rhubarb fresh, or chop it and freeze it for later.
You can use wild rhubarb the same way you use domestic rhubarb. Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in elder Angie Joseph-Rear, especially loves wild rhubarb relish with moose meat. You can find some great recipes for rhubarb stalks (wild or domestic) at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks website.
The young leaves can be eaten as well, either raw or cooked. (Note: only wild rhubarb leaves should be eaten, as domestic rhubarb leaves contain too much oxalic acid and are not edible.) To store the leaves, blanche and freeze them using a similar technique as with stinging nettle.
One of the things Suzanne and her family really love eating is popcorn with butter and nutritional yeast. She’s hoping they’ll still be able to indulge their craving during the year of eating only local foods, thanks to Grant Dowdell and Karen Digby.
Grant’s Island is located on the Yukon River about 10 km upriver from Dawson. It has a microclimate unique to the Klondike area that has previously allowed Grant and Karen to grow sweet corn outdoors – something that is usually very difficult to do this far North. This year, they are experimenting growing Tom Thumb popcorn for Suzanne, since this variety takes only 60 days to reach maturity.
If it works out Suzanne may have some popcorn for the upcoming year after all. She will certainly have butter. Next she’ll have to look for local options for toppings as there will be no salt and no nutritional yeast available. Any suggestions for locally available popcorn toppings for Suzanne and Family? If so, let us know.
Spruce tips will become one of Suzanne and family’s candy during their year of eating local. Miche Genest has a wonderful recipe for making Candied Spruce Tips using homemade Spruce Tip Syrup in The Boreal Feast, A Culinary Journey Through the North by Harbour Publishing. And Miche has generously allowed us to share her recipe.
However, Suzanne probably will not have access to sugar to make the syrup, so Suzanne has adapted Miche’s recipe and combined coniferous with deciduous trees to make Candied Spruce Tips in Birch Syrup. They are more ‘birchy’ than the original recipe, but still quite delicious. (And, according to 11-year-old Tess, addictive!) Before you worry about using precious birch syrup to candy spruce tips, remember, you can keep re-using the birch syrup for batch after batch. The birch syrup gradually takes on a more sprucey taste with every batch.
Right now Suzanne is feeling more like a “green horn” than a “green thumb.” Normally, sunflower seeds from the Mammoth Russian Sunflower are know for growing huge 8- to 14-inch heads, packed with seeds. Suzanne was hopeful that she could get them to grow in Dawson with enough time to go to seed. Facing a year without nuts, sunflower seeds were her hope for a local seed. And, in theory, if one grew enough perhaps some oil?
Miche Genest here. A reminder: This winter I experimented with making homemade rhubarb vinegar using only products available in the Yukon — that is, wild low bush cranberries, frozen rhubarb from my back yard in downtown Whitehorse, tap water and Yukon Birch Syrup made by Berwyn Larsen and Sylvia Frisch on the banks of the McQuesten River.
The catalyst for the experiment was to provide a home-grown vinegar for Suzanne, who is about to embark on her year of eating only the foods she can source in or around Dawson. What to do about salad dressing? (The oil is a whole other topic.) No balsamic for her!
Apple cider vinegar is the obvious solution, but Suzanne’s supply of apples from horticulturist John Lenart will be limited, and their primary role to provide fresh fruit for the family. So I turned to locally-available fruit, starting with rhubarb and low bush cranberries.
The first attempt failed but the second time appears to have succeeded. Now that the fresh rhubarb is coming, I’ll continue to experiment and see if it makes a difference. Suzanne is experimenting too. Watch for updates, and in the meantime, click here for the recipe.
I tested the vinegar with a pH strip and it had a PH of 3.
In taste comparisons with commercial apple cider vinegar the apple cider won in terms of both flavour and sharpness. However, I’m delighted with the rhubarb vinegar in salad dressings. It provides the necessary acid. It does its job.
1 cup (250 mL) rhubarb, washed and chopped, at room temperature (I used frozen, but the fresh stuff is coming up now)
3 or 4 juniper berries (for the yeast on their skin)
¼ cup (60 mL) Uncle Berwyn’s Pure Yukon Birch Syrup, at room temperature
4 cups (1L) water at room temperature – if tap water, let stand for a couple of hours in order for the chlorine to evaporate
Place the rhubarb in a bowl deep enough to allow vigorous stirring and wide enough to give maximum exposure to air. A 2L mixing bowl will do the trick.
Dissolve the birch syrup in the water and pour over the rhubarb. Stir vigorously and cover with cheesecloth secured by an elastic or string.
For the next week stir vigorously every 2 to 3 hours. After a few days, the mixture should start to bubble in small, fizzy bubbles that gather around the rim of the bowl. You might see white yeast gathering on the surface. Don’t worry about the yeast, it’s not a bad thing, however more vigorous stirring may be called for. If mould starts to form, spoon it off.
(I tasted the vinegar every second day. At first it tasted like birch syrup. After three days or so it took on a sharpness that eventually became both sharp and sour.)
After a week to 10 days, strain the mixture and discard the rhubarb. Return the strained liquid to the cleaned bowl or a screw top jar. Cover with cheesecloth.
Continue to stir or shake vigorously (put the lid on the jar before shaking, and take it off again afterwards) for three or four days. Taste your vinegar. If you are happy with the sharpness and sourness, stop the show! Cover the jar and put the vinegar in the fridge. I was happy with mine after 2 weeks, though in Wild Fermentation Sandor Katz says fermentation generally takes 3 to 4.
Spruce tips are a versatile ingredient in a variety of dishes and can be frozen for use throughout the year.
Photos by Cathie Archbould.
At this time of year throughout the North the spruce trees are starting to put on their new growth. The dark green of the existing branches is highlighted by the bright green of new tips. These emerging spruce tips are a delicious and versatile wild food.
Spruce tips have a distinct taste. It’s light and citrusy and with slight resin-like flavour. You can just eat them as they are or add them to smoothies and salads. Dried tips can be used for a soothing tea, or add chopped tips to drinking water and let it sit for an hour or so while the water absorbs all the goodness. They’re also great for seasoning dishes like soups or stews, and work well with both sweet and savoury recipes. They can be pickled, candied, turned into oils, vinegars, jellies and syrups, and used as a herb. Craft brewers also often use spruce tips for flavour in their beers.
Dry them off and store them in the freezer for use throughout the year. Spruce tips are high in Vitamin C — another reason to store them for use during wintertime. They also contain carotenoids, and are rich in minerals such as potassium and magnesium.
You’ll know the spruce tips are ready to pick when they are bright green with a small brown husk at the end. Knock off the husk before using. Remember that this is the tree’s new growth, so pick sparingly from any single tree before moving on. It’s a good idea to pick a good distance from any roadway to make sure they’re free of airborne toxins.
Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is a nutritious spring green that has many uses, and once identified, may become a staple for your spring foraging. This plant is a perennial and grows as tall as 5-8 feet at maturity. The stem is usually less than 1 cm in diameter and the coarsely saw-toothed leaves are lance shaped to oval and have a pointed tip and a heart shaped base. The leaves are found growing in opposite pairs along the stalk. Stinging nettle is found growing in rich, moist soil along streams, rivers, meadows and open forest. This plant thrives in disturbed habitats such as village sites, roadsides and barnyards.
The leaves and stem have hairs that contain formic acid and can cause a stinging reaction when they come in contact with the skin — hence its name; many people opt to wear gloves when harvesting. Cooking or drying destroys the stinging properties, including drying nettles for tea, sautéeing, steaming, or baking.
Stinging nettles are best harvested for eating when the young shoots are less than a foot tall and still have a purple tinge to the leaves. They are at their most tender then. They can continue to be harvested beyond this height but they do get more fibrous as they grow and eventually will be too tough to eat. Do not harvest nettles after they have flowered as they develop gritty particles that irritate the urinary tract.
These nettles are rich in vitamins A and C as well as in minerals including calcium, potassium, magnesium and iron. They are a delicious alternative to any recipe that calls for spinach and can be added to soups and stir-fry’s for added nutrition and vibrant color. The leaves can also be dried and used to make a healthy and hearty tea. Stinging nettle can be used as a bath to help with rheumatism and the mature plant can be processed to make strong cordage. Many coastal First Nations, including Squamish, used this cordage to make strong fish nets and fishing line.
Up North, we love it when patches of fireweed take over our landscape, after all, it is The Yukon’s official flower. But did you know you can eat it too? Suzanne is enjoying having this first fresh vegetables of the season in her diet.
The first Fireweed Market of the season opened Thursday at Shipyards Park in Whitehorse on a beautiful sunny day—let’s hope Thursdays stay sunny for the rest of the summer!
A small but mighty crowd of farmers, vendors and enthusiastic customers were there, reconnecting after the long winter, sharing gardening tales, buying bedding plants, and snacking on kettle popcorn or samosas. Buskers busked, little kids chased each other through the stalls and the occasional dog was spied eyeing up the snackers and hoping for a dropped pakora.
Supplies of produce were limited, as always at the beginning of the season, but Bart Bounds and Kate Mechan of Elemental Farms had swaths of starts for sale. (Bart said recently, “My ultimate dream is to get everyone in the Yukon growing their own vegetables and I grow the seeds.”)
Local cook and author Michele Genest came home with starts of beets, cabbage and kale from Elemental Farms, (she’s not a gardener, but this year, in solidarity with Suzanne, she’s determined to succeed) a dozen eggs (the blue ones are so beautiful) from Michael Ballon, and an order for two chickens and two turkeys from Grizzly Valley Farms. All in all, she reports, a most satisfying day.
It won’t be long before markets open in Dawson, Mayo and Haines Junction. Here’s to a great growing and eating season!
In this episode of Yu-Kon Grow Iton CBC North’s A New Day with Host Sandi Coleman, Suzanne discussed her search for natural sweeteners, as well as the challenges around finding a locally-sourced vinegar.
Birch sap makes a delicious drink fresh from the trees – refreshing water taste with only a hint of sweetness – but packed full of minerals. Birch sap contains natural carbohydrates, organic acids, fruit acids, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, manganese, zinc, sodium, iron and copper, vitamins B (group) and vitamin C. It is said to have diuretic and detoxifying effects on the body, and it has been used as a folk remedy for many ailments in Europe and Asia for hundreds of years.
But birch sap needs to be consumed right away – it doesn’t last more than 24 hours even in the fridge. Sylvia Frisch, however, tried pressure canning the birch sap and storing it in her root cellar and it preserved very well and tastes great!
Also, Sylvia Frisch took advantage of the natural yeasts in birch sap to try and make vinegar. She bottled fresh birch sap last year and added a few raisins or black currents in each bottle and stored them in her root cellar. Suzanne and Sylvia cracked one open last week at Birch Camp and it was a delicious light white vinegar. They have bottled some fresh birch sap with local low bush cranberries this year and will see if they have equal success.
Suzanne’s main sweetener for her year of eating local will be birch syrup from Berwyn Larson and Sylvia Frisch’s birch camp not far from Dawson. The sap has been running well and Suzanne is starting her year with a 12-litre bucket of delicious Uncle Berwyn’s Yukon Birch Syrup .
Suzanne recently talked about her experience at the camp on Yu-Kon Grow It on CBC North‘s A New Day with host Sandi Coleman.
This “Traditional Raspberry Pemmican” recipe comes from the show and blog “Wild Kitchen”. Wild Kitchen is a project based in the Canadian sub-arctic about people who harvest wild food. 100% of the cast and crew are from the Northwest Territories and they work with what is available on the land to prepare nutritious recipes with a distinct wild flavor.
You can watch Wild Kitchen episodes here and on their website you can find their awesome recipes.
Suzanne is looking for ways to keep her ever-hungry 17-year-old son, Sam, full next year. Sam suggested that pemmican might be a reasonable locally-sourced snack food that will help him get through the year, especially since he spends lots of time doing physical activity. After all, Canada was practically built on pemmican. Trading posts would seek this high-protein and high-energy food from the natives, and it was used to sustain the voyageurs, especially in winter, as they traveled long distances.