Haute Cuisine Finds Foraging

Suzanne forages for high bush cranberries. Photo by Tess Crocker.

Across the planet — from Australia to the Faroe Islands — the culinary world is rediscovering a very old idea, foraging for food. In a heavily mechanized global food system with a very large carbon footprint, where households regularly consume food from continents away, the idea of eating locally and in a wholesome, sustainable fashion, is starting to catch on, especially at the highest levels of haute cuisine. And wild foods are front and centre in this trend.

Foraged foods are not altogether a new idea for restaurants. Truffles, for example, can only be found in the wild, usually with the help of specially-trained animals who sniff them out. High-end chefs have long been in love with the truffle’s unique flavour, and have been known to pay $1,200 a pound for the specialty item. Fiddlehead ferns and wild mushrooms also make the culinary most-wanted list.

Wild truffles are a favourite of chefs, and can sell for as much as $1,200 a pound.

Not surprisingly, indigenous peoples are at the heart of the modern foraged food movement.  A new generation of chefs from indigenous backgrounds are bringing their age-old culture to modern restaurants. Chef Rayleen Brown of Kungkas Can Cook in Australia is of aboriginal descent, and many of her flavors come from her nomadic upbringing. For her business, she sources 100 percent of her bush foods from local women foragers. Brown’s menus vary based on the foraged products that come in, “riding rhythms of the land and seasons.” Similar stories emerge from places as diverse as Brazil, the American Southwest, and throughout Canada (read our piece on Canada’s indigenous cuisine).

As foraging emerges from the fringes, the mainstream is taking note. We wrote previously about renowned chef Dan Barber, author of The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food. In addition to growing his own ingredients at the Blue Hill at Stone Barns farm, Barber and his chefs also forage the nearby woods for nuts and herbs. In Japan, chef Hisoto Nakahigashi of the Michelin-starred Miyamasou restaurant combs the nearby forest and river for fresh ingredients, which he uses to create the evening “kaiseki” meal, comprising many small courses. At Attica Restaurant in Ripponlea, Australia, a suburb of Melbourne, every member of the staff forages for food each day, sometimes bringing back finds just 15 minutes before service begins, and thereby assuring maximum freshness.

Wild mushrooms are among the most common, and commonly misunderstood, foraged foods.

Foraging can be a bit of an art, so it’s not surprising that many busy chefs employ experienced foragers to bring them their ingredients. For example. Chef Eddy Leroux of New York’s Restaurant Daniel, collaborates with expert forager Tama Matsuoka Wong, and the two have even co-authored a  book, Foraged Flavor.  Slovenian chef  Ana Roš of Hiša Franko (who was named World’s Best Female Chef in 2017 by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards), believes in a “zero kilometre” approach. She has a team of 10 foragers who harvest nearby mushrooms, berries, wild herbs and plants, many not traditionally used in cooking. Chef Virgilio Martínez Véliz of Central restaurant in Peru sends a team of seven people out four times per month,  foraging from the sea to the Amazon and the Andes for indigenous ingredients. Véliz also runs a research centre called Mater Iniciativa, where researchers record the flavor profiles and properties of wild ingredients before they enter the kitchen. In the Faroe Islands, a popular scuba diving destination, chef Poul Andrias Ziska of Koks restaurant encourages divers to collect mahogany clams, sea urchins, and horse mussels and submerge them in a fjord near the restaurant until it is time to cook.

Nature’s gifts are seasonal, so not surprisingly the use of foraged and wild ingredients often vary depending on the time of year.  Rene Redzepi of the Noma 2.0 Restaurant in Denmark varies their menu seasonally, focusing on seafood in winter, fresh vegetables in summer, and wild game and forest finds in fall. Poland’s Atelier Amaro restaurant goes one better. Chef Wojciech Modest Amaro divides his menu into 52 calendar weeks so that he can incorporate the freshest foraged ingredients from the countryside and his garden.

As Suzanne learned during her year of eating only food local to Dawson City, Yukon, edible wild plants abound, even in urban areas, where they are often considered to be weeds, especially if they are prolific growers. Dandelions, wild sage (a.k.a. stinkweed), stinging nettle, and chickweed are just some of the plants that frustrate Canadian lawn owners, but are in fact delicious ingredients, especially when picked while they are young. Some urban restaurants, such as in Iceland, Camissa Brasserie, in Capetown, South Africa, and Masque, in Mumbai, India, may pick up ingredients from among their city’s sidewalks and empty lots.

 

 

Suzanne’s Blog: “Terroir” Extends Beyond Wine!

 

Video by  John Sweeney sweentown.com

I have just spent a week at Devour! The Food Film Fest in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, where All The Time In The World was screening.

Devour combines two of my favourite things: films and food. And not just any food. Devour celebrates local, sustainable, gourmet food – bringing amazing chefs, both from Nova Scotia and from all over North America, to cook for its patrons. Even Sam Kass, the chef for the Obamas during their terms in the White House, was in attendance. No living off bags of popcorn at this film festival! Films, gourmet dinners, foraging tours, culinary workshops and wine tasting are all part of Devour.

I had the pleasure of spending a windy afternoon on the shores of the Minas Basin foraging for periwinkles during low tide with local chef Sean Laughey who was accompanied by From the Wild filmmaker Kevin Kossowan and Chef Blair Lebsack of RGE RD restaurant in Edmonton. Chef Blair sources all his meat from local farmers and incorporates locally foraged foods into his dishes.

I learned how to cook an amazing spiralized celeriac pasta with a goat’s cheese, onion and wild mushroom sauce from Chef Chris Pyne of Founders House in Nova Scotia, .

And from Chef Louis Bouchard Trudeau of The Charcuterie of Québec, named one of the Top 10 new restaurants in Canada by EnRoute Magazine in 2016, I learned the wide range of possibilities for blood terrine.

Locally sourced food was a very common theme amongst the gourmet chefs at Devour.

Being in Nova Scotia’s wine country, I have become familiar with the term “terroir” – a recognition that the characteristics of a wine are not simply influenced by a particular type of grape but by the natural environment in which the grape is produced. Everything from the soil to the topography, from the climate to the culture of a particular area influences the grape, and therefore the wine.

Clearly ‘terroir’ extends beyond grapes. The concept applies equally well to local food. Certainly my taste palate has come to appreciate the terroir of Dawson City.

The terroir of local food is something every community should be proud of.

If you want to take part in a fantastic gourmet film festival during a glorious East Coast Fall, you should keep Devour! on your radar for next year.

Foraging Connects Boreal Chef to the Land

Boreal Chef columnist Miche Genest sings the praises of wild ingredients. Photo courtesy of BorealGourmet.com

In Canada’s North, where food is regularly trucked in thousands of kilometres to remote communities,  and where you can still find unspoiled wilderness, wild food has always been a viable option for many households. But beyond the economic and health aspects of harvesting wild foods, more and more people are finding the idea of eating locally and in a wholesome, sustainable fashion, appealing in other ways as well.

For Miche Genest, author of the cookbooks The Boreal Gourmet and The Boreal Feast, and who regularly pens a The Boreal Chef magazine column, what collecting wild foods has done is give her a feeling of connection to the land, and to the people who live there. “When I first moved to the Yukon I got to know my new and somewhat intimidating landscape by going into the forest with friends looking for berries,” Genest recalls. “I feel really lucky to live here, where Indigenous people have lived and gathered knowledge for thousands of years.”

“The food I gather in the forest has special meaning,” says Genest. Not to mention special flavour — the berries and mushrooms you find in the Boreal forest are like nothing I’ve ever tasted before, anywhere. Shaggy mane mushrooms are as deep and pungent as truffles, to my mind they are the northern truffle, and I used them, dried, in everything from risotto to braises to omelettes. High bush cranberries are a flavour that can’t be described, only experienced.”

One of the downsides of relying on foraged foods is that harvests can sometimes be uncertain, especially in an age of climate change. “I get panicky when the stock of wild berries in the freezer starts to go down,” admits Genest. “But the great thing is, we all trade and barter. I missed the cranberry season this year, and it wasn’t a very good one, by all accounts, but happily I met a woman … who had lots of cranberries from the year before. So she offered me all the cranberries she picked this year—five pounds—in exchange for black currants, of which I had lots. That’s one of the great things that can happen when you live in a place where foraging is second nature.”

Berries, while plentiful, are only one of many foraged foods available to Northerners.

But, as humanity has hopefully learned by now, Nature’s bounty is not endless and must be carefully managed. Foraging of wild foods is no exception, and there are many cautionary tales, even in the sparsely-populated North,  where foragers have done damage to a wild crop by over-harvesting.

> Read Miche’s previous post: Food for Thought: Careful Foraging

Farming, Fishing, and Foraging Keys to Iceland’s Food Security

Farms in Iceland tend to be small, family-run operations.

Geographically, historically, and culturally, Iceland is unique. Nevertheless, this island country located just below the Arctic Circle has many lessons to offer in Northern food security, striving for balance between self-sufficiency and sustainability.

Not surprisingly, in the government’s own words, “the fishing industry is one of the main pillars of the Icelandic economy.” A responsible, sustainable fishery is official policy, and includes a structured fisheries management system, including catch limits and ongoing stock assessments.

Iceland’s government strives to maintain a responsible and sustainable fishing industry.

Arable land is limited in Iceland (less than 1 per cent). The island’s volcanic soils are thin and much of the interior is covered by lava fields, mountains, and glaciers.  But while only a tiny fraction of the land is therefore under cultivation, a preference for and tradition of locally-obtained food means the produce from farms (which are generally small and family-run) finds a ready market. Not only are there hearty vegetables like potatoes, turnips, carrots, kale, cabbage, and rhubarb, but thanks to an abundance of geothermal energy, a cornucopia of greenhouse crops, including tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers – and even bananas.  Although less than 10 percent of Icelandic farms are certified organic, most conventional farms do not use pesticides either, since there are few crop-devouring insects to contend with on the island.

Iceland’s main agricultural activity is sheep ranching, with island sheep far outnumbering human inhabitants.  Government regulations mandate that the sheep spend their summers outdoors, requiring them to be freely grazing for a minimum of two months. Dairy farming also flourishes, thanks in part to strict breeding regulations that serve to keep the 1,000-year-old Icelandic cow breed free of disease. More importantly, a farmer-owned co-operative – MS Dairies – collects 98 per cent  of the milk produced in the country, and helps to ensure sustainable prices for the dairy farmers. The co-op is also fostering an export industry for Skyr, Iceland’s unique yogurt-like dairy product.

A farmer-owned dairy co-op buys 98 per cent of the milk produced in Iceland.

A relative newcomer to the food scene is foraging, brought about in part by Iceland’s recent financial crisis, but also spurred by a growing interest in natural foods. There are two types of foraging activities in Iceland – land and seaside. Surrounded by pristine waters, the island’s beaches are a bounty of edible offerings, including mussels, clams, seagull eggs (which many consider superior to chicken eggs), and also kelp and seaweed.  Moving inland, the best time for foraging plants in Iceland is during the short summer, basically late May to late July, when berries (blueberries and crowberries are common) and wild herbs abound. But the most popular foraged food is mushrooms. It is estimated Iceland has over 100 varieties of edible fungi.

Foraging in Iceland takes place on the beach as well as in the countryside – and even the cities –  and is gaining in popularity.

In fact, foraging in Iceland has not only become  common, but trendy too, popularized in part by a new generation of local chefs who feature wild, local ingredients. Iceland’s foremost restaurant, Dill, (its first and only Michelin-starred eatery), highlights foraged offerings, several of them actually obtained within the city limits of the capital Reykjavik itself. Looking to the future, the government is moving to set aside wilderness areas specifically for foraging.

Admittedly, Iceland’s current focus on sustainability was borne from hard lessons. At the time of the Viking settlement (1150 years ago), around a third of the island  was covered with trees. Human expansion resulted in rampant deforestation, and sheep grazing inhibited regeneration. Over 95 per cent of the original forest cover is gone, so, not surprisingly, today Icelanders are careful to maintain an ecological balance, with tight government regulations and policies on land use and agricultural practices, as well as sustainable fishing.

 

Suzanne’s Blog: Oh Wondrous Fall!

 

Fall in the Yukon is just one of the million reasons I love living here.  The spectacular undulating carpet of yellows and reds and greens takes my breath away every year.

And it’s cranberry season!

High bush cranberries for juicing and low bush cranberries, also known as lingonberries, for almost anything else – pies, muffins, scones, pancakes, jam, jelly, chutney, and delicious cranberry sauce. I became addicted to the low bush cranberry when I lived in Newfoundland where they are known as partridge berries. They are excellent keepers for the winter as they sweeten, not soften, with freezing.

Last year was a very poor wild berry season.  Thanks to the generosity of many Dawson berry pickers and some careful rationing I had just enough cranberries to get us through.  This year is better and I am rejoicing in the ability to pick buckets full of cranberries once again.

Check out the Boreal Gourmet, Miche Genest’s, recipe for Low Bush Cranberry Toffee touted as “The Best Toffee in the History of the World!” Or Cranberry Birch Syrup Sauce to serve on Token Gesture Custard or ice cream.

Berry Season Has Begun!

Suzanne picking wild strawberries. Photo by Tess Crocker.

The first fresh berries are ripe for the eating!

Domestic haskap berries are ripe in gardens and the wild strawberries are now ripe in the fields.

The sweet taste of a fresh, in season, strawberry is divine.   In the North, wild strawberries are very small – but their taste is the sweetest of all – making them worth the effort of picking.

Domestic haskaps are now in season. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Haskaps, Lonicera caerulea, are a blue honeysuckle.   Native to Russia, they withstand frost and the minus forty cold winters of the North quite well.  They are currently  flourishing in gardens around Dawson City.

Also native to Japan,  ‘haskap’ is an ancient Japanese name which translates to ‘berry of long life and good vision.’   Haskaps are packed with Vitamin C and contain more anti-oxidants than any other berry.

The haskap berry is grape sized.  They are perfectly ripe when they are dark blue in colour with an obvious dimple in the bottom of the berry.  The taste of a haskap is a combination of sweet blueberry with tart cranberry.

Check out  the Haskap Canada Association for haskap recipes.

At Tundarose Garden in Dawson City, a bird found a well-protected area for nesting in the interior of the a thick row of haskap bushes.  Not wanting to disturb, Suzanne and Mary Ann snuck a very quick peek at the eggs and were surprised to find two had just hatched.  They backed off quickly so that mama could attend to her young in peace.

 

 

Yarrow: An Herbal Hero

Achilles was dipped in a vat of yarrow tea as a young child, to protect him from the dangers of war.  As the story from Greek mythology goes, only his heel was left unprotected as that was where his mother held him when she dipped him into the vat.  Achilles’ heel turned out to be his demise when it was pierced by an arrow.

Yarrow is well known for its many medicinal values as well as being an effective mosquito repellent. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Yarrow flowers are now in bloom around Dawson City and this is the best time to harvest.

Yarrow is well known for its many medicinal values as well as being an effective mosquito repellent.

However, dried yarrow also has benefits as an edible plant.   It is full of minerals such as calcium, potassium and sodium as well as vitamins A, C and thiamine.

The dried flowers make an excellent and aromatic tea.  Try a tea blend of yarrow, juniper, mint and lemon balm.

Infuse birch syrup with dried yarrow flowers, rosehips and rose petals.

Dried yarrow makes an excellent edible plant. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

The dried leaves make an excellent herb.  Try grinding dried yarrow leaves with wild sage, nasturtium seed pod, spruce tip, nettle and celery leaf to make a herbed butter or a chicken seasoning.

The best way to harvest yarrow is to cut it at the base of the stem, and then bunch the stems together and hang upside down to dry.

Thanks to Bev Gray’s “Boreal Herbal” and to ethnobotanist Leigh Joseph for the knowledge that has been summarized in this post.

The Delicate Flavour of the Wild Rose

Wild rose flowers are out in abundance around Dawson City, along with lungwort (blue bell) flowers.  Both are edible —  lightly perfumed with a touch of sweet.

Lungwort flowers (Bluebells) are also a delicious wild food. Photo by Suzanne Crocker

Wild rose petals can be eaten fresh, used as a garnish, steeped as a tea, or sun-steeped for rose-flavoured water. They can also be dried or frozen for storage throughout the year.

Remember to only pick one  petal from each rose flower so that they continue to attract bees.

Place rose petals in water to give it a refreshing rose flavouring. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.
Tess with a bucket of Nature’s Candy – wild rose petals, lungwort flowers, dandelion flowers and spruce tips.. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Stinging Nettle Latté!

Bet your local coffee shop doesn’t have this nutritious, delicious latté flavour on its menu — at least not yet!

Right now, stinging nettle is at its prime for harvesting (although you’ll want to wear gloves!) Far from being an annoying weed, stinging nettle is rich in calcium, Vitamin  A and C, and plant protein.

> Check out Leigh Joseph’s recipe for Stinging Nettle Latté!

stinging-nettle-latte-ingredients-12
stinging-nettle-latte-ingredients-3

The stinging part of the nettle disappears when it is juiced, cooked or dried.

Stinging nettle makes a great vegetable, a nutritious juice to add to smoothies or soups, and  a mild herb or tea that can be blended with other herbs to add a boost of nutrition.

It can also be blanched and frozen like spinach.

To dry it, cut at the base of the stem, bundle several stems together, and hang upside down.  When dry, remove the leaves into a mason jar.  They can be crushed later or ground into a powder in a coffee grinder.

Stinging nettle is best picked when under a foot high and there is still a purplish tinge to the leaves.  Definitely pick before it flowers.

> Read more about stinging nettle

Here are some great recipes made with stinging nettle:

> Stinging Nettle Birch Tip Latté
> Nettle Fireweed Shoot Spanakopita with Spruce Tip Infused Butter
> Instructions for juicing

Wild Harvesting: Responsibility and Reciprocity

By Leigh Joseph

Rice Root bulb with nodding onions on skunk cabbage leaf.

Our people look after what we take, we don’t take too much, we leave something, we don’t go back to that same place, and we go gather elsewhere. All the harvesting is done to take what you need and not take everything. You need to leave something for other people and leave something so that the plant can continue to live. You’ve got to take care of those things.”
~ Chief Floyd Joseph, Squamish First Nation

I have grown up with the belief that plants are our relatives. Connected to this belief are plant harvesting and cultivation practices that are rooted in respect and reciprocity. For each plant food or medicine there were, and are, sustainable practices employed to ensure the long-term health and productivity of plants in particular harvesting areas.

When settlers arrived in Canada there was a misconception that the landscapes they encountered were untouched and unused. In reality, the landscapes were intensively managed and cultivated to maximize productivity of foods with the understanding that future generations would also carry out these practices and rely on these foods.

There are many well-known examples now of ecosystems that were shaped by millennia of cultural practices and Indigenous knowledge aimed at building sustainable and bountiful food sources. These practices centered on the understanding that harvesting has impacts and in order to balance out these impacts there must be reciprocity. Reciprocity is the practice of giving back for mutual benefit. A plant-harvesting example of this would be replanting a section of root when you are harvesting roots for food to ensure the plant you are harvesting from returns and thrives. There is often a spiritual aspect to this type of reciprocity as well, in the form of a prayer or offering to the plant.

Sustainability has been built into indigenous plant management practices since time before memory. People were taught to manage root vegetables through replanting and cultivation. They knew that harvesting too many leaf buds from a tree or shrub would stunt new growth. They knew that to harvest entire flowers meant that pollinators and animals would lose a food source and fruit would not develop.

Two examples of Indigenous plant cultivation are camas meadows and estuary root gardens.

camas-flower
camas-bulbs

Camas is a traditional root food that was grown in family managed gardens. Camas gardens were found in open meadows that were maintained through fire management. Burning the meadow would bring nutrients into the soil, remove grasses and provide open habitat for camas to thrive.

 

estuary-root-flower
esuary-root-grass

Estuary Root Gardens were also family managed gardens in estuaries. Management of these gardens included weeding, tilling, replanting and rotating harvest to ensure the productivity and sustainability of the gardens.

The relatively new popularization of wild foraging is leading to overharvesting and can be seen as another form of ‘taking’ from the land. I share in the excitement of harvesting but I ask you to please educate yourself and consider the impact you may have. Ask yourself: “Is this a plant I should be harvesting?” “Who else might be relying on these plant foods?” “Where am I harvesting? Is this a culturally or ecologically sensitive area?” “What is my intention with harvesting? How much do I take and what do I give back?” “How do I harvest and give back in a way that will sustain these plant foods for generations to come?”

If you don’t know the answers to these questions I urge you to seek out training or contact your local Indigenous community to ensure that you are practicing in a respectful way. Purchasing plants from a native plant nursery or transplanting into a garden setting are two great ways to have less of an impact on the wild plant populations.

Here are some great books if you are interested in further learning.

  • Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants
    by Robin Kimmerer
  • Plants Have So Much to Give Us, All We Have to Do Is Ask
    by Mary Siisip Geniusz
  • As We Have Always Done Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance
    by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson.

Suzanne’s Blog: Add Lungwort to Your Menu

Lungwort (blue bell). Photo by Suzanne Crocker

One of my favourite edible leaves, lungwort (commonly known as blue bell) is now out and about around Dawson City.  The young leaves are very tasty raw and can be added to salad,  steamed  or added to soups and stews.  The early flower buds are also quite tasty –  (although I always feels a bit guilty eating them before they have a chance to flower).

Important rule of thumb: In general, blue and purple flowering plants are NOT edible. Lungwort is the exception.  Don’t eat lupine or delphinium or Jacob’s ladder which are also starting to appear around the same time (but the leaves look very different from lupin).

These plants are NON-EDIBLE. Left to right: Delphinium, Jacob’s Ladder, and
Lupin. Lungwort is the only blue-flowering plant you should eat. Photos by Suzanne Crocker.

The Many Uses of Spruce Tips

 

spruce-tips
spruceTips
spruceTips3

Spruce tips are a versatile ingredient in a variety of sweet and savoury dishes  and can be frozen or dried for use throughout the year.
Photos by Cathie Archbould, Archbould Photography.

A candy, a spice, a tea, and great to snack on fresh — all this in the spruce tip!

Pick some now and enjoy them all year long.

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 and high in Vitamin C.

Spruce tips have a distinct taste — citrus with a hint of resin.  You can snack on them fresh or or add them to salads.

Dried spruce tips can be ground in a coffee grinder and make a great nutmeg like spice – check out the recipe for Moose Steak with Yukon Rub and for Northern Pumpkin Pie!  They can also be used in teas.

Candied spruce tips make a delicious snack and they store well in the fridge in a mason jar.  The remaining birch syrup infused with spruce tips makes a wonderful coniferous-deciduous syrup blend that can then be used to make Spruce Tip Spritzers.

To enjoy spruce tips all year long, store them in the freezer.  Or dry some to grind for a spice later in the year.

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.

Enjoy this versatile burst of Vitamin C from the forest!

The Arugula of the North – Dandelion Leaves

Young dandelions are popping up everywhere

Those of us craving fresh local greens at the end of the long winter need look no further than our own backyards. The dandelions are coming up, folks! They’re fresh and tender now, before the flowers come into bloom; a good time to enjoy them in salads. If you like arugula, you will like dandelion leaves.!

Later the leaves increase in bitterness, and are best in cooked dishes—try sautéing dandelion leaves with morel mushrooms and garlic scapes. Throw in a few flowers as well!

Dandelions are legendary for their health benefits–the leaves are packed with Vitamins K and A, contain substantial amounts of C and B6, as well as thiamine, riboflavin, calcium and iron, among other nutrients, and are high in fibre. Current research suggests that extract of dandelion root may be helpful in the treatment of leukemia.

Some tips for picking: grasp the leaves where they meet in a crown near the root, pull slightly and cut just underneath the crown, keeping the plant in one piece. Sometimes several plants are packed tightly together; then you’ll need to dig with your fingers to discover where each crown emerges from the root. Sometimes you can free a number of plants with one cut.

Do the first cleaning outside, removing grass and other leaves. Use your knife to scrape away the sticky, dark skin at the base of the stem. Cut the stems off at the ends.

Dandelion hands

Remember old recipes that direct you to wash something “in several waters”? This is very important with dandelions. A gritty salad is no fun. Wash and wash again, lifting the leaves from the water into the strainer each time, leaving the dirt behind. When the water is clear, you’re good to go.

Wash and wash again

Remember to pick only in those places you know haven’t been sprayed, and avoid roadside ditches. Now, get out there with your trusty knife and have fun!

For a dandelion salad recipe, click here.

Eating Prehistorically – Horsetail for Supper

Young horsetail shoots ready for eating. Photo by Suzannr Crocker.

The foraging season is now in full force!   New edible plants are popping up daily. Many of them are only edible when they are young, so the window for a tasting opportunity is short!

Horsetail, equisetum arvense, is one such example.  Horsetail is a relative of a prehistoric plant that grew to over 15 meters high 400 million years ago.

Horsetail is eaten by caribou, moose, sheep and bears and, when young, can be eaten by humans too. The young, male horsetail shoots are edible when the fronds are pointing up.  When the fronds start to point outwards or downwards, then they should no longer be eaten as oxalate crystals will be building up inside the stem.

A Patch of young horsetail plants. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

If you catch them early, the young shoots can be eaten raw or steamed as a wild vegetable.  Or they can be dried and used as a tea.  They are rich in antioxidants and high in minerals including calcium, magnesium.

Of note – long-term regular ingestion or horsetail can deplete thiamine levels (Vitamin B1).  Also to be avoided in folks with edema, gout, heart and kidney disease.

If you don’t catch them young, horsetail make good pot scrubbers while camping.   Horsetail is high in silica and when dried and steeped in hot water apparently makes a great foot soak or hair rinse.

Look for horsetail in damp open woods, meadows, dry sandy soil and disturbed areas.

Research for this post thanks to Beverley Gray and the The Boreal Herbal.

Gardening Nightmares, Gathering Dreams

by Miche Genest

Last year’s grass is long, yellow and plentiful in our Whitehorse backyard, and the new green shoots are already showing underneath. It really is time to rake away the old and prepare for the new. But I’m getting ready for a trip overseas, there’s so much to do, and the inevitable looms — I will not get to the raking.

Every year it’s the same — we have great plans for the yard. We’ll build a food forest! Sow some grains! Cause passersby to stare in wonder at the glory of our garden!

And every year, I might manage, latterly, to stuff armfuls of old grass into the compost bucket, fill a few pots with edible flowers, and maybe cut down last year’s stalks of Artemesia tilesii in the otherwise empty garden boxes. Then it’s time for the trip to Scotland, or the long hike, or the paddling trip. And instead of staring in wonder, passersby shake their heads.

My husband offers words of comfort: “We’re not gardeners. We’re gatherers.”

Right. So, we’ll gather.

Those who are gardening-challenged can always gather…dandelion flowers!

By the time we get back from Scotland, the dandelions that have colonised the yard will be in flower, smiling brightly between leaves of grass. We’ll have dandelion fritters for dessert. The spruce tips will be young and green in the higher altitudes, and this year we’ll make a special day trip just for picking. I’ll make spruce tip and juniper butter, spread it on freshly baked bread and pile hot-smoked salmon on top.

And, you heard it here, I will roto-till the garden box outside the fence, dig in a whack of compost, and plant the rye I’ve ordered from Salt Spring Seeds. If all goes well, we could be gathering grain in the fall.

Gathering has to be my kind of gardening — for now.

Fresh spruce tips add a lemony note to spruce tip and juniper butter.

Spruce Tip and Juniper Butter

2 oz (56 gr) butter, softened

1 Tbsp (15 mL) fresh spruce tips, finely chopped

1 tsp (5 mL) juniper berries, crushed

1 Tbsp (15 mL) garlic scapes, finely chopped

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and mix thoroughly. Spread on fresh bread and top with smoked salmon and sliced red onion.

Suzanne’s Blog: First Wildflower of Spring

Despite the snow and ice that still pervades Dawson City, the first crocus has blossomed. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Despite the fact that it snowed yesterday in Dawson City and there is still ice on the river, Spring has, in fact, arrived.  As announced by the blooming of the wild crocus, the first wildflower of Spring!

No, it’s not edible, but it is a harbinger of edible plants to come.  In one week the fireweed shoots, nature’s version of asparagus, should begin poking their heads out of the ground.

I marvel at nature.  While I have been busy ordering, planting, watering, fertilizing and tending to my fragile seedlings in preparation for transplanting the end of May, nature has been quietly taking care of all this without any human intervention at all — year after year producing successful crops of wild edible plants that help sustain both animals and humans.

Welcome to the wild crocus and all the wonders of Spring that will soon appear!

 

 

 

 

Food for Thought: Careful Foraging

by Miche Genest

Dandelion greens harvest

As the swans return and the Yukon River breaks up, the longed-for foraging season inches ever closer. This waiting-for-spring seems endless now, but we know from experience that once the new plants start to appear it’s all going to happen really fast. First the dandelions and the spruce tips will appear, then the wild roses and the plantain and lamb’s quarters, then the Labrador tea and then the berries, the rapid succession of beautiful berries.

Now, as we lounge in spring’s waiting room, it’s a good time to reflect and prepare for the foraging season ahead. As our love of wild foods grows, there are more and more of us out there, and it becomes crucial to practice ethical harvesting, doing our part to protect and conserve, so we, the animals and the birds can continue to enjoy the wild harvest for generations.

The north is a big place, and sparsely populated, but even so the forager’s effect on the environment, especially sensitive environments, can be devastating. One Dawson resident said recently, “Indiscriminate harvesting concerns me as our population grows and more people are interested in the wild things.” When we’re out in number, our cumulative effect is far greater than we might think.

Wild blueberries, in bloom.

Stories from the forests of Quebec provide a cautionary tale. The wild leek (Allium tricoccum, also known as ramps, wild onion or wild garlic), once abundant in the wild, was so over-harvested for commercial and personal use that it became endangered. Urban sprawl and habitat destruction also played a part. Since 1995, by Quebec law, the only wild leek harvest permitted is 50 bulbs or plants for personal use. Today, though commercial harvesting and sales of wild leeks have been banned, the species is still listed as endangered.

Chef Nancy Hinton and her partner, the legendary Quebec forager Francois Brouillard, own Les Jardins Sauvages, a restaurant and small wild-food condiment business in Saint-Roch de l’Achigan just outside Montreal. Brouillard grew up spending summers in the woods near his grandmother’s cottage, now the restaurant, and was foraging for wild foods long before they became de rigueur on restaurant menus and at farmer’s market stalls.

Now, says Hinton, though she and Brouillard are very happy people have learned about wild foods, the downside is the woods are becoming overcrowded and habitat is threatened. “There’s a lot of people going out, and they’re going too fast, they don’t have the knowledge and the patience or the experience necessary, even if they care about sustainability.”

Worse, continues Hinton, the demand for wild food is so great it has spawned a flourishing black market. “There’s tons of people, and they sell to chefs, or to other people that sell.” This causes a number of concerns. “First, there’s no traceability, so if there’s a problem you don’t know where it came from or how it was picked. Second, these people are not people who are so concerned about sustainability.”

Hinton and Brouillard now sit on a committee that’s trying to develop guidelines for this burgeoning industry, but it’s complicated. How do you monitor compliance? How do you monitor the woods? In the case of wild ginseng, an endangered species in Ontario that brings high prices on the black market, Environment Canada is using video surveillance cameras on known patches.

In the meantime, wild ginger and crinkle root, plants that Brouillard has been gathering for years, and which still thrive on his family’s property because of careful harvesting, are listed as “at risk” in Quebec and their harvest subject to regulation. Hinton says that while she doesn’t want to dampen enthusiasm for beginners interested in wild harvesting, and understands that mistakes are made innocently, it’s frustrating to be denied access to much-loved plants because of others’ ignorance or willful negligence.

We might think it can’t happen in the Yukon. But in Whitehorse low bush cranberry pickers have already noticed that they have to go farther and farther afield to find berries, even in a good berry year. There are simply more of us out there. The way foraging works, one friend brings another, who then goes back to the same place with a new friend, who then returns with one of her friends, and so on, until the small patch of wild berries that might once have supported one person’s family with a few cups of berries for the winter is now under an enormous amount of pressure.

Last year at an area in BC famous for its wild watercress and its beautiful, extremely sensitive Karst landscape, my husband and I came across a Whitehorse family in the midst of harvesting wild watercress. They already had three large garbage bags full, and they were filling a fourth. “We do it for all of our family,” they said.

Well, okay. But surely we have to think beyond our own families. What if we all filled several large garbage bags every spring?

Amber Westfall, herbalist and wild food educator from the Ottawa area, has compiled a short list of helpful reminders on how to forage with care. It’s not a bad idea to review her guidelines while the season is not yet upon us.

Squirrel harvest, early fall.

Guidelines for Ethical Foraging

Composed by Amber Westfall, herbalist and proprietor of The Wild Garden, in Ottawa, Ontario. Amber says, “Please practice good stewardship and take care of the plants that take care of us!”

  1. Make sure you have a one hundred percent positive ID. Ideally, reference more than one field guide, or go out with an experienced forager or wildcrafter.
  2. Do not over-harvest. Be mindful of how many remaining plants are needed to ensure the stand will continue to flourish and thrive. Learn about how the plant reproduces. By seed? Rhizomes? Slow growing bulbs? Think about what other animals, insects and people might be using those plants.
  3. Know the poisonous plants in your area and what to avoid.
  4. Be aware that anyone can have an allergic reaction to any plant. Eat a small amount and wait 24 hour to see if you have a reaction.
  5. Harvest away from busy roads and rail lines. Avoid contaminated areas and areas that have been sprayed with chemical fertilizers or pesticides. The edges of farm fields, unless organic, are not appropriate for harvesting for this reason.
  6. Know the history of the area you are harvesting from. Be wary of empty lots and avoid ‘brownfield’ land.
  7. Do not harvest on private property without permission.
  8. Do not harvest on protected land, fragile or at-risk environments or in provincial or national parks.
  9. Learn which plants are threatened or at-risk and do not harvest them.
  10. Learn which plants are prolific and which plants are invasive. These are ideal for harvesting.
  11. Whenever possible, replant root crowns, rhizomes, and spread seeds (except invasives).
  12. Only harvest the appropriate part of the plant at the proper time of day and/or in the proper season.
  13. Use clean, appropriate tools to reduce the spread of disease. Make neat, clean cuts at growing nodes to allow the plant to heal well and continue growing.
  14. Leave some of the best specimens to go to seed and reproduce. If we take all the best plants and leave behind weak or diseased specimens, we are selecting for future plants that will be weak and subject to disease.
  15. Have as little impact on the surrounding area as possible. Fill in any holes, re-cover bare dirt with leaf litter and try to leave the area better than you found it.
  16. Don’t waste the plants that you harvest. Use and process them promptly while still fresh and compost any parts that are not used.

 

 

 

Gerard’s Blog: If the Juniper Berry Could Talk

Moments of unscrupulousness sometimes have the redeeming quality of offering insight into one’s behavior.  I seem to find or create many such moments in the normal course of my day.

Suzanne and I share the meal preparations so I decided to marinate some moose steaks a couple of nights ago.  First, I grab the rhubarb “vinegar” from the fridge, only to be redirected to the rhubarb juice department.  The vinegar, I was instructed, had a separate specific purpose.

Then I grab the container of juniper berries, take a liberal portion, and proceed to crush them, adding them to the lovely evolving marinade.  This was duly noted.

Suzanne suggested that the flavor could be enhanced if they were ground in the now repurposed coffee grinder.  When I did not respond to this suggestion enthusiastically, she tried once again, stating that the supply of juniper berries was perilously scant, and that grinding them would make them last longer.  But by this time, the deed was done, berries stubbornly crushed and added.

In the time it took for the unmoved grinder to gather an infinitesimal modicum of dust, I was offered a generous portion of humility.  The visibly upset Suzanne delivered a composed and articulate commentary on the scarceness of juniper berries this year, which I had clearly not appreciated.  She outlined the cold and prickles she endured, and reminded me that she bore the lone responsibility for gathering those berries.  As I said earlier, the only redeeming aspect of the moment was the personal insight I acquired.

Clearly, this was about more than juniper berries.  This was about respect and appreciated effort and shared commitment to a course.  It was about meaningful communication and the need to understand potential ramifications before acting.  It was about the value we place on personal involvement in the acquisition of security, and how even the simplest of tactile tasks can foster feelings of tremendous individual engagement and ownership.

So, the things we grow, gather or build have more personal value than their monetary value would suggest.  Might this explain the disproportionate satisfaction we enjoy with a shed full of firewood?  Or a freezer full of moose, or berries, or blanched broccoli?  Might it explain why we build our own boats, or shelves or sheds?  Why we crochet, knit or needlepoint?

Given that, then why has our society increasingly moved away from the joy we could acquire through manual tasks?  What will be the price for this evolution?  And what would it say, if the juniper berry could speak?

Look Under the Snow for Versatile Juniper Berries

Juniper is a coniferous shrub that produces berries.  In Old Crow, Yukon it is sometimes known as ‘sharp tree’ thanks to its very prickly needles which are very familiar to all who pick juniper berries. Juniper berries should be picked with great respect as it takes 3 full years for a berry to ripen!  When ripe they turn from green to a dark blue. The ripe berries can be picked any time of the year, but you may have to dig to find them under the snow in the winter, as juniper is a low lying shrub.

Eaten raw, juniper berries have a distinct aromatic spicy flavour reminiscent of gin.  Juniper berries make an excellent spice — especially once ground into a powder.  A coffee grinder works very well for this.  A small amount of ground juniper berry goes a long way.  It can be used in marinades or dusted on wild game including moose, caribou and grouse.  It can even be lightly dusted on salmon.   A small amount can also be added to soups or stews.  According to Boreal Herbal, in Sweden a conserve is made out of juniper berries and used as a condiment for meats.

Juniper berries have a few extra qualities as well.  They help digest gas-producing foods such as cabbage. Also, because juniper berries have a light coating of yeast on their skin, a few berries are often added to ferments to help out the lacto-fermenting process.  So adding a few juniper berries when making sauerkraut has a triple effect:  flavour, aiding the fermentation, and less gas when you eat the kraut!  The yeast coating on the berries also makes them a useful ingredient in creating sourdough starter (which is another form of fermentation).  Mix some flour and water and add a few juniper berries.  Once it becomes bubbly and smells yeasty, you can remove the berries and the sourdough starter will be well on its way!  In Old Crow, juniper berries are also boiled as a tea, which the Vuntut Gwitchin  say also helps ease colds and cough symptoms.

Juniper berries should be used in moderation and avoided in people with kidney disease and in pregnant women.

Research for this post is from Boreal Herbal by Beverley Gray and Gwich’in Ethnobotany by Alestine Andrew and Alan Fehr.

Where Have All the Mushrooms Gone?

By Aedes Scheer

Lactarius deliciousus (saffron milk cap) mshrooms in the wild. Photo by Aedes Scheer.

Each year I wait for the late summer to start hunting wild mushrooms. I have been an amateur mycologist (“fungiphile”) for about 30 years. The Dawson City region is generally abundant with many different species of mushrooms over the months of July to October, and occasionally November, if it is a warm fall.  What sets this region apart from much of Canada and even the lower portions of the Yukon Territory is that it escaped glaciation in the last ice age. Dawson City actually has topsoil, which holds not only fungal spores but also mammoth bones and all sorts of curiosities from the Pleistocene era.

I use the field guides for the Northwest Pacific American States as I find the mushrooms in our region key-out most closely — not exactly, but pretty darn close — to the winter species listed there. I use a combination of fruiting body appearance with spore prints and, because I geek out on this sort of thing, microscopic spore examination. The remnants of the mammoths have long since stopped adapting to the local environment but our mushrooms have continued their own path of adaptation over the intervening tens of thousands of years since those glaciers scraped off all the topsoil between the Tintina Trench and Spokane.

But this year has been a bust. I cannot recall a year so devoid of mushrooms in my time living up north. Not even the usually prolific, hardy and poisonous Cortinarius has appeared. Yesterday I found a portion of a deer mushroom (Pluteus cervinus) which a nervous squirrel dropped as I walked by on a trail. After a good rainfall over the last couple days a pathetic cluster of maggoty puffballs (Bovista plumbea) appeared beyond my doorstep. A week ago I found a couple mummified Lactarius deliciosus or delicious milk cap (not always delicious but always pretty). And that has been it.

My hunch is that it has been too dry this summer to promote decay of the substrates (dead wood, forest floor duff) along with the growth of the fungal mycelia which are the “roots” of a mushroom but actually the largest component of the organism that live for days to hundreds of years. Perhaps if we get more rain and some warm days, we could still see a decent crop of mushrooms. Fingers crossed!

Bowl full of Hydnum repandum (Hedgehog mushroom). Photo by Aedes Scheer.

References:

Arora, David. (1991) All that the Rain Promises and More… Berkley, California: Ten Speed Press

Ward, Brent & D. Bond, Jeffrey & Gosse, John. (2007). Evidence for a 55–50 ka (early Wisconsin) glaciation of the Cordilleran ice sheet, Yukon Territory, Canada. Quaternary Research. 68. 141-150. 10.1016/j.yqres.2007.04.002. (Specifically reference to the diagram)

Dogberry (Bunchberry) — A Natural Pectin

Dwarf dogwood berries are high in pectin and can be used in making preserves. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Dwarf dogwood is a common wild flower found around Dawson and throughout many parts of the North.  It is also known as bunchberry.  In the summer there is a single white flower in the middle of this low-laying plant.  Around mid-August the flower disappears and is replaced by a cluster of small orange berries.

The berries are not unpleasant, and have a small seed that is easily chewed, but the taste overall is rather bland. However, they are very high in pectin and can be used as a thickener if added to low-pectin fruits when making jam.  Suzanne is gathering the berries and freezing them, and will test them out in preserves this winter.

 

Berries Abound … But Will There Be Enough?

Blueberry season is just beginning in the Dawson City area. Photo by Cathie Archboud. #ArchbouldPhotography

Here in Dawson City it’s the height of berry season!

This has even more significance for Suzanne and her family, as berries will be their main fruit supply for the next year, while they eat only local foods.

Suzanne recently did a calculation that has her rather nervous.  If she and her family each ate 1  cup of berries each per day (which seems reasonable considering it will be their main fruit source for the year), and since one cup of berries weighs about 1/4 lb., she would need 456 pounds of berries for the year!  This seems impossible.  Currently she has 170 pounds of berries in the freezer (which seemed like quite a lot until she did her fateful calculation). Regardless, she will continue to collect and purchase as much as she possibly can and the family will just have to ration them  accordingly.

Thankfully, Suzanne has help in her berry-gathering endeavour. Local producers Emu Farms and Tundarose Garden are helping her out tremendously.  (If it were all up to her family picking wild berries, they would be in serious trouble.)  Emu Farms supplies Dawson restaurants with delicious local berries.  Maryanne from Tundarose Garden sells her scrumptous local berry jam every other Saturday at the Dawson Farmers’ Market.

Highbush_Cranberry[1]
haskaps_cu[1]
wild_raspberries[1]
Lowbush_Cranberry[1]
saskatoons_against_blue_sky[1]
better_soapberries[1]

A berry prolific bounty. Clockwise from upper left: high bush cranberries, low bush cranberries, saskatoon berries, soap berries, raspberries, haskaps. Photos by Suzanne Crocker.

Wild Berries
For Dawsonites, berries abound throughout the short summer.  Although the wacky weather this summer has, so far,  resulted in lower than average harvests of wild berries.   Wild strawberries started in mid-July and were over in early August.  Soapberries also started mid-July and are now falling off the bushes.  Wild raspberries began appearing towards the end of July.  Wild blueberries are in season now — if you are lucky enough to find any this year.  High bush cranberries are starting and low bush cranberries and rosehips will follow shortly.

Domestic Berries
Haskaps were the first domestic berries to appear,  back in early July. Saskatoons started late July and into August.  Black currents and domestic raspberries are ripe now.   Unfortunately domestic strawberries did not fare well this year in the Dawson area because of the weather.

Not technically a berry, rose hips can be foraged and used in a similar fashion. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

The Inside Scoop on “Indian Ice Cream” and Other Soapberry Facts

By Leigh Joseph

Soapberries have long been an important food and trade item for Canada’s Indigenous Peoples. Photo by Suzanne Crocker

Soapberries (Shepherdia canadensis), also known as Buffalo Berries, are a culturally important food and medicine to many Indigenous Peoples in Canada. The berries have been an important trade item for many generations and this practice still continues today. In places where soapberry does not grow people still trade for these highly valued berries.

The berries are bitter in flavor due to the presence of a chemical compound called saponins which causes the soapy consistency of the crushed berries. Saponins have many potential  health benefits to humans. They can help to reduce cholesterol, reduce the likelihood of certain cancers, they are high in antioxidants and help to boost immunity.

Food Uses: The berries are edible fresh but are quite bitter and get sweeter after a frost. The saponins contained in the berries cause them to foam up when whipped with water. Preparing the berries in this way and adding sugar makes a desert that is often called “Indian Ice Cream” that aids in digestion and has a unique flavor. Soapberries can be made into a medicinal jelly as well. Traditionally the whipped berries would be sweetened with other sweeter berries.

Medicinal Preparations: The berries, juice, leaves and stems can be used medicinally. The berries can help lower blood pressure and juice from the berries can be used to treat digestive ailments. A decoction of the stems and leaves can be prepared by simmering them in water and drinking. This decoction can then be taken as a stomach tonic or for treatment for constipation or high blood pressure. Elders have also shared that there is a soothing property to the juice when applied to eczema and other skin irritations.

Harvest Time: Mid-late summer/early autumn. The berries are sweeter after the first frost.

Storage:  Soapberries can be frozen, canned (hot water bath), dried or smoked. They can also be juiced the juice can be canned (hot water bath) or frozen.

Recipe for Soapberry Whip

2 Cups soapberries
2 Cups water
Optional sweetener (sugar or other sweet berries)

Using a clean metal bowl, crush the berries up and add water (and sweetener) then whisk the mixture until it froths up and becomes pink and fluffy like whipped cream. Enjoy!

** Using an oily bowl will prevent frothing of soapberries.

Worth Its Weight In Salt?

With no local source of salt for spicing up and preserving her food, Suzanne is looking for a natural, local substitute. One possible alternative that has surfaced is coltsfoot.

Suzanne will be trying out coltsfoot as a possible salt substitute.

Coltsfoot is a wild plant that is often found in boggy terrain and disturbed areas. Its flowers open on leafless stems in early spring before the leaves come out. The leaves, which resemble a colt’s foot in outline and have angular teeth along the edges, appear after the flowers die in the early summer.

According the The Boreal Herbal by Bev Gray, in the past, coltsfoot ash was used by indigenous people as a salt substitute. The large coltsfoot leaves and stems were rolled into balls, dried, and then placed on top of a small fire rock and burned. The ash was then used in cooking.

Suzanne has been gathering coltsfoot and drying it, and will test out this possible salt substitute. Stay tuned to see how it turns out.

 

Gerard’s Blog: I Found No Thrill On Blueberry Hill

I read a quote the other day, which fairly represents the current state of things in our house:

“She wanted a puppy.  But I didn’t want a puppy.  So we compromised and got a puppy.”

So, last night, after Suzanne prepared a delicious supper of local everything, we were instructed that there was no time to relax.  Why, ripe blueberries have been spotted in the hills!  All hands on deck!  Man your posts!

Fortunately, part of the preparation for this year involved gorging ourselves with “store-bought” ice-cream, so there are no shortage of plastic tubs in the house.  Empty tubs.  Tubs that are supposed to be filled.  By us.  Oh, joy upon joy!

So, off we go.  Lovely evening. Beautiful on the hill.  No wind, few mosquitos.  And there were berries, yes. Patchy. Small.  But, berries undeniably.  We set to work with dreams of bounty that would supplant any winter cravings for oranges or grapefruit or pineapple or grapes.  Why, we would imminently be rich in produce, capable of spending a winter of movie-watching with blueberries as our popcorn substitute.

The problem with gathering is the concept of value for time.  My time.  Is this a real problem or merely a personal misconception?  Or could it perhaps be familial?  After an hour I found one of the children sitting on the moss, dreamily listening to her audio-book while petting the dog.  I found another sprawled out on a sunny bank, the telltale sonorous breathing explaining all.  Meanwhile, I had taken a preference to looking for the mother-load of berries, hiking and exploring, being lured by the adventure, actually doing something.  As for berries?  Needless to say, we will be returning to the hills.

Troublesome Chickweed Is a Tasty Treasure

Chickweed is a prolific grower, but also edible. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Chickweed, another common garden invader, is also an edible wild plant. Before you pull it from your garden, take some scissors and harvest as much as you can. Cooked chickweed tastes just like swiss chard!

Suzanne learned the hard way that it is better to harvest it for eating by cutting it with scissors, so you don’t have to painstakingly wash out the garden soil that gets trapped in the roots. After you harvest it, then go ahead and pull the roots from your garden.

Cooked, chickweed can be eaten on its own or added to stews, soups, or pastas, or used as a replacement for spinach in other recipes. It can also be used to supplement basil in pesto.

Chickweed can also be eaten fresh as a salad green, or instead of sprouts in a sandwich or in dips. And it can be juiced (like nettle) and frozen in ice cube trays or it can be blanched and frozen (like nettle) for a shot of green vitamins in smoothies, soups, and stews during the winter.

Chickweed is rich in vitamins C and A as well as the minerals calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, niacin, phosphorus, potassium and zinc. Not that you will, but apparently, if eaten in excess, it can lead to diarrhea, and pregnant women should avoid the juice and just eat small amounts.

> See a recipe for Chickweed and Herb Fritatas

Wild Rhubarb – Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Elder gives Suzanne new eyes

Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in elder Victor Henry with a basket of wild rhubarb. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

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!

Young wild rhubarb. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.
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.
Wild rhubarb all chopped up and ready for freezing., Photo by Suzanne Crocker.
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.
Mähsi cho Victor Henry.

Nature’s Candy

Wild Rose petals, lungwort flowers, dandelion flowers and spruce tips.  Photo by Suzanne Crocker

Wild rose flowers are out in abundance around Dawson City. Suzanne and Tess have been gently grazing as they walk through the forest. Two delicacies are wild rose petals and lungwort (blue bell) flowers, which are lightly perfumed with a touch of sweet. Spruce tips (late May) provided the citrus candy of the forest.

lungwort-flower
Wild-Rose-close-up

Blue bells (lungwort flowers) and Wild Rose petals are two edible delicacies for foragers. Photos by Suzanne Crocker.

Wild rose petals can be eaten fresh, used as a garnish, steeped as a tea, or sun-steeped for rose-flavoured water. They can also be dried for storage through the year. Recently Suzanne has learned they can also be frozen. Remember to leave a few petals on each flower you pick so that they continue to attract bees.

Place rose petals in water to give it a refreshing rose flavouring. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

If you know of any tips/recipes for eating rose petals that only include ingredients local to Dawson, let Suzanne know through firstweeatproject@gmail.com

Tess with a bucket of Nature’s Candy. Photo by Suzanne Crocker.

Spritz or Candy Up Your Spruce Tips

Candided spruce tips in birch syrup will be a treat for Suzanne’s kids. Photo by Suzanne Crocker

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.

> See the original and modified recipes for Candied Spruce Tips

Leigh Joseph and Suzanne Crocker enjoy Spruce Tip Spritzers.

Spruce tips and birch syrup also go beautifully together in a harmony of coniferous with deciduous in a drink idea inspired by ethnobotanist, Leigh Joseph.  Check out Leigh Joseph’s recipe for Spruce Tip Spritzer.

Give tips, get lunch!

Spruce Tips ready to become a delicious syrup - Photo by The North Woods Cookshop
Spruce Tips ready to become a delicious syrup – Photo by The North Woods Cookshop

Your foraging adventures not only can help you stock your pantry with wild goodies, but they could also get you a delicious free lunch!

The North Woods Cookshop and Lunchbox, a Dawson City based catering company, is looking for generous foragers to share a bit of their spruce tip loot with them. For every four cups of spruce tips you bring them, they will treat you to a free lunch at their amazing new food truck, located in the lot next to the Westminster Hotel.

They have great plans for those spruce tips, including delicious syrups for their homemade sodas, as well as the spice mixes, rubs and gourmet salts they are known for.

Hurry up before the picking season ends, and remember to spread your harvest out over many trees to keep them healthy and strong. Georgia and Allie will thank you!

Versatile, Edible Nettle

Some advice and a recipe for cooking nettle from Leigh Joseph.

Nettle is one of the most versatile edible plants that can be foraged, but it stings if you touch it with bare skin, so pick it and handle it fresh with gloves and tongs.

Cut it at the base, as both the stem and leaves are edible. Choose plants that are not yet starting to flower – plants between 6 inches and one foot tall.

The good news is that once nettle is dried, cooked, frozen or juiced, the stinging properties disappear.

Leigh Joseph and Suzanne Crocker enjoy a refreshing glass of nettle juice.
Photo by Lee Glazier.

 

 

 

Nettle Juice

Recipe by Leigh Joseph

  1. Wash off the stems and leaves (tongs help with this).
  2. Fill a high powered blender (i.e. a vitamix) with the nettle (stems and leaves).
  3. Add water till the water reaches approximately 3/4 of the blender.
  4. Blend at top speed for a few minutes.
  5. Let sit and watch the nettle juice settle into layers of beautiful green juice and froth.
  6. Strain through a jelly straining cloth into a clean container.
  7. Discard the nettle pulp from the straining cloth.

You can drink the juice straight up or freeze it in ice cube trays to pop its vitamin richness into smoothies, stews, soups all year long.

Nettle juice is rich in vitamins A and C as well as in minerals including calcium, potassium, magnesium and iron.

 

nettle-recipe-1
nettle-recipe-0b
nettle-recipe-2
nettle-recipe-4a
nettle-recipe-5

Here’s a Tip to Spruce Up Your Meals

spruce-tips
spruceTips
spruceTips3

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.

Make Stinging Nettle a Perennial Favourite

Stinging nettles are found in abundance throughout the north and are a perennial that could become a staple for your spring foraging.
Photo by Leigh Joseph,

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.

Rich in Vitamins C and A plus several minerals, stinging nettle is a delicious alternative in any recipe that calls for spinach, among others.
Photo by Leigh Joseph.

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.

-Post by Leigh Joseph

Edible Lungwort

Lungwort (blue bell). Photo by Suzanne Crocker

Lungwort (commonly known as blue bell) appears around Dawson City in mid-May.  The young leaves and flower buds can be eaten raw or added to salad or even steamed or added to soups and stews.  The buds are quite tasty (although Suzanne always feels a bit guilty eating them before they have a chance to flower).

Important rule of thumb: In general, blue and purple flowering plants are NOT edible. Lungwort is the exception.  Don’t eat lupine or delphinium or Jacob’s ladder which are also starting to appear around the same time (but the leaves look very different from lupin).

These plants are NON-EDIBLE. Left to right: Delphinium, Jacob’s Ladder, and
Lupin. Lungwort is the only blue-flowering plant you should eat.Photos by Suzanne Crocker.

Wilted Dandelion Salad with Crispy Onions and Garlic

by Michele Genest, The Boreal Gourmet

Wilted Dandelion Salad with Crispy Onions and Garlic

I’ve kept this salad as simple as possible, reflecting the scantiness of the spring pantry, but the basic recipe can serve as the starting point for several variations. Feel free to add whatever else you’ve got on hand from last year’s bounty–grated carrots or beets, sautéed potatoes, toasted sunflower seeds. I used new dandelions from my backyard, last year’s onion from my sister’s garden on Vancouver Island, and last year’s garlic from a farmer in Atlin, BC.

Suzanne isn’t going to have a lot of oil in her pantry come May 2018, so here I’ve opted to use ghee instead, because she will have access to a cow. Ghee is a great substitute for olive oil. And, a bonus: somehow this salad needed no added salt.

Wilted Dandelion Salad with Crispy Onions and Garlic

4 cups (1L) of washed dandelion leaves, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic
1 small red onion
3 Tbsp (45 mL) ghee, divided
6 Tbsp (90 mL) rhubarb vinegar
1 tsp (5 mL) Uncle Berwyn’s Pure Yukon Birch Syrup

Have the dandelions ready in a salad bowl. Cut garlic in half lengthwise and slice into thin lengths. Do the same with the onion. Melt 2 tablespoons of ghee in a frying pan over medium heat. Add onions and cook until brown and crispy, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towel and reserve.

Reduce heat to medium low and add garlic to the pan. Watching carefully that it doesn’t burn, cook garlic until golden brown and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain on paper towel and reserve.

Melt the third tablespoon of ghee in the pan. Once it has melted, whisk in the vinegar all at once (stand back, it could spatter a bit), followed by the birch syrup. Allow to bubble for about one minute, remove from heat and pour over the dandelions greens.

Toss in onions and garlic and serve at once.

Makes 4 servings.

Fireweed Shoots – The First Vegetable of Spring!

Fireweed shoots are poking out in Yukon yards!
Fireweed shoots are poking out in Yukon yards!  Photo by Suzanne Crocker

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.

Continue reading “Fireweed Shoots – The First Vegetable of Spring!”

Refreshing and Versatile Birch Sap

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!

Photo by Suzanne Crocker

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.

Will keep you posted!

Suzanne talked about her search for locally-sourced vinegar on a recent episode of Yu-Kon Grow It on CBC North’s A New Day with host Sandi Coleman.

Photo by Suzanne Crocker

Sweeeeeeet! A Bucket of Birch Syrup

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 .

Photo by Scott Buchanan

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.

Traditional Plants Community Info Session in Dawson City

On April 18th, Dawson City based ethnobotanist Leigh Joseph hosted a community information session at the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre .  It was a great chance for Dawsonites to learn about the area’s traditional plant foods and medicines, as well as an opportunity to take part in the conversation.
Ethnobotanist Leigh Joseph
Ethnobotanist Leigh Joseph working with Devils club, an important medicine plant in Squamish.