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.

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.    

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

 
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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!

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.

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!

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.

Seedy Saturdays and Birch Syrup workshops in Dawson

Next weekend, Dawsonites will have a chance to participate in two amazing workshops! Seedy Saturdays will be held on Saturday March 25th at the Recreation Centre, and it will include presentations by Karen Digby and Grant Dowdell about northern gardening and by Scott Henderson about mushroom cultivation. The following day on Sunday the 26th, there will be a Birch Syrup workshop in which participants will meet at the Rec Centre and then go hunting for Birch sap. There are limited spaces on both, so make sure you sign up soon!