I’ve been busy in my kitchen preparing for a series of wild food walks and tasting buffets that Gather will be hosting next year in local neighborhoods. Guided by recipes from old world culinary traditions, pioneer foods and foraging blogs, I’ve brought back a plethora of foraged edibles for experimentation. So far this fall I’ve made Acorn flour, Wild Buckwheat muffins, Nettle seed sea salt, Cat’s Ear capers, Hawthorn and Nootka Rose Turkish delight, Hawthorn ketchup, mounds of Dandelion pesto, wild green chips and Kim chi, a slew of forest teas, and medicinal honey bombs. And all this gathered a stones throw (or short bike ride) from my back door – for free!
The sheer abundance of wild food is truly amazing. What I prepared only scratches the surface of what grows freely available all around us. Two years ago I took an amazing journey with ethnobotanist Abe Lloyd through the autumn and spring edibles of Southern Vancouver Island. I had already been foraging a while but Abe shifted my perception of the forests and fields forever. Nature wasn’t dotted here and there with a few a wild foods amongst the poisonous ones – it was a garden of edible delight. Nearly everything the eye could see was food – not the other way around. It was no wonder, as Abe pointed out, that the Coast Salish enjoyed such a well fed, prosperous and leisurely lifestyle until we came around.
I love eating wild food grown on the land I actually inhabit, the land I walk, work, and sleep on, the land of which I am actually a part. Food doesn’t need to come from a farm far away or at the supermarket shipped to us by thousands of anonymous miles. It makes sense to trust the nutritional wisdom of the landscape to give us the sustenance we need season to season.
After all, our local flora are veritable powerhouses of the vitamins, enzymes, antioxidants, bioflavonoids and minerals in such supply in our industrialized modern diet, putting many so-called super greens like Kale, to shame. So why pay for super-foods that come from far-flung corners of the globe when the nutrient packed wild plants, tree’s berries, mushrooms of the Pacific Northwest are right here under our nose?
Granted, a wild food palate can take time to develop. Our domesticated tongues are accustomed to bland modified berries and vegetables bred to take bitter flavours out. But is it a coincidence that in our gut troubled society, a little dose of bitter could go a long way in helping calm our tummies and aid digestion? Perhaps we should take a cue from the old European custom of sipping ‘digestives’ made from bitter or aromatic wild herbs after a generous meal?
Consuming wild edibles may seem a hipster phenomenon but it was once part of culinary traditions across the old world. For hundreds of years each spring country cooks from Britain, Germany, Italy to Greece waited for the appearance of the first wild greens like dandelion, chickweed, miner’s lettuce, wild mustard and nettles. Served up in fresh salads or cooked up into delicious pies and sautéed dishes, they were eaten to cleanse and revitalize the body after heavy starchy diets of winter.
Today Greek Grannies continue to forage the hills for spring greens known as Horta (the over 80 different green plants and herbs found in a patch of grass) but the rest of us have clearly lost touch with the food underfoot. The vast majority of these ‘super-greens’ grow by the ton in suburban neighborhoods but are either ignored, pulled out, or sprayed with herbicides that accumulate in our ecosystems and regional bio-sphere.
So at Gather we’re women with a mission – to return wild edibles to their rightful place of respect.That’s why, beginning this spring Gather will be out there inviting community residents to discover the wild foods that grow outside their front door. Our Urban Wild Food Walks will identify local edible plants, leaves, berries and mushrooms and learn safe and sustainable methods of harvest. Then, (the best part!) we’ll explore a little wild food cuisine with a tasting menu featuring the sweet and savory seasonal flavors of the local landscape.
Last fall we held a test run (see here) generously hosted by the local restaurant Part and Parcel. We explored the urban wilds and city streets of the Quadra/Hillside neighborhood and then enjoyed a buffet of wild crafted goodies including botanical jellies and wild berry jams dandelion pesto and wild green chips. I even made Acorn cake. And it went great!
So this spring we’re planning to move ahead with a regular program of Urban Wild Food Walks beginning in March and running through to October -so stay tuned for details. Meanwhile I’ll be in the fields and in the kitchen, preparing and testing, getting my recipes right. We’ll see you in the spring!