Spring has definitely sprung on Vancouver island, and the sunny weather we had earlier this week has really contributed to a growth spurt in the pantry available to us in the great outdoors. On this week’s edition of Food Matters, I talked about a new cookbook designed to help you make the most of your foraging.
Gathering, and a lesser extent, hunting for your own food is becoming another trend in the way we eat. It’s not new for people in BC to go out into their environment for food. Certainly our First Nations have been doing it for thousands of years, and even today it’s not unusual to find people out picking berries and mushrooms when they are in season, but the foraging movement is now going beyond those common items to a larger realm of edible plants and shore-based seaweeds and seafoods.
Chef Bill Jones, who has been using these ingredients in his dinners at Deerholme Farm near Duncan for years, has put together much of his knowledge in the Deerholme Foraging Book, published just in time for springtime foraging. We went for a walk on and near his farm this week, and I asked him where all the latest interest in our wild edible environment came from: “A lot of the credit goes to a restaurant called Noma in Copenhagen, which was named the best restaurant in the world for two or three years running, blending foraged food with a new Scandinavian cuisine, and that has in turn been picked up by chefs all around the world and become very popular in places like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Monteal, Toronto, Vancouver. The chefs have realized, and their clientele, that these foraged foods are a purer source of food.”
Bill’s book gets people out of restaurants and into the wild. He hasn’t intended this book as a field guide, but he does include a great chapter that acts as a primer to help people find and recognize some of the most commonly available and tasty foraged foods out there. I’d say we walked no further than 20 minutes in total on his five-acre property and then onto the adjoining Trans-Canada Trail and found lots of great edibles, especially the green veggie that is growing in popularity every year, the stinging nettle.
I have a little stinging nettle on my property, but there’s a large patch about five minutes down the block where I did some harvesting yesterday, and then made Bill’s recipe for stinging nettle hummus. Nearby I found some new shoots of grand fir, which are great for making tea, or infusing vodka or even olive oil to use in salad dressing. And some sheep’s sorrel leaves as well, which look like arugula leaves but are more lemony in flavour.
Even if you’re not an outdoorsy person, it is still worth getting a cookbook based on foraged ingredients. Bill is very cognizant of the fact that not everyone is going to be able to get their hands on these things, or have the time to go foraging, but he still wants you to get the sense of what you can do. For one thing, he keeps all the recipes fairly simple, and he also suggests substitutes for almost all of the foraged ingredients in the book. So you can use farmed mushrooms instead of wild, kale instead of stinging nettle.
But it is great to be able to get outdoors and discover more about your environment, which is exactly one of Bill’s purposes in creating this book…it’s not just a collection of recipes, it’s designed to get you thinking, as well: “You really have to be aware of your environment to find the best foraged foods, to get away from the contamination of people and realize what’s going on with our lands and waters, and I think only good can come from that.”
Listen to my entire fascinating walk with Bill Jones, where we discover other edible wild foods. Bill Jones will be with me at another great event coming up in a few weeks. I have published my first book, Food Artisans of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, published by TouchWood Editions, and I wanted give people a chance to taste the products of some of these artisans all in one place on Thursday evening, April 24th at the Victoria Public Market.
It’s a ticketed event called Artisan Alley, which includes a copy of my book, which I will gladly sign at the event, a cooking demo from Bill, and tastings from many of the people featured in the book, including Salt Spring Island Cheese, Vancouver Island Salt Company, Organic Fair, Olive the Senses, Golda’s Pesto, Tree Island Yogurt, and on the beverage side you will be able to taste offerings from Merridale Estate Cidery, Venturi Schulze wines and their amazing balsamic vinegar, Sea Cider from Saanich and vinegars, beers and drinking vinegars (also called shrubs) from Spinnakers, and a special ‘Don Genova Roast’ from the folks at Drumroaster Coffee who will be serving espressos and macchiatos. Jo-Ann Roberts of All Points West will be emceeing, and early birds receive a limited edition Bean to Bar Chocolate Bar from Organic Fair. Hope to see you there!