Harvest from the wild

Although some Pontiac agricultural crops have suffered from such infestations as army worms, other “wild forage crops” have enjoyed this summer’s cool temperatures.

Case in point: the chanterelle mushrooms. Described variously (in fungi books) as being “choice” or “delectable,” these bright orange, funnel-shaped mushrooms were in abundance this year.

After a mere hour of foraging in our woods, Eric and I gathered enough to fill my hand-woven Jamaican basket to overflowing capacity. Realizing we couldn’t possibly eat them all, and not wanting to waste them, we scoured our recipe books and discovered new ways of preserving them. Now, pint-size mason jars of “potted chanterelles” await us, promising tastes of summertime that we’ll enjoy later on... perhaps at Thanksgiving or Christmas.

We gathered the chanterelles late in July and in early August. Now they are past their best: we checked the woods yesterday, only to discover faded trumpet-shapes in the dappled sunshine.

But our wanderings allowed us to discover the next wave of wild crops. In the back meadows, at the verge of the forest, blackberries are ripening.

These berries are similar to the plump and juicy blackberries that Eric and I picked in Vancouver on Sunday while holidaying with our three godchildren. Before our plane departed late that night, Eric, his sister Jan and I had made two pies plus several jars of blackberry jelly.

And that’s not quite all we picked while in BC’s backcountry. While camping beside Cayoose Creek, north of Whistler, we discovered a “motherlode” of saskatoon berries. None of us recall seeing such a plentiful crop and we were able to feast on them while we gathered, marveling at our good fortune.

As we picked, a tourist from England asked what we were eating. After introducing her to saskatoons, she inquired whether we knew how to identify yet another wild fruit, the huckleberry. But although huckleberry bushes were growing below the saskatoons, all had been picked. These fruit are a glassy, almost see-through red. To my knowledge, they don’t grow here in the Pontiac.

Neither do saskatoon berries grow in the wild here. So when we found the heavily loaded bushes in BC, we quickly decided to pick as many as possible Our godchildren were easily encouraged to help, perhaps well-bribed with promises of pies and jellies. We soon collected what turned out to be seven cups worth.

But another berry we found in BC is native to Québec: the thimbleberry. A deep, rich crimson red, these extremely seedy berries growing on plants resembling raspberries are tart but delicious. I’ve never gathered enough to make either preserves or pies: they don’t appear to grow in sufficient profusion to make the required number of cups. Instead, they make wonderful “grazing food” to accompany a hike.

Although there is a huge difference in size between the blackberries in BC and those in our back field, the Pontiac berries are still worth picking.

If you want to find blackberries, look for them along the backroads or in your own property. The plants resemble raspberries, although they are usually not quite as upright. Our plants grow in almost pure sand and thrive both in direct sun or partial shade. Berries from these varied locations are quite different, with the ones from the more shaded areas being plumper, juicier, and often considerably bigger in dimension.

While you are out in the Pontiac backroads and backcountry, you may also discover other wild fruits such as the chokecherry. These too are now ready for picking. Although there used to be many of these shrubs along the Steele Line, most have been ripped out and replaced by fencing. But these plants abound in the Pontiac and can be easily picked from the roadside.

Chokecherries are well-named, being usually far too astringent to eat raw. However, they make superb jelly and, for those of you who enjoy making wine, chokecherries can produce a delicious beverage. (Just take care: chokecherry wine demands a good recipe and care in balancing the sugars, otherwise it can induce powerful headaches!)

Other fruit that is ripening are juniper berries. These go nicely with pork, though you certainly don’t need to gather very many as they are extremely pungent.

And don’t forget the wild grapes. Although not yet ripe enough to pick, there’s no harm in looking for the vines with a mind to returning when picking season is upon us. Wild grape jelly or juice is tartly delicious and is a beautiful, deep purple colour. We have our favourite spots for picking these fruit and this year promises to a good yield.

Of course, while you are out on the backroads and looking for fruit, please be aware that the fruit you are picking should be clearly growing in the roadside ditches. Otherwise, the yield may be something that the property owners are counting on for their own use.

Be courteous: drive up the nearest laneway and ask if you can gather the fruit you see. Eric and I have done this particularly with apple trees, for very often the boughs of a loaded tree are too tempting to drive past -- but are from trees that are clearly growing on someone’s private property. One year, we stumbled across an old orchard with trees that were obviously abandoned. After inquiring at the nearby farmhouse, we were told to pick as many fruit as we wanted to, and what a yield we got that year! We produced cider as well as pies that year, as well as gathering many just for eating.

Enjoy your Pontiac outings, and gather from the wild carefully so as not to damage plants, fencing or property.


Solar aquatics: Is there hope for solar aquatics in Quyon? Let’s hope so… more on this next week.


Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer based near Quyon. Contact her at fletcher.katharine@gmail.com