Last week’s column introduced that delightful late-summer/early autumn pastime of harvesting from the wild.
I wrote of gathering blackberries both here and out in British Columbia. Since writing that article, I’ve re-read the book Edible Wild Fruits and Nuts of Canada by Nancy Turner and Adam Szczawinski (Fitzhenry & Whiteside ISBN0-88902-751-X) and reminded myself of all sorts of other wonderful edibles that we can harvest right in our own backyards.
It also reminded me that I was incorrect to say that saskatoon berries don’t grow here in Québec. They do: in fact, according to this book they are in every province and territory of Canada.
The book also points out the difference between blackberries and raspberries: “When ripe, blackberries break off with the whitish receptacle in the middle still attached, in contrast to raspberries, which break off freely from the receptacle, leaving a hollow cavity in the middle of the fruit.” [p. 181]
But let’s look at some other delectable and extremely common wild foods.
This is considered one of our loveliest ornamental trees because of its white blossoms in early summer that turn to vermilion (red-orange) berries. These berries are now almost ripe, and are well-matched by the leaves, which are also turning a deep burnt-orange colour. If you are like me, you may have planted these trees largely because they are so very pretty — and because birds are attracted to the berries.
According to the book, jelly made from the fully-ripened berries is considered delectable by many, and is more popular than red currant jelly. In addition, the authors write, “A variety of liquors can be produced from mountain-ash berries. Some of them, such as rowan brandy, made in Poland, are world famous. Mountain-ash wines and liqueurs are also available on European markets and becoming more popular in North America.”
The comment is followed by a warning, that the berries absolutely must be fully ripe before use. They are very bitter due to a lot of tannin as well as amygdalin. Products made from them should be used sparingly.
Nonetheless, the authors provide several recipes including a wonderful-sounding rowanberry jam with ginger which incorporates lemons and oranges. They add that in the Scottish Highlands and in Wales, a cider-like drink is made from fermented rowanberries, and the Haida Indians in BC often consumed these berries with fish or meat. Finally, they note that a handful of ripe berries make a delicious flavouring when added to the top of jars of blueberry jam.
These deciduous shrubs are now sporting their showy, red seed clusters. Did you know that they have a tangy flavour when nibbled?
As well, the seed clusters can be used to make a delectable jelly, and some inventive souls have also made sumac cream sauce, sumac borsht and, most popular and easiest of all is “lemonade” made with these berries. Just take care: again, the bitterness in the seeds is due to tannic acid which must be consumed only in moderation.
According to the book, we are just a bit past the midsummer “best time” to pick these berries. But, if you can get yourself some recipes, it might still be worthwhile attempting a harvest, as they are prevalent here in the Pontiac.
Interestingly, sumacs are in the same family as the tropical mango and cashew nut.
Also called wild filberts, hazelnuts are also common here in the Pontiac. The sheaths that enclose the edible nut are light emerald green in colour and have a fuzzy, slightly sticky feeling to them. The nuts are usually in clusters of two or more.
Now, how on earth do you remove the outer sheath from the nut? Native people used to bury them “in damp mud for about twelve days,” claim the authors. “The sheaths would rot away, leaving the nuts ready to be cracked.”
If you don’t want to imitate this method, they suggest spreading “the sheathed nuts in a cool, dry place to season and fully mature. To save space, the nuts can also be hung up in small quantities in cloth or paper bags. When dry, the sheaths can be pounded off with a hammer.”
What to do with the nuts? They recommend roasting them in the oven at 350°F “for about half an hour or until crisp and lightly browned. They can then be stored in sealed containers in a cold place until you are ready to use them. To use as table nuts, coat them lightly with cooking oil and sprinkle them with salt before roasting.”
There’s not room to mention all the other edible fruits and nuts that we can gather here in the Pontiac wild. Other recipes call for acorns, hawthorns, hickories, high- and low-bush cranberries, rose hips, the currant family (black, red, gooseberry), as well as elderberries.
However, if you are interested in wild edibles, ensure that you have a good plant identification book, one that clearly illustrates the plant as well as the fruit or nut. As well, a good-quality book will give cautionary warnings alerting you to such things as tannin, which ought to be consumed in moderation.
Last week’s edition of The Equity said it all: Solar aquatics is back on the agenda for consideration for Quyon. Let’s hope we hear more about this sustainable, viable solution to human waste.
Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer based near Quyon. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org