Summer’s promise

Anyone walking along country lanes, through meadows or woodlands in the Pontiac can catch a glimpse of summer’s promise.

Wild strawberries are just about spent. But, fattening and “colouring up” on the bushes are their fruiting cousins the raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, bunchberries, and gooseberries.

And, in the shelter of the woods, another group of edibles are starting to show: the chanterelles.

Eric and I have already tasted plump, luscious blueberries at a friend’s home on the shores of the Ottawa River near Luskville. On our own property, the first wild raspberries have been delicious, and our small stand of domestic canes are showing a promising amount of fruit.

So it looks as if this year’s berry bounty ought to be ample. Which brings me to share with you some ideas for recipes from the wild, of berries and other delights.

I’m not going to quote recipes here due to space, but if you are interested, find yourself a good book such as The Edible Wild, by Berndt Berglund and Clare E. Bolsby (ISBN 684-12759-8) or Edible Wild Fruits and Nuts of Canada, by Nancy J. Turner and Adam F. Szczawinski (ISBN 0-88902-751-X).

First of all, get yourself a good plant and mushroom identification book so that you can be absolutely sure that you are gathering the right plant.

I reviewed a fungi book last week (Mushrooms of Ontario and Eastern Canada, George Barron, $26.95. ISBN 1-55105-199-0, LPP) which is only one of many that can help you positively identify edible species of mushrooms. But take care with fungi: most people know that some are so poisonous that they can kill you or render you seriously ill.

In my opinion, the very best way to learn how to identify mushrooms is to find someone who knows about them, and ask if you can accompany them on a fungi gathering.

The chanterelles on our property now resemble brilliant orange-gold nubs, thrusting from the forest floor. If you find them at this stage, do leave them. Allow them to grow into their more mature size which can be as much as a diameter of roughly 4 inches.

When you gather mushrooms, take a sharp knife with you so you can cut the stems cleanly, just above ground level. Also take along a basket, so you can place your finds carefully, so they won’t bruise or become broken. Another handy tool is a mushroom brush, so you can immediately and delicately brush off the little bits of earth, hemlock needles or other detritus from the forest floor before popping them into your gathering basket.

Chanterelles are simply delicious whether they are fried in butter and garlic (my perennial favourite way of dining on these gifts of nature), added to rice dishes, or preserved in oil or vinegar.

Also start looking for morels, those mushrooms that some claim are the most delectable of all. Another delicious feast can be made of the bolete fungi, as well as the tall, white shaggy manes and the bulbous-looking giant white puffballs. These last mushrooms can pop up almost overnight right on your front lawn.

But this brings me to mention lawns. If you still use pesticides and herbicides on your lawn, don’t eat the shaggy manes and puffballs (or anything else for that matter, such as nutritious dandelion leaves) that grow there.

Another caution: Gathering from the wild not only implies that you must know the species that you are collecting. It should also entail some other “must-do” rules of thumb. Get permission from the landowner before venturing onto anyone’s land. Remember that “the countryside” is usually land that is the private property of someone, and that you ought to get permission before going onto it.

And while we’re on that topic, find out from the landowner how to access their land, when you are given permission to venture onto it. Don’t climb over page wire fences: the wire stretches and damages the tension of the fence. Use gates, by all means, but remember to close them. Ensure you won’t wander amid cattle or other animals, too, which can startle and bolt… either away or straight for you. And please: if you do get permission, leave your dogs at home or, if you want to take your pet along, always ask the landowner.

This is the unspoken rule of the countryside, which is based on common courtesy: ask permission. It’s a good way to get to know your country neighbours and to be recognized as a responsible member of the community.

Back to the plants… You’ll find raspberries growing in the country ditches, as you will the long canes of blackberries. Gooseberries are less common and less prolific producers of berries, which are typically small when growing in the wild. Like bunchberries, these are most commonly found within the shelter of the woods.

Blueberries on our property are found both on the exposed rockface of the Eardley Escarpment as well as on the verge, or edge, of the forest. They seem to prosper both in direct and indirect sunlight.

An added caution with collecting these berries: be aware of bears. These critters like berries just as much as we do, and these fruit are a welcome part of the bruin’s diet. When I’m gathering blackberries at the back of our property, I drive there with our car because there’s not a summer that’s gone by that we’ve not seen the scat of bears back there. Be prudent: idyllic summer days can make us cast caution to the wind.

Also make sure that you know how to identify poison ivy. Remember the wise counsel of this refrain: “Leaves of three, Let them be.” In the late autumn, poison ivy’s berry clusters ripen into their mature, greenish-white colour. Don’t gather these: neither touch or ingest them.

Have fun with summer’s promise, whether it be to simply enjoy playing in our beautiful Pontiac, or gathering its bounty.

Katharine Fletcher is a freelance environment, travel and lifestyle writer who telecommutes from Quyon, Québec. Contact her at 458-2090 else