Find Your Own Food Adventure
Nature Conservancy’s “Farmed and Foraged” fundraiser introduces diners to super-local tastes
Sure, spring is the season for gardening, but why bother with all that effort when there are all sorts of good things to eat just waiting for you out there in nature?
If you’ve never considered just eating what you find in the forest, you probably haven’t spent much time talking with Josh Houston, a local chef who seems to think it’s perfectly okay to eat stuff you find on the ground.
Houston is gathering wild foods this week to prepare along with Chef Nicholas Waters of Toque Catering, as part of an Earth Day fundraiser for the Nature Conservancy of Canada. The event, called Farmed and Foraged: An Earth Day Feast, will showcase hyper-local foods—like the kinds that grow, literally, all around us.
Houston, who has been foraging wild foods for about five years now, says he was inspired by the idea of preserving lost knowledge about wild edible foods. And, you know, the thought that there’s a whole lot of free food out there for the taking, and it’s unaltered by genetically modified organisms or factory farming. Plus, he says, it’s a chance to use “ingredients that are less known to the culinary world here in Victoria”—even though those ingredients can be found, at times, right beneath our feet, or at least not far off the beaten path.
Houston says he was hooked on wild-foraged food the first time he went out to find some. “The tastest thing I have ever foraged was chanterelles on the first time I went out to find wild food. They’re good, but never as good as the first time you try them fresh from the wild. I had them sauteed with thyme butter and salt, cooked on a burner in the woods moments after picking them.”
Not everything he’s found, though, has been as excellent.
“The worst thing was the first time I harvested mussels off a beach in Jordan River. The first few, we cooked on the coals of the fire and they were so tough and stringy,” he recalls. It wasn’t the mussels’ fault, though—it was just because of where they were found. “They were on a rock that had been exposed to the surf, which made for big but tough mussels. I had to clean them of most of their guts out, and all there was left was the orange and yellow lobes. It was a labour of love to clean two pounds—but worth it.”
Foraging is as easy as knowing what you’re looking for, and where to find it. Houston suggests that beginners look for miners’ lettuce, a mild spring green that grows abundantly in Victoria. “It’s easy to recognize,” he says. “Great for salads and you can eat a lot of them. You can also havest the seeds and grow them in your own garden.”
However, it’s a good idea to take a course, or consult a guidebook or expert before you go chowing down on the whole forest. “There are a lot of poisonous look alikes,” warns Houston. “And when I say poisonous, I mean lethal! So, knowledge is key. Never eat anything unless you are 100% sure, with no doubt in your mind, that this is exactly what you’re looking for.”
Plus, it makes sense to avoid other common hazards as well. “Stay away from high-traffic areas like dog walkways, dog parks and agricultural areas unless they’re organic and you have the owner’s permission,” Houston says, adding that it’s also important not to forage in environmentally sensitive areas. And stay away from recognized parks. “You can’t harvest from provincial parks either, by law.”
Clearly, another reason to consider checking out the Farmed and Foraged event.
While Houston and Waters are cooking up a storm, Sea Cider’s own Kirsten Jordon will also be on hand, pouring signature cider-based cocktails that have a distinctively local—or alien—twist.
Sea Cider’s Canadian Invasion series of ciders is Jordon’s effort to raise awareness about the invasive introduced species that threaten the native edibles Houston will be cooking.
An environmental management specialist before she turned to cidermaking, Johnson says that it just made sense to create a line of ciders that turn evil invaders into good-to-drink bevvies, the proceeds from which go to help efforts to fight invasive species.
The series includes Witches’ Broom, a seasonal pumpkin-spiced cider that contains no actual Scotch broom, and the Ruby Rose, which is apple cider infused with rhubarb. While the pretty Rosa rugosa for which it’s named isn’t so much of a problem here, it’s invasive in other parts of North America. Finally, the Bramble Bubbly cider showcases efforts to fight the invasive Himalayan blackberry. Jordon explains that the cider actually contains farmed blackberries from a grower in Abbotsford, because she didn’t want to use a species she’s hoping to eradicate to create the cider.
Sea Cider’s Canadian Invasion series is available in liquor stores across Western Canada, as well as on the west coast of the United States and in Chicago.
Farmed and Foraged: An Earth Day Feast
At Sea Cider Farm and Ciderhouse in Saanichton
For tickets and more info: www.natureconservancy.ca/earthdaybc