Archive for the ‘Wild Fruits’ Category

Summer Forage Workshop 2012


I’ve been asked to do workshops for years, and resisted for an equal number of years. Last night, however, was the inaugural ‘workshop’, and it went really well. Folks left having learned a thing or two, got to have a nice evening out, everyone took home some edible mushroom, ask some questions, all at a low price point. Works for me. The next ones I’ve got line up can be found here, and include more foraging, traditional hard cider making, and pork butchery. In my view I’m no expert in any of those fields, but know more than enough to help out those that are wanting to get into it. This past one sold out just by folks tripping on the new tab on my site by accident, so I’m going to guess there will be no trouble filling spots, so if you’re interested, let me know sooner rather than later.

Last night the focus was mushrooms and saskatoons. The wild saskatoons this year in the city have been brutal, most the berries desiccated beyond edibility. I’ve been told by a Saskatoon grower in the Peace country that this is due to an insect at the blossom stage, and that most U-Pick growers spray for it, hence their regularly nice berries. So the focus really last night was on mushrooms. Not as many agaricus as I was hoping for, but we scored enough comb’s tooth for everyone to go home to tackle in their kitchen, and a couple red caps. We also found piles and piles of amanitas, which I was grateful for as it allowed me to show folks what they looked like, how they grew, etc. One attendee found a nice lineup in maturity of them from baby stage through to maturity. The biodiversity was fantastic, which made me very, very happy. Fun stuff.

Saskatoon Glean 2012


Long, long ago, in a former saskatoon u-pick that is now more lawn than bush, a friend and I harvested saskatoons by the 5 gal pail and I made wine. Not your usual cooler-esque cheery saskatoon wine, but a heavy, dense, rich, viscous wine, aged with american white oak. That was way back in 2009. That vintage is now 3 years old and I’m wagering is the type of wine that will rock in the 10+ year range. I hadn’t had the supply to make another vintage since – until now.

Over a year ago, I got in touch with a U-Pick grower who was on the Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton grower list, but last year the ridiculously deep snow in the winter prior yielded a crop failure thanks to the moose eating the bushes to get through the winter. No 2011 vintage in the stars, trumped by nature. This year though, it was game on. Not only did we get the grower some fruit to sell via her share, and donate a pile to OFRE and a local charity, I came home with enough to make a 2012 vintage of saskatoon wine. No time for it now, so the berries will go into the freezer for the time being until my insane schedule lets off a bit.

Surprisingly, despite the wonderful opportunity to stock up for the winter in a very win-win-win-win situation for all, not as many OFRE volunteers were chomping at the bit to get on board as I thought. We were hardly at capacity for the 2 nights we were out. Still, we managed to glean roughly 350 lbs of fruit. Then we got an email from another Saskatoon U-Pick grower, offering another glean. Saskatoons anyone? I’m done.



Dear whoever will read this, [this letter has been sent to the mayor and a number of city councillors]

I would like to add my voice to all the others asking the city for a non-essential or cosmetic pesticide ban.

I’m a local food writer heavily involved in the urban agriculture and foraging communities. I lead groups of Edmontonians to harvest backyard urban fruit with Operation Fruit Rescue Edmonton. I go on forays with the Alberta Mycological Society to harvest mushrooms that are abundant in our city. I guide a fruit foraging event for Slow Food Edmonton. I write about wild foods for the Alberta Conservation Association, many of these foods being abundant in our city limits. NAIT’s Culinary Arts program has me take students out foraging in the city to inspire them to use the foods around them. In all of these cases, broad use of pesticides is a concern. In fact, one of the most common objections to folks using the foods around our city is that they don’t want to touch them because they don’t know what kind of chemicals they’ve been sprayed with. That’s just sad, and a deterrent to our citizens connecting with the food around them – which seems to counter the spirit of the ‘Food and Urban Agriculture Project’.

I often hear the City of Edmonton talk about the desire to be a world-class city. Perhaps then we should share the same level of protection other municipalities have when it comes to ingesting pesticides. Perhaps we need to be progressive on this front rather than last on the uptake. Sports fields are nice, but so are food and health. If you think pesticides are safe to eat, by all means feel free to eat all you like, but please don’t force the rest of us to in the name of protecting jobs.  –  Sincerely, Kevin Kossowan

Highbush Cranberries

Slow Food Edmonton Highbush Cranberry Foray


Headed out this evening to hit the urban bush with a bunch of Slow Food Edmonton members. I organized the event hoping it would be an easy, casusal way to get us like minded folk outdoors enjoying some wild food and good company – maybe even expose some folks to something new that grows in their own backyard. Turns out it was a success on all those fronts. Everybody went home with wild fruit this evening. Some folks will work with it in their kitchens for the first time. Some will enjoy it at a local fine restaurant whose chef cares enough about food to get into the bush to forage for it.

I quite simply equate the highbush cranberry to stinky french cheese – something distinctive, odorous [some compare it to stinky feet], that speaks to place and even time. Something that we should be proud of as having thoughtfully and skillfully integrated into our local food culture. I think there’s still a long way to go, especially with us younger generations. We have an ingredient of character in our own backyard, and hardly know what it looks like nevermind what to do with it.

As I’m prone to avoid recipes, I’ll point you in Karlynn’s direction re: a recipe for highbush cranberry jelly. What I can help with is its uses. It’s fine on toast in the morning, but in my opinion has met its proper fate on a plate with the wild game meats that live in the same bush. So get yourself some wild game, or even farmed elk, bison, venison, whatever, and give it a shot with some highbush cranberry jelly. It’s terroir food.

The Evening Walk


I’ve written about foraging so much lately, I’m not sure what to say anymore other than: do it. A couple notable things about tonight:

First, I was *this* close to staying home and doing nothing, really. Maybe read stuff online. Maybe watch a movie. But I couldn’t do it. I had to go do some more exploring. Yes, I was like this as a kid. There’s lots of time to sit around in the winter. Within the first 5 minutes I wasn’t so tired any more, the fresh air woke me up, and now I’m home with a basket full of food with some exercise and fresh air rather than the opposite.

Which leads me to: that’s some basket of food. I finally found a serious source of saskatoons in the river valley. I knew tonight I’d have to pack it in when I ran out of room in my pail or daylight, whichever came first. Pail space came first. I also came across a serious ring of Agaricus Campestris – I harvested about 30 and had to have let behind 30-40 more because they were over-mature. The cool patterns on the caps are from adjacent specimens spore-printing onto their neighbor – bottom right one being most evident in the photo. Clearly brown, saved me some time at home spore printing them.

While out there I considered the frequent argument that if I took into account the value of my time, my food would be costly. I understand the point. But it seems illogical to measure the time when the opportunity cost of that time was TV watching or something similar, and when the activity yields so much good. Some pay for a gym membership and buy organic whole foods retail, and work a lot to pay for them. I do this.

Foraged Fruit, Veg, Mushrooms, Herbs + more


I love how exciting foraging can be. Again, free couple hours in the evening, so went for a walk in the river valley. Found some Agaricus Campestris [meadow mushroom] in nice shape. Spent a fair bit of time seeing a lot of not much, then found some nice, plump saskatoons. Again, not much for some time, then came across a meadow with broad patches of horseradish. When taking a closer look at the horseradish, I was taken aback at the plant that surrounded them: asparagus. I know, crazy. But it didn’t stop there. I kept on into the bush and found another serious patch of asparagus. By serious, I mean mature, old, and huge. The plants were far taller than me, maybe 8 feet tall. Unbelievable. And on it went. Next up: I spotted some big-ass allium flower that looked like nodding onion meets wild chive, but huge. Lots. It has a broad, flat, tender leaf like a nodding onion, but it looks more like a leek. Best I can tell, it’s Allium Senescens – a type of wild onion [common name: German Garlic]. Still trying to dig up information about it. Lastly, a patch of minty-sagey artemesia of some kind – I know what I want to do with it, more on that later. Photos of all of this below.

These finds excite me on a variety of levels. Not only did I find fruit, veg, mushrooms, herbs, onion, and horseradish in a one-hour walk in the city – I got instantly excited about the prospects of spring foraging. The asparagus and allium are on south-facing banks, and will be up early in the spring. Fantastic. You know what I’ll be eating this coming spring – a time when anything green and fresh is welcome here. I also have decided growing horseradish in my garden is pointless. For the amount I need and for how invasive it is, foraging it is. I’m stoked at the prospect of exploring how these things that grow together, go together. Lastly, I’m left dumbfounded by the foraging potential in our city with the resource that is our river valley, and am grateful for my close proximity to it – I can walk there. I’m going to have one seriously nice terroir-driven meal tomorrow.

Wild Saskatoons


I find saskatoons have an interesting reputation – there are those that are into them, and the rest hate them.

With the wild ones, I can see texture being an issue. Without some attention to triage, one risks chewing on an unpleasantly dry berry. Not ideal. They also, even when plump, have a bit of texture to them – although not enough to account for the hate on for them that some folks have.

But it also can’t be the flavour. It’s not as if they don’t have any – I have repeatedly noted how they’re far more intensely flavoured than any mutant-sized giant blueberry from a plastic clamshell that seem to have won public approval. Maybe it’s too much flavor then? Maybe it’s the almond-extract-esque complexity they carry? You’d think that would be a positive attribute: complexity. It must be the texture.

In the end, I’m going to let my fussy-pants daughters be the judge. They love them. I picked enough on this go to make a few pints of jam, and my 4 year old picked with me the whole time, filling her face rather than a bucket. She was full afterwards. My pickly little eaters enjoy them frozen as a snack, in their pancakes, in jams and syrups. And I guess I should be happy that not everyone digs them, otherwise they likely wouldn’t be there for me to forage for in our ravines and river valley. 

Lunch-hour Foraging


A couple days ago a reader offered to meet up to go for a foray in the University area on her lunch hour. Lunch-hour urban foraging, the concept alone I couldn’t turn down. Take THAT all you ‘I don’t have time people!! Now granted her co-workers think she’s strange for foraging for her lunch, but whatever. Strange can be good.

So out we went for mushrooms. Quickly found a variety of Agaricus, which I’ve written so much about lately I’m simply going to lay off. We found many. Tis the season. Then into the river valley we went to see what else would turn up. It wasn’t exactly what I expected. After noticing horseradish in the river valley earlier in the week, I should have broadened my expectations. Some of the surprises were burdock, rhubarb, and gooseberries. Burdock’s a root veg I grow in my yard. We also found raspberries, a pile of different mushrooms, a variety of greens [the usual dandelion, nettle, etc], some jeans, a hairbrush, and a knife. Ah, urban foraging. I wouldn’t suggest eating the jeans – pretty sure those are non-edible. The horseradish, rhubarb, and gooseberries especially have left me wondering about the opportunities for guerilla forest gardening. Interesting.

Below: Hericium Coralloids [Comb's Tooth]. One of the coolest looking local edibles. And bottom, my backyard Chlorophyllum Rhacodes [Shaggy Parasols] which have finally made an appearance!! The only reason I suspect that’s what they are is I’ve had them grow in the same place year after year, studied mature specimens, and spore printed it – otherwise at this stage, I’d have no idea.

Highbush Cranberry Wine – 2010


Last Wednesday evening, upon light prompting [read: suggestion] from friend Valerie, I headed back into the bush to pick another round of the abundant crop of highbush cranberries. I’d picked 20 lbs already. I really didn’t need more. But only a few days prior, I’d been out to En Sante Organic Winery and Meadery [who are going to be undergoing a full-on name change and rebranding btw - that's right, you heard it here first] to shoot their From Local Farms episode that’s in editing at the moment. Xina [their winemaker] let me try their lineup, including their Kalyna wine [ukrainian for highbush cranberry], which for some reason is not listed on their website. I will fully admit, I was a bit shocked. It was impressive. It was akin to a rosé with loads of structure for an orchard wine. I find orchard wines tend to, okay nearly always,  lack in the structure department, so this opportunity is key in my homewinmaking/blending adventures. I had to try to make some.

So 20-some lbs of fruit later, I was in. Picked up a couple tips worth sharing from Xina. 1. No need to wash/rinse/sort the fruit. Into the press they go as-is. This saves loads of time. 2. The fruit is not fragile. It must be the acid. Or the stink. These things sat in a bucket in my heated basement for almost a week, and it was hard to tell when I finally got to them today. I think grapes would have rotted. Tip 3, this one from me: 3. make a cheese with berries as you see in the picture, press, then re-form and press again. They don’t let up their juice as easily as crushed apples, say, so be patient. My 20 lbs or so turned into roughly 5L of juice. I topped up the 11L carboy with water, took the SG, then chaptilized to get to 12.5%abv. Even diluted, the pH was very low: 2.96. Suggests searing acidity in the straight juice, and means this is a good candidate for low-sulphite [or no-sulphite if you roll like that] wine.

I like rosé. I like high-bush cranberries. I like structure. If all goes well, I’m going to have one mean local wine in the cellar.

Below: the resulting pommace post-press. Valerie had suggested trying to dry the berries – a great idea. I’m going to try de-seeding the skins and drying them for a dried-cran-esque element to game dishes. Other shot: the straight juice.

Highbush Cranberry-fest


I’d had enough of reading about Karlynn‘s foraging successes, especially having spent far too much time harvesting far too few berries of the low-bush variety. Rather than a sheet pan one layer deep of low-bush, roughly the same amount of time spent picking highbush yielded 21 lbs of fruit. As you can see in the photo, highbush cranberry grows rather tall, into loose trees up to 15+ feet tall, and will fruit throughout the tree, resulting in many, many clusters of about a dozen berries per. It adds up fast.

We picked on a trail we used to walk daily for years, so my wife and I know it well – where the good spots are for every type of wild berry or mushroom one might want to harvest. This year, we didn’t make it half way to the first good spot, because the fruit was EVERYWHERE. I could have spent a week straight picking in that ravine, and likely still have fruit to pick. I get this strange fervor that comes over me when berry picking – I can’t stop. I get zoned into what I’m convinced is a genetically programmed bliss when foraging,  something pushing me to keep going, despite all logic suggesting I have enough. It’s strange, but fun.

So I made some jelly. Rather, I failed at making jelly. So I have syrup, which is okay by me. More importantly in my mind, I had enough juice [I juiced it in my fruit press], that I decided to try a small batch of wine. Very exciting, as I love the concept of pairing game meats with fruit wine from the bush where the game animals live, and have never made highbush cranberry wine. Coincidentally, I was at En Santé Organic Winery and Meadery a few hours after pitching yeast into the wine, shooting their ‘From Local Farms‘ episode, and I had the opportunity to try their highbush cranberry wine for the first time. It’s distinctly representative of the fruit, akin to a rosé with all kinds of structure on the palate. Orchard and wild fruit wines can lack in the structure department, so this was an important discovery for me. The opportunity to blend that structure into other wines – like saskatoon – is quite intriguing.

So thanks, Karlynn, for the kick in the butt to get out there. Turned out to be one of the best years I can remember for yield.  And there are still loads of berries out there – so get out and pick  all that free, local, wild food before the season ends!!!