It’s a cornucopia of enticing goods right under our noses—and often under our soles. Wild foods have always been there, naturally, but most have gone unnoticed. Lately, a movement of forest-to-fork eaters is embracing native edibles that are as exotic as any import, and rating them as gourmet fare. As an offshoot of the eat-local dogma, and beyond the Canadian culinary clichés of wild blueberries, wild salmon, and maple syrup, there are hundreds of untamed foods gaining popularity.
“Wild is big,” declares chef Jason Bangerter of Auberge du Pommier in Toronto. “As a chef, you want to think outside the box, to find something different and exciting.” He rhymes off a long list of sauvage items worked into his menus, from wild rose jelly—“it’s nice with scallops or with white fish such as halibut”—to ox-eye daisy capers, wild mustards, elderberry syrup, pickled fiddleheads and more. He’s particularly pleased with one Canadian amuse bouche—a little pot of pheasant and foie gras rillettes with tempura-style wild mushrooms, garnished with truffled cedar jelly and pickled spruce tips, and paired with a champagne flute of spruce beer. “Especially when chefs come in, it’s the showstopper.”
Jonathan Forbes of Forbes Wild Foods, based near Creemore, Ont., supplies dozens of chefs, including Bangerter, with a range of uncultivated goods from across the country. He started his company 10 years ago and has seen the interest increase dramatically in the last two. “I think people are more concerned about knowing where their food came from.” Working with 30 to 40 foragers each year, he sources syrups, fresh vegetables and fruits—from the rare (sweet chestnuts) to the ubiquitous (wild highbush cranberries). “We can have over 100 different items,” he says of a good year.
“Food without farming” is entirely regional, based wherever conditions allow it to thrive. Depending on your locale, you can find cattail hearts, cloudberries, balsam jelly, chanterelles, sea asparagus, Labrador tea, the pawpaw fruit, black walnuts, edible flowers and birch syrup. And that’s for starters.
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