A-Foraging We Will Go!

Summer. It’s my favourite season. I’m an avid gardener – in fact, most of my front yard has been given over to vegetables and fruit. A trip down the front walk to the car is never complete without snatching a couple leaves of lettuce, a ripe cherry tomato or a sugar snap peapod, or plucking a carrot from the earth to munch on. Having my own little Victory Garden, as they were called during World War II, gives me an intense sense of satisfaction.

The neighbours like it because I give them free organic veggies.

But being a city dweller, there’s only so much I can do with the land I have, so from time to time, I head out into the wider world to forage what I can. Lindsay and I have been doing this together for years, and I’m always surprised by two things: first, how many edible things there are all around us, and second, that more people don’t take advantage of this.

By far the easiest thing to forage for in our city is berries. We have two spots that we hit up every year, one for saskatoons and another for nanking cherries. And this is no u-pick farm with tidy rows of shrubs. We’re scrambling down hillsides, waist-deep in thickets to find these.

Lindsay picking saskatoons. We also found currants!
Lindsay picking saskatoons. We also found currants!
Okay, 'beside the tennis court' is not exactly bushwhacking.
Okay, ‘beside the tennis court’ is not exactly bushwhacking.

The highlight of our annual foraging date is always the rare white nanking cherry bush. There’s only one that we know of, and its fruit is precious indeed.

So mysterious.
So mysterious.

Saskatoons are a versatile berry that can be made into jam, pie filling, juice and anything you might use blueberries for. Nanking cherries, because of their small size, are difficult to pit so I only use them to make juice with. I add the juice to my morning smoothie; Lindsay adds it to gin.

Juice concentrate (red jars) and white nanking cherry jelly (centre bottom).
Juice concentrate from red and white (centre bottom jar) nanking cherries.

Edible things are all around you, if you keep your eye out. Depending on where you live, you may also find tree fruit, mushrooms, greens, wild grapes and more. Lindsay and I even found asparagus one year. My husband says in Saskatchewan, swiss chard grows in the ditches beside the highway. In the Shuswap area of BC, where my parents live, raspberry canes are everywhere, and I’ve seen roadside blackberries in Vancouver. Sometimes, foraging is as simple as knocking on a neighbour’s door and asking them if they’re planning on using all the apples on their tree this year. And plants you’ve seen around your entire life may be a food source you never knew about! The cattail has several edible parts, and I’m sure there’s a dandelion somewhere near you right now. (Please always ensure you have correctly identified a plant before consuming it.)

So, what do you like to glean from the land?

Nanking Cherry Juice Concentrate

  • Any quantity of nanking cherries – as much as you can pick! The cherries can be frozen prior to using as well.
  • Sweetener, if desired (unsweetened juice can be tart. You can also add a small amount of a sweeter fruit instead – Lindsay adds a cup of saskatoons to roughly 10 cups of cherries.)
  1. Wash the fruit in cold water, removing stems as needed.
  2. Move them into a pot and add about half an inch of water. Heat on medium.
  3. Once cherries are simmering, reduce heat to low, mashing occasionally with a wooden spoon or potato masher.
  4. Simmer until liquid has been reduced by a third.
  5. Remove from heat and ladle the liquid into a jelly bag or several layers of cheesecloth. I squeeze the bag to get a bit of pulp into the juice.
  6. Return strained juice to pot and heat to a boil.
  7. Pour into clean hot jars and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes (pints or quarts). Don’t forget to adjust processing time for altitude!

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Bring It On, Zombie Apocalypse! (About Lindsay)

I’m only slightly embarrassed to admit that this all started with an intense interest in the apocalypse. A lifelong love of mysteries had led me to books about 2012, which led me to books about peak oil, which introduced me to permaculture and topics like peak soil, the plight of the bees, the state of the economy (this was before the 2008 crash), and on and on. Ever the pragmatist, I accepted that while the poles were likely not going to flip, and we have only a small chance of being buried in ash from a volcanic eruption in Yellowstone, it’s only prudent to be prepared for any eventuality. And thus, a prepper was born.

I do like to joke about the zombie apocalypse, and I feel our world is changing fast in many ways, but rest assured – I’ve got a good head on my shoulders. After about five years of preparing for whatever may come, I’ve learned that preparedness (food storage, financial preparedness, carrying a first aid kit in the car, and knowing how to react in emergency situations) can reduce life stress in general.

Canning and preserving is a great example. My plunge into canning came about as a natural melding of several interests – prepping, of course, but also foraging local wild edibles, learning drying skills, and cooking/food. I have loved learning the skills involved in canning and preserving, but I have also discovered just how nice it is to have shelves and shelves full of home-canned, healthy foods in the basement. During times of financial stress, illness, or when I’m just too lazy to run to the store, being able to walk downstairs and choose a jar as the base of our dinner or snack is comforting, to say the least.

Assorted jars in the basement.
Assorted jars in the basement.

Now that I’ve been canning for a few years, I couldn’t stop if I wanted to. In fact, when for some reason the summer of 2013 proved very overwhelming for me and I was tempted to can hardly anything, my husband begged me to still can tomatoes and salsa – he couldn’t go back to store bought, he said. Indeed, now that we have become accustomed to our favourite home recipes, we’d be hard-pressed to find anything comparable in a store.

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