With help from social media, I met Sarah and her business, East Coast Wild Foods – it was literally a likeminded follow for a likeminded follow. When I discovered she was located in Dartmouth, I quickly asked if she’d be down for a play session. And, here we are.
One of my bucket list items is to pop up in every province of the country, so this was province #3, thinking about it is pretty awesome and random all at the same time. We teamed up for a special pop up dinner inside the Halifax Brewery Market courtyard with Alexander Keith’s serving up wild ingredient inspired micro brews, too.
The Thursday before Sunday’s dinner was pencilled in to forage for ingredients, thinking it would give me time to figure out the story with my menu. Then Mother Nature decided to literally rain on our parade with this crazy October wind and rainstorm. Luckily, we were not camping during the Halifax leg of our road trip! The downside to this was that it gave me just over 24 hours to get a sense of seasonality, plus cook a 4-course meal for our paying guests. This menu was going to be one big experiment. But that’s what I was here for. I wasn’t here to make food that I’ve made before or was safe.
Up until this point, a lot of our foraging has been in forest-y areas, so we were excited by Sarah’s plan to take us for a spot of urban foraging just outside of Halifax around the coastal area of Duncan’s Cove. Moody sea and skies fought as Mr Sun tried to break through. And it was stunning. Even if you’re not looking to forage, just go for a scenic walk.
As we strolled the path, Sarah immediately identified northern bayleaf with its rounded leaves – the Okanagan grows Bay but they have the standard looking pointed tip. The thing about foraging is that once you’re shown a new species, a world of possibility becomes magically real and you start to see it everywhere! A few steps later came the tart wild cranberries, sticky alder berries, prickly juniper, vibrant wintergreen, sweet huckleberries and crispy caribou moss, minutes from each other. So.Much.Food. I said this before, but supporting local doesn’t necessarily have to be more expensive. You do, however, need to be willing to exchange a five-finger discount with your time.
During this adventure, Sarah kindly shared fun facts with us and now I wanted to share some of the things I learnt with you:
Fancy Name: Myrica Pensylvanica
Abundant across Nova Scotia, aromatic and slightly bitter in taste, and they can even help restore soil health to combat erosion. (Maybe someone should plant a boat load in PEI?!). The plant produces these small, waxy fruit berries, which was used for candle making. Apparently, it burns better, smells good and burns without smoke. The downside is that it takes forever to harvest tiny things and it’s a lot of work to remove that wax in the first place, but random facts are good.
Culinary idea: fry the leaves and use it as a crispy garnish to add texture
Fancy Name: Gaultheria Procumbens
Another plant species that I’ve not used before, it’s usually found in the forest (or having said that, we found it in a coastal area). Medically speaking, it’s supposed to have pain relieving properties and Sarah likes to make a tea out of the leaves – just steep it for a much longer time to get all those delicious flavours out.
Fancy Name: Vaccinium Macrocarpon
Like its bog version, but not found anywhere near a bog. This is another fall berry that you’d find everywhere. Random fact: generally speaking, there’s just a single berry to every plant.
Fancy Name: Gaylussacia Bigeloviana
Similar to wild blueberries, but we think they taste better. These have a longer season compared to wild blueberries, which we just missed. You’ll find huckleberries on coastal headlands.
Fancy Name: Cladonia Rangiferina
A type of lichen with medical benefits – our First Nations would treat kidney stones and diarrhoea with it (which is a super random array of medical problems). Caribou moss is high in acid, so you want to soak it with something alkaline to balance out the pH a bit.
Culinary idea: the First Nations would smoke meat using it, so that sounds like a good idea to me. I’ve also deep-fried Reindeer Moss in Alberta before – make sure it doesn’t have any gritty bits before you do it, though.
Whether it’s Alberta, BC or Nova Scotia, I’ve found that it’s been a pretty stellar year for wild mushrooms. Sarah has been drying them throughout the various seasons and now I had a chance to play with Pine, Porcini, Reishi, Spruce Bolete, Chicken Fat and Hedgehog mushrooms. We didn’t find any this time around, but this is why having an epic pantry is handy.
Culinary idea: make a smoker using a cast iron and forest floor things, then smoke the dried mushrooms before rehydrating and cooking.
- Bring reusable market bags or a basket – they come in handy, even if you’re just out for a stroll.
- Harvest in clean off-road areas, because, well, pee and pollution.
- The world of wild foods is pretty overwhelming. Instead of trying to identify all the things, select a few things to learn. It’s amazing how quickly you pick things up and it’s only going to grow and grow because that’s what food does.
- Dehydrate everything for your pantry to relive the adventure.
In little over 3 hours, we harvest so many wild things, including branches and green stuff for our table setting. Social media may have a rep for its negative side (and that is also justified), but this trip has been built on positive side of that.
Knowledge and the willingness to share that, is definitely power when it comes to food. Thank you Sarah for the inspiration, now into the kitchen to prep.
Next up, a behind-the-scenes look into the wild food inspired pop up dinner itself.