Inspiration for those interested in enjoying wild food
Atlantic Canadians are blessed with a bounty of wild food. Whether digging clams, picking blueberries or gathering mushrooms, foraging is part of our culture and our cuisine. For Jamie Simpson, harvesting wild food is a way to enhance his enjoyment of nature while acquiring delicious ingredients. “Adventurous and tasty, eating wild gives us a new awareness of our natural world.” For him, “life’s stresses lift” while collecting wild mushrooms or berries.
Eating Wild in Eastern Canada is an introduction to the joys of foraging. Simpson doesn’t bother dealing with so-called “survival food,” the edible but not palatable plants discussed in field guides to edible foods. He focuses on plants, fungi (mushrooms), animals (mostly fish and shellfish) and seaweeds that he thinks “are fun to find and gather, and a pleasure to prepare and eat.”
The 150-page book contains descriptions of 75 foods, as well as profiles of several chefs and professional foragers. For each food, he describes its habitat, culinary attributes and how to collect it. He also offers stories about his experiences collecting or enjoying them. Recipes are sprinkled through the book.
Simpson brings a culinary flair to wild foods. For example, I’ve seen recipes in other books for conifer tips, the soft ends of branches of spruce, fir or hemlock. The dishes might prevent scurvy but they’re not appetizing. Simpson, however, suggests adding minced conifer tips to mayonnaise to “give your sandwiches a perky, woodsy twist,” or adding the tips to soups and stews.
The author is a fan of wild food but not a fanatic. I completely agree with his take on dandelion root coffee. “Some sources describe this dandelion root beverage as a substitute for coffee. Nonsense. If you want coffee, drink coffee. Dandelion root is its own delightful drink.”
Even if you never plan to dine on wild food, you might enjoy the book. The author provides a multi-faceted approach to the subject and often serves up interesting historical or ecological tidbits. For example, the shadbush (Amelanchier) is so named because it flowers when shad (a type of delicious if bony fish) are running. Less well-known is the story behind another name for the plant. It’s also called serviceberry because when it flowers, “the ground is thawed enough to hold a burial service for anyone who died over the winter months.”
This is not a guide book: you’ll need a comprehensive field guide with detailed descriptions and diagrams or better photos before you can safely embark on wild eating. But Eating Wild will give you a taste of the joy of foraging. It may well inspire you to take the next step to finding your own wild food and creating your own unique culinary adventures.
reviewed by Janet Wallace