Foraging for flavor

Repost from: May 21/2016


Many professional chefs these days are interested in really trying to capture the best of their region and expressing it on the plates that are presented to the customers coming through their doors.  This has led to an increase in farmers, farmers markets, artisan cheese and bread, local brewers and winemakers and producers of all sorts of delicious and local food. All of these things are wonderful and integral parts of us developing and improving our food but I would argue that to truly convey the landscape that surrounds us we need to forage.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, foraging is essentially finding food that grows wild.

There are many books and resources on the subject and all sorts of delicious things that we can eat in our own backyard!

Many people not familiar with foraging worry about the potentially poisonous nature of wild food.  I think it is always better safe than sorry in this area, but as with any food we haven’t eaten before there are risks.  Also foods that we commonly eat are toxic to a selection of the population or toxic in large doses.  Nutmeg for example can cause people to behave in unpleasant ways according to this article.

But getting back to the more favorable nature of foraging, chefs and artisans of all stripes are embracing nature and foraging again for flavours and textures that are mostly forgotten. Famed chef Rene Redzepi of Noma refers to foraging as ‘treasure hunting’ and I think this best captures the practice.

I have been going out foraging weekly and decided to brew a small batch of beer each week using foraged ingredients.  The first week it was a tansy ale based on a recipe from 1670 on VorpBrew. Tansy has a pleasant smell of rosemary and mint to me. My second brew was a single origin Costa Rican cocoa, oat and wintergreen stout, with the wintergreen always reminding me of the candies I grew up eating. Next on my list is a dandelion and lemon balm wheat ale that I think will be great once the hotter weather is slowing me down.

I love being inspired by what is around me to create something that is somewhat fleeting it makes each creation seem that much more rewarding.  It also gives a focus to the foraging I have been doing lately.  Next week might be spruce tips…unless something more exciting presents itself.

Foraging can be so much fun and a way to learn more about your surroundings and connect those lessons to your plate.  Get out there and have fun!

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