Take four guys with a keen interest in all things culinary, plunk them down south of the Bay of Quinte and call them the Sons of Edward, in honour of their beloved Prince Edward County. If that sounds like some new Food Network spin-off for Game of Thrones, think again. The Sons of Edward (or SOE) actually comprise a band of cheerful and creative chefs, drawn together through a mutual love of delicious food, fresh ingredients sourced from neighbourhood farms and a keen interest in foraging. Yep, that’s right, the SOE likes to take the idea of eating local to a whole other, quite wild level and gather good things to eat straight from Mother Nature herself.
Modestly acknowledging his role as foraging mentor for the group, Henry Willis of Humble Bread cautions novice foragers to bear in mind what he calls the number one rule: Never, ever put anything in your mouth without getting the green light from an expert first. And Henry certainly knows what he’s talking about. His own foraging expeditions date back to childhood, when his parents used to salt the bush with candy to keep the hunt interesting and fun.
But while having fun is key, fellow foragers and SOE members Matt DeMille (EAT with Matt DeMille), Neil Dowson (Midtown Brewing Co.) and Chris Wylie (The Manse Boutique Inn) wholeheartedly agree with Henry’s advice about safety. Plenty of toxic lookalikes out there make taking chances risky. While initial research might involve anything from field guides to internet searches to trips to your local grocery store to check on the appearance of unfamiliar edibles, heeding the cautions of an expert trumps everything.
Chris suggests chatting with a local chef or farmer to get started on your own foraging adventures. Often these folks know where to go and what to look for. Farmers can steer you away from areas heavily sprayed with pesticide and might even allow careful foragers access to their property.
“But definitely get permission,” warns Henry. “I know I wouldn’t be happy about seeing somebody tramping around my property without asking first.”
Foragers don’t always have to travel far to find their prize. Both Henry and Chris claim at least half a dozen good things to eat exist right outside their back doors. According to Henry, omega 3-rich purslane sprouts between the cracks in his patio, while the delicate salad green chickweed grows everywhere. Anxious about over-picking? Consider harvesting abundant and invasive species such as garlic mustard, a potent addition to homemade pesto.
Looking for a little zing in your life? Listen to the SOE sing the praises of ramps, a strong- tasting, oniony green. Often found alongside riverbanks, finely chopped ramps taste delicious when blended with butter. Henry suggests rolling the mixture in parchment paper and cling film before freezing. That way ramp fans can slice off a knob of the creamy, green-coloured spread and enjoy whenever the yen strikes.
And while finding your own treasure trove of wild goods is fantastic, remember the journey counts as half the fun. Simply getting an opportunity to hike around the great outdoors ranks high on the motivation scale for the SOE.
“Get the kids involved, get outside,” suggests Neil. “As Henry says, a forage is just a good excuse for a good walk.”
Whenever possible, these foragers like to dine outside, inviting friends and family to “pop-up” dinners, barbecues and outdoor breakfasts, all featuring menus heavy on both locally sourced and personally foraged ingredients. Everyone brings something to the table, and the results are always unique and delicious. One of the last “pop-ups” boasted a grand finale of parsnip ice cream.
Good times and good food, all shared with others who appreciate the same – sure sounds like a plan. To that end, Chris offers up a recipe which uses a couple of his own favourite foraged treats: Wild Watercress Salad with Pickled Ramps. Read on and enjoy.
Water Cress Salad
- 2 cups locally foraged Water Cress
- 3 to 4 cups Pickled Ramps, sliced
- ½ of an apple, sliced
- 1/4 cup toasted slivered almonds
- 1 to 2 sliced radish (Chris uses watermelon, but advises any type will work.)
- ½ lemon zested
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 2 tbs chopped fresh basil
- 2 tbs chopped chives
- 1 tbs minced shallots
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- salt and pepper to taste
Clean and cut ramps just at the start of the leaf. Eat the leaves sauteed in garlic and butter or add them to a salad or stir fry.
- 3 cups cleaned ramp ends
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 1 cup cranberry juices
Bring sugar, cranberry juices and vinegar to a boil to dissolve sugar and pour over ramps. Once cooled, ramps are ready to eat, though the longer they pickle, the better they taste. Pickled ramps should last a month in your fridge.