Sunday, September 5, 2010

Fall Foraging in Edmonton

A few of the many wild edibles that are in season:

Highbush Cranberries

Highbush cranberries are traditionally picked after the first frost, when they are said to be sweetest. I don't know if the freezing temperature itself does something to sweeten the fruit, or if it's simply that waiting until the first frost gives the fruit the longest possible time to ripen and sweeten.

Cool, cloudy summers like the one we've just had yield berries with more acid and less sugar. Even so, the berries will still be good, so go pick a handful to save for Thanksgiving dinner.

Highbush cranberries in the Edmonton river valley


Cornucopic clusters of chokecherries hang along the trails of the river valley this time of year. The ease of picking is counteracted by the relatively low yield of usable fruit: there is after all a large pit in each cherry (hence the name..) A food-mill with the right sized plate will separate the flesh from the pits. Chokecherries are extremely astringent, and make a superb fruit wine.

Chokecherries in the Edmonton river valley


The fruit of roses.

A quick digression: I've often wondered why rosewater hasn't become an Albertan specialty, given the provincial association, the omnipresence of wild roses, and how easy it is to make.

Rosehips in the Edmonton river valley


I've pondered for some time whether the low-lying juniper planted in front lawns (Juniperus horizontalis) is edible, like its cousin Juniperus communis. I recently decided to stop wondering and start eating. These berries rarely seem to get as dark blue and fleshy as those sold at the grocery store, but they still taste fantastic, especially with game and sauerkraut.

Fruiting juniper in Edmonton


When Lisa and I started noticing these bright, matted red berries, we thought for sure they were poisonous. Turns out they're not. The berries and the root of this plant taste uncannily like watermelon.

Fairy bells in the Kananaskis River valley

Mountain Ash (Rowan)

I always assumed that mountain ash berries were inedible. They stay on the trees through the winter, and I figured that if the birds don't eat them, people probably shouldn't, either. Then I stumbled over the entry for rowanberry in Larousse: "An orange-red berry the size of a small cherry. It is the fruit of the mountain ash tree, a species of Sorbus. The berries are used when almost overripe to make jam or jelly (good with venison) and, on a small scale, brandy. They have a tart flavour."

As with the juniper, I worried that Edmonton had a different, inedible species of Sorbus. Then, after a certain botanist assured me they were safe, I started eating them. They're sour, and kind of taste like rhubarb.

Mountain ash in Edmonton


  1. Well done. I've often wondered about the junipers too, as I have a copious supply of game at times, and junipers seem to be everywhere.

    I am longing for highbush cranberries. Smelled some today mushroom picking, but the local lady told me the early snow during flowering made for poor yields this year.

  2. Where - where - and where... and don't choke cherries have their name because they are so sour you pucker, too? Love the syrup. Love it. How do you make rosewater with rose hips. And some kinds of Mountain Ash berries are poisonous, aren't they?
    I made a rhubarb sauce just for your goose confit ravioli that was perfect. I hope you like it. It is rhubarb, some sugar, and grainy moustard. I have to remember to send you the recipe, or I will bring it Sept 20th. It is best warm with meat and the ravioli idea. I am dying to know what you think.
    Oh - and all of my younger life I went berry picking - that's what it was called then. Wild foraging all over the middle of the province: someone would know someone who knew someone who you would meet on the corner in the country and would drive you down a side road and show you where there was a whole patch of virgin bushes. We would spend however long it took to get them all: ice cream bucket strapped around our waists (even at 5) and go for it. Saskatoons, chokecherries, cranberries...
    and in the garden so many more.
    I still love to do that, but the bushes are really hard to find now that we no longer have family in the country.

  3. Kevin - This is the first year I've taken note of the cranberries, so I can't compare to seasons past, but they seem to be everywhere along the trails in Hawrelak.

    Valerie - Once ripe the chokecherries actually have very little acidity. My rosewater comment was misleading. You don't make rosewater from the rosehips, but you can make it from the petals. I was just thinking about roses, and wondered why we didn't make our own rosewater in Alberta.

    I'm stoked to try your rhubarb sauce. Unfortunately, the goose confit is long gone, but I really like rhubarb and pork, so maybe we could give that a go.

  4. Horse radish supplies are great.