With spring in full effect, the bears, birds and bees are buzzing and singing joyful songs.
But if you listen closely to the songs, they’re mainly about how desperate and frantic their search of food is.
I can’t help but join the enthusiasm. I’m hungry, and I want wild foods!
When I see pussywillows going to seed, I think of the birch trees’ sap flowing into buckets for this year’s syrup production of Uncle Berwyn’s Birch Syrup.
There are fireweed and cat-tail shoots, young dandelion greens for salads and the flowers for wine. Rhubarb still seems so far away from harvest, but I’m chomping at the bit for some of that tang.
Then reality sets in, and I may need to settle with Wu-Tang for a while longer.
People have been planting little greens and plants in their home windows and greenhouses for a couple months now, awaiting their frost-free soil.
Unfortunately, I’m not much of a green thumb. I enjoy eating and cooking with all sorts of vegetables, and I do like buying local farmers’ vegetables, and treat them with the respect they deserve while they’re available; but in the meantime I find my garden is better left to mother nature.
I swear, I almost crave the sting of nettles as I’m harvesting them and would be lying if I said I’m not temped to eat them raw while picking.
While walking around the south-facing hills, I’ve been scoping out the first spruce tips to come into season. Spruce tips are one of the first spring things you can go out and pick, eat and cook in the same day.
Spruce tips are the tender new shoots of evergreen trees. Look for them anytime after mid-May, depending on the year.
First they will be covered in a brown husk, then they shed it off – this is the perfect time for picking. As soon as they open up they become resinous and bitter, so pick them as soon as the husk is gone.
Spruce tips start showing on south-facing slopes, then appear on north-facing hillsides and work their way up in elevation. So if you’re looking at the tips in your yard and they’re fully opened, don’t worry, just drive up 10,00 feet and chances are the tips will be just ready!
Before you go out of your way to pick lots, though, try them first and see if you like them. Like many wild foods, you may not agree with the unique flavour.
If you’re in an area where there are pine trees, try the tips from them as well – you may find one you like more than the other.
Spruce Tip Pickles
There are millions of things you can do with spruce tips, from making beer or infusing your own moonshine to preserving in salt and sugar.
This recipe is a good old standby that I’ve been doing for years; I also use it for nasturtium seeds pods and milkweed seed pods when I get my hands of them.
Plop a few of these bad boys in your next vodka martini for a Canadian change of pace.
2 cups good quality white vinegar
2 cups water
2 tbsp toasted coriander seeds
pinch of salt
pinch of sugar
4 cups cleaned spruce tips
Place spruce tips into a clean 1.5L mason jar, or other clean pickle vessel.
Bring all ingredients to a boil and pour over cleaned spruce tips.
Leave to marinate for at least a month. Use like capers.
I just leave them in my fridge, and take out what I need as I wish.