Feasting on the Forest

Miche Genest is up early, squeezing wild-rose-petal-infused egg whites into small twists on parchment-paper-lined baking pans.

She’s making meringues in preparation for the launch of her second cookbook, The Boreal Feast: a culinary journey through the North. 

The meringues are dainty, pink floral-shaped cookies; she says you can smell the rose petals more than you taste them.

She pulls a mason jar out of the pantry, it’s half-full of dried pink petals. She says she’s seen wild roses in bloom already this year, even though the lupins are still flowering.

The time frame for picking spruce tips just passed — “everything happens so fast,” she says, in reference to harvest seasons.

She says she picks a lot of things from around here, as she pulls more jars from the pantry — smoked Labrador tea and yarrow. Once you know what to look for, you’ll see them everywhere, she says.

The Boreal Feast is filled with beautiful photographs by Cathie Archbould, and with drawings by Laurel Perry. It’s a food-season directorate, and it’s written like a personal travel journal — Genest ventured to Sweden, Norway, and Finland to document how those Northerners feast — and of course, it’s a recipe book.

But Genest says her intent for her second cookbook goes beyond those things. “We have a magnificent feast all around us, that’s what we celebrate with.”  

Genest wants people to use the book as an inspiration to familiarize themselves with their surroundings in the North.

She wants readers to “go out, learn about plants and animals, come home, and cook with them.”

She wants her book to help people live in the forest, to make it their home. 

Genest says her book is about conservation — when people use the land on which they live as an ingredient list, it creates a connection. 

She started learning about her surroundings by picking berries because they’re the easiest. Now she’s learning more about herbs.

“I experiment once I know a plant’s not poisonous,” she says.

Genest acknowledges that the ingredients in her book won’t be found across Canada, but some are — like rhubarb and juniper berries. In Ontario, wild leeks could be a substitute in the Pumpkin Seed and Wild Onion Pesto recipe in her book.

As she prepares to whip another batch of egg whites, for more meringue, Genest advises making sure the eggs are at room temperature, and that cream of tartar is your friend — it stiffens the beaten whites. 

The meringues are listed in the “Spring” section of the new cookbook, under the feast “Tea on the Tarahue”. 

In the book, Genest explains the Tarahue is a restored sternwheeler in Atlin, which it is the setting of an annual tea hosted by the Atlin Historical Society. That formal tea inspired Genest to create recipes, that people could use to make their own tea feast, at home–it can be a fancy way to use the dried wild rose petals a person picked in early June.

Along with wild rose petal meringues, Genest’s version of the Northern tea feast includes roasted strawberry bruschetta, and potted smoked salmon with toast fingers. 

Genest wasn’t trained as a chef, but her mom taught her what food should taste like. From that base, she follows her nose.

Genest will be cooking for the launch all day. She will make morel mushroom mayonnaise — she picked the morels two years ago near Carmacks. They were canoeing on the Yukon River and noticed charred trees. Genest knew to look for morels in burned areas, and she found some.

Also on the agenda is Arctic char river pate, and potted smoked salmon. 

Genest finishes mixing the second batch of meringues, and uses a spatula to scoop the fluffy pink concoction into a canvas bag. She talks about what comes next, now that her second book is written. She quit her job, or retired, in order to concentrate on cooking and writing for the Boreal Feast. She to keep writing.

She wants to write a book about when she was in Greece, in her twenties. She learned about cooking then, too. She wants to learn how to bake bread, and about sauces.She wishes someone would teach a cake decorating course in Whitehorse, and she wants to learn how to properly filet a fish.

She slides three trays of dainty meringues in the oven and says writing and cooking are perfect complements.

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