Preserving Wild Foods

Authors: Matthew Weingarten and Raquel Pelzel
Publisher: Storey Publishing
Book Publication: 2012

In October 2012, there was a news story about Americans wasting 40 per cent of their food due in part to spoilage. The numbers are likely similar for Canadians. With this in mind, how much spoiled food do you toss in the green bin every day? If you could preserve your food yourself would you buy and discard less?

Then there’s the issue of living in Canada; one worries about getting the freshest possible local ingredients in winter. (It’s lovely having tomatoes in February, but the high number of food miles on these imports makes them environmentally unfriendly.)

Hence the cure for wintertime blues, Preserving Wild Foods, is a celebration of canning, curing, smoking, and pickling food that you might find on your local travels in warmer weather. Picking one’s own fruits and vegetables ensures that the food is the freshest possible and you can be reasonably sure of its history in terms of pesticides.

Preserving Wild Foods is composed of five parts: The first part, dealing with coastal foraging, looks at fish and various sea vegetables, with recipes for Irish moss cocktails and salt cod. The next part features food found in pastures and hedgerows, such as recipes for sloe gin from sloe plums and speckled tea eggs with star anise and ginger. In the gardens and fields section, you’ll learn how to make old-timey watermelon pickles and sweet-and-sour pearl onions. The fourth section – forest and woods – will make your mouth water for pecan and fennel seed brittle or candied angelica stems. The banks and wetlands part includes wild ramp and walnut pesto and that springtime staple, fiddleheads, which can be enjoyed all year long if you follow this recipe for pickled fiddlehead ferns.

Each recipe in Preserving Wild Foods features an introduction, sometimes more than a page long, that provides tips and suggestions. A lot of the recipes are multi-day or even multi-month projects (but some of these longer projects involve periodically checking for mould or turning bottles) – which gives you a good sense of the slow food that your ancestors would have made and enjoyed.

The meat recipes, of which there are a surprising number given the topic, deal sometimes with non-refrigerated preservation, so these meals are perfect for camping or emergency supplies. The book also has a number of equipment resources for the meat preparation and all the companies listed ship to Canada.

Interestingly, co-author Matthew Weingarten lives in New York City, but manages to find chamomile growing in sidewalk cracks and quince trees holding ground in front of new developments. North of the border, since the Cosmetic Pesticides Ban of 2009 Ontarians know all too well about the ease of finding dandelions, which one can make dandelion jelly from (ironically dandelions are not native to North America and were introduced by 17th-century immigrants). So foraging for food is not limited to rural excursions.

In addition to curing, canning, smoking, and pickling, Preserving Wild Foods also offers recipes on how to prepare meals with the preserved food.


Victoria Moorshead is an editor and writer, and a former staff member of Vitality Magazine.

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