There are generally two kinds of people when it comes to foraging. There are those who prefer to forage among the safety and sanitized rows of their local grocery stores and then there are those who are willing to go the extra mile…or two outside of their comfort zone. As a child growing up on the family farm my ‘foraging’ usually included pinching baby carrots and sweet peas from my mother’s garden but as I spent a lot of time outside in the bush or marshy area near our homestead, I also did a some wild foraging.
In the summer I picked tiny little wild strawberries found in the sunny ditches along our roadway and if I was really lucky I would find a dewberry or two. I remember the look on my grandma’s face when I brought her 4 cups of wild strawberries (which had taken me the better part of a day to find) so that she could make me a wild strawberry pie. I will never forget the taste of that pie either, the concentrated strawberry flavours were so strong that we all ended up with our mouths going a touch numb. In those same ditches were small ground cover plants with large heart shaped singular leaves growing on top of a stem. I found that if I broke the stem, there was a fibrous string that I could remove and chew and it tasted like mint. I don’t even remember how I discovered it but now that I can google it I’ve found that I was eating Wild Ginger (Asarum caudatum). Other than picking berries with my mom, auntie, and grandma that was the extent of my foraging. I’m kicking myself for not asking my grandparents more questions about plants that they grew up eating and using, though I do know that they would pick and boil shave grass into a poultice for sore feet. One of our retired neighbours (a great uncle by marriage) was a mycologist who wrote a book on Fungi of the Boreal Saskatchewan Forests during his retirement. I really regret not ever going on a mushroom forage with him but I was young then and really not much of a mushroom eater.
More recently I’ve taken to studying my urban surroundings for edibles. I would still love to learn how to forage for the most prized morels, ramps, and stinging nettles but for today I am happy to post about these lovely spruce buds I found in my front yard of all places. Does this mean these spruce buds are ‘hyper local’? Hubby and I kept a close eye on our front spruce this spring and I almost gave up until last week when he pointed out the window and said, “It’s time!”. He picked from a ladder and I picked from the safety of the ground until our neighbour came outside to ask us what the hell we were doing. We explained and he seemed to be okay with it, even mentioning that a lady comes to pick the rose hips from the bushes near his cabin every fall. I do think that everyone has a bit of a natural tendency to forage, that it comes from a deeper place within us and stems from when humans began as foragers and hunters. Enough about human evolution, lets get back to cooking!
Making these pickled spruce buds couldn’t have been easier. What really takes the most time is cleaning all the brown papery wrapping off of the young buds. Once that job is done, just pack them into clean jars, pour in a boiling brine (I made mine out of 1 cup water: 1/2 cup cider vinegar: 2 tsp salt), cover, and process in a hot water bath for 10-12 minutes.
Of course, you don’t have to pickle them. You could just make a simple syrup out of them and use them in a gin and tonic with smashed blueberries OR you could bake them in a pie, also with blueberries!