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Wild food picker Henri Picard (Photo by Martin Jacobs)
Spirit of the Harvest:
Wild-food harvesting company provides 'Aboriginal catering'

2010-03-10
By Beverly Cox


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BuffaloRenowned food author Beverly Cox, winner of the James Beard cookbook award, a Julia Child award and a IACP cookbook award, and food editor for Native Peoples Magazine, contributes a monthly column and weekly recipes to TankaBar.com. The Spirit of the Harvest columns are published the second Wednesday of every month. Recipes from Beverly run on intervening Wednesdays.

In the woodland clearings and meadows of Quebec, oxeye daisies bud in May and provide a feast for the eyes and the palate. For Henri Picard (Huron-Wendat) and his band of wild-food pickers, by the time the daisies bloom, the picking season that began in late April and early May with the harvest of cattail hearts and fiddleheads is in full swing.

In 2000, Picard and his partner Danielle Bellange turned their love of wild-food harvesting into a career, launching the company Toka. The name comes from the Huron word for cranberry. Under the brand name "Delices Sauvages" (Wild Edibles), Toka produces and sells more than 30 products made from wild berries, fruits, mushrooms and vegetables picked in Canada. Some of the more unusual offerings are Balsam Fir Jelly, Milkweed Ketchup, Pickled Cattail Hearts and Ox-Eye Daisy Capers. In Quebec, the products are sold at the Montreal Botanical Garden and Huron Village in Quebec City.

Under the direction of Bellange's son, award-winning chef Laurent Tremblay, Toka has also provided "Aboriginal catering" for many high-profile events, including a reception for 225 Aboriginal people from 22 countries who were attending the World Summit on Forestry in 2004. The company has become known for imaginative hors d'oeuvres, like cattail hearts wrapped in buffalo jerky and smoked Arctic char served on slices of bannock bread and topped with oxeye-daisy buds.

About half of the 75 highly trained pickers who work directly with Picard are Aboriginal, and 80 percent of the suppliers for Toka's catering division are Aboriginally owned companies. Working with other small producers, Picard hopes to create an Aboriginal Food Producers Association that will make it easier for members to distribute and export their products.

Since picking wild foods takes both knowledge and experience, we asked Picard which wild foods would be a safe choice for beginners. He cautions that a picker must first be sure that the plants he or she plans to harvest are growing on land that has not been sprayed with pesticides. Ditches along roads and highways, for example, are often polluted by runoff and roadside maintenance herbicides. That said, one interesting, and easy to identify, choice for late-spring and early-summer gathering is oxeye daisy buds.

Oxeye daisy is a perennial member of the Asteraceae family, the same family as the sunflower. Common names for the plant include marguerite, field daisy and white daisy. Daisies are abundant in the Northeast, the Great Plains and the Pacific Northwest on both sides of the border. The flower heads are 1.5 to 2 inches across with yellow centers and 20 to 30 white petals radiating from the middle. They are borne individually on the tops of long, slender stems. Daisies are beautiful to look at and popular with wild-food gatherers, but ranchers and farmers consider the plant a pest because of it invasive nature. It is thought that oxeye daisies were first introduced to North America from Europe.

Oxeye daisy flower buds have a distinctive peppery flavor and slightly crisp texture. Use them as you would capers with smoked salmon, in a salad, in stuffing and to add flavor and texture to sauces. Only pick buds that are completely closed. If they have begun to open, they will continue to open after you have picked them. In eastern Canada, they are picked in May.

Daisy Flower Bud Capers


Sterilize small (4-ounce) canning jars and covers.

Prepare a brine by combining equal parts apple cider vinegar and water; add 1 tablespoon of kosher salt or pickling salt for each cup of liquid. Bring the brine mixture to a rolling boil.

Meanwhile, blanch the flower buds in a large pot of boiling water for 1 minute, then drain.

Fill the warm, dry, sterile jars with the blanched flower buds and cover with boiling brine, leaving about 1⁄2 inch of headroom at the top of the jars. Close the lids. Submerge the filled jars completely in boiling water and boil for 12 minutes.

Once processed, carefully lift out the jars with a jar lifter, and transfer them to a flat surface, which has been covered with a dry towel. With a clean cloth, gently wipe any water from the lids, being careful not to jostle the contents.

Let the jars sit for about 10 hours until they cool fully to room temperature. Store the unopened jars in a cool dry place or the refrigerator.

After opening, store in the refrigerator.

First Nations Bannock


Yield: Makes one 10-inch loaf, 6 servings

Ingredients


2 tablespoons vegetable shortening, divided
2 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons pure maple or birch syrup
4 cup milk or water

Instructions


Generously grease the bottom and sides of a 10-inch cast-iron skillet with 1 1⁄2 tablespoons shortening. Place the skillet on the middle rack of the oven and set the temperature at 400 degrees F.

In a large mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients. Cut in the butter and shortening until the mixture resembles coarse meal. With a fork, gradually stir in the syrup and 1⁄2 cup of the milk. If the dough seems dry, gradually add additional milk until it comes together. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until no longer sticky, 2 to 4 minutes.

Remove the hot skillet from the oven. Press the dough into the hot pan and quickly and carefully turn it once, to coat both sides with melted shortening. Return skillet to oven and bake for 15 to 20 minutes until the bread is golden brown. Turn the bannock out onto a rack to cool.

Smoked Char Hors d'oeuvres


With a serrated bread knife, slice cooled bannock into slender wedges. Then slice the wedges in half to make 2 pieces, about 1⁄2-inch thick.

Spread the cut side of the bread thinly with softened butter or cream cheese.

Top with slices of smoked Arctic char (or Atlantic salmon) and garnish with daisy flower bud capers.



Beverly Cox is the food editor of Native Peoples Magazine and a former food editor and director of food styling for Cook's Magazine. She holds a Grand Diplome from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and apprenticed with Gaston LeNotre.

Beverly has written 13 cookbooks, including Spirit of the Harvest, North American Indian Cooking, winner of the James Beard and IACP cookbook awards in 1992, and Spirit of the West, Cooking from Ranch House and Range, winner of a Julia Child award in 1997, and Spirit of the Earth, Native Cooking from Latin America, an IACP cookbook award finalist in 2002, all co-authored with food photographer Martin Jacobs. Their most recent book is Eating Cuban, 120 Authentic Recipes from the Streets of Havana to American Shores.

Beverly and her husband, Gordon Black, an architect turned rancher, live on the historic Eagle Rock Ranch in Northern Colorado where her great grandfather homesteaded in 1872. Beverly teaches hands-on cooking classes for small groups who want to combine cooking with the experience of visiting a working cattle ranch.

You can contact Beverly at BeverlyCox@TankaBar.com


For more information about Beverly's cookbooks featuring Native American recipes:

Body, Mind and Spirit: Native Cooking of the Americas

Spirit of the Harvest: North American Indian Cooking

Spirit of the Earth: Native Cooking from Latin America

For more information about Native Peoples Magazine: Native Peoples



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