Category Archives: Food

Restaurant Review: Copper Branch

Copper Branch PoutineIn honour of Poutine Week, my sister and I headed over to Copper Branch recently in order to try their portobello poutine with miso sauce.

Copper Branch: Vegan Fast Food

I had never heard of Copper Branch prior to this foray.  The company was established last year and is thus a newcomer to the vegan restaurant scene.  It is native to Montreal, and aims to expand globally through franchise.  It’s off to a good start, as it already boasts three locations: two in Montreal, and one in Brossard. They bill themselves as a healthy, vegan, environmentally responsible alternative to fast food.  They also deliver.

The Original Location (on Bishop): Atmosphere

My sister and I visited the original location on Bishop below St. Catherine.  It is a little bit out of the way, the sign isn’t super prominent, and from the outside it doesn’t really look like a restaurant, which made it sort of hard to find. I did notice the terrasse in front later on, so I guess that in the summer it is easier to spot.  Upon entering, one is struck by the rather odd juxtaposition between the fast food-style menus and counter setup, and the decor (faux-copper ceilings, copper pipes).

We ordered at the counter, paid, and sat down.  When our poutines were ready a few minutes later, we went to pick them up at counter.  The food came in large ceramic bowls, but the tea I ordered came in a take-out cup.  The cutlery was plastic, and in terms of salt, individual packets were available.  I’m not sure I understand the reasoning behind deciding to use real bowls for the food, and disposable drinking containers and plastic cutlery.  Maybe they couldn’t decide on their priorities so decided to hedge their bets?  Maybe they wanted to make their food seem classier, but weren’t prepared to go all the way with the silverware?  I don’t know.

The Copper Branch Poutine

On to the poutine!  The best thing about it was the fries, which were nice and potato-y.  On their website it says that they avoid frying, so it’s possible the fries were of the oven-variety, but in any case, they were good.  The miso sauce was rather thick, and wasn’t very flavourful.  It most certainly lacked salt and pepper.  The portobello mushrooms were few and far between.  The vegan cheese added absolutely nothing to the equation, neither flavour nor texture.  To those of you who buy daiya vegan cheese on a regular basis…do you actually enjoy the flavour of this product?  Or do you use it only for presentation’s sake?  On the whole the poutine was rather soggy and bland.  It lacked the textural interplay of a traditional poutine, and thus wasn’t very fun to eat.

Vegan Superiority Paradox

Judging by this one dish, Copper Branch, like most of the vegan restaurants I’ve eaten at in Montreal, seems to the guilty of something I’d like to call the vegan superiority paradox.

vegan superiority paradox:

The belief that because one is serving food which is ethically superior (whether because it’s vegan, sustainable, fair-trade, eco-friendly, healthy, etc.), one does not need to strive for culinary greatness.

Paradoxically, for now, at least, these companies/restaurants seem to be right in this belief.  Although the food served at vegan restaurants isn’t, in most cases, as tasty or as good (flavourwise) as equivalent dishes served in regular restaurants, they are still popular, and in most cases do very well.  This is either because their customers lack alternatives, or because they believe that healthy food should be bland.

It is a good thing that more vegan and vegetarian restaurants are opening up and that the public is waking up to the problems with our food supply.  I do find it saddening that so many of these restaurants seem to feel that ‘okay is good enough’ when it comes to flavour.  I find it saddening because I know that vegan food need not be bland.  It can be delicious.  Build some flavour.  Add some seasoning.  It’s not that hard.

Hopefully one day I will finally have the opportunity to open my own restaurant so the I can prove that to the world.

‘Til next time…

Making Tempeh at Home: My First Attempt

After finding a source for Tempeh starter recently, I had the opportunity to try making Tempeh.  I used the recipe from Sandor Ellix Katz’s book, ‘Wild Fermentation‘, and have also culled some info from his new book, ‘The Art of Fermentation’ to round things out:

2 1/2 cups soybeans

2 TBSPs vinegar

1 tsp Tempeh Spore (Actually I used 1 of the four packets…I only noticed after I was ready to add the spore that they recommend 1 packet for 2 cups of soybeans)

Step One: De-hulling the Soybeans

The beans must be de-hulled in order to provide a greater surface area for the spore to grow on.  If you have a grain mill, this is a great time to use it.  You don’t want to make soy flour, however, so be sure to use the coarsest setting.  If you don’t have a grain mill, you can soak the beans, cook them until Milling the soybeansMilling the soybeanssoftened slightly, and then mash them up in order to loosen the hulls.

 

 

 

Step Two: Cooking the Beans

Cooking soybeans

If you haven’t already started cooking your beans, now is the time to do so.  They should be boiled until you are just able to bite through them, not until they are fully cooked.  It is important to avoid overcooking them, as this will cause them to become mushy, which will result in a very tightly packed tempeh cake which will, in turn, result in a lack of space between the beans, and thus, a lack of oxygen available to the tempeh mold, hindering its growth.  The soybeans should take between a half hour and 45 minutes to cook to the ideal degree of doneness, but cooking time can vary due to the age of the beans and their size (or the size of the grind), so it’s important to keep and eye on them.

As the beans cook the hulls should rise to the top of the water. They may be skimmed off if desired, but removing them is unnecessary.

Step Three: Strain and Dry the Beans

Once they are cooked enough, strain the soy beans, doing your best to remove as much water as possible.  PrepareDrying the beans a baking sheet with a clean, dry towel and spread the beans out upon it.  You can place the tray near a fan to dry them further, or use another towel to pat them dry.  Excess water can lead to bacterial growth as opposed to the desired mold growth.

Step Four: Inoculation

Put the beans into a bowl, and add the vinegar.  Mix it in well.  Vinegar is added to the mix in order to give the tempeh spore an advantage over bacteria present in the air.  Katz goes into some detail in his new book about how the traditional method of making tempeh involves two distinct fermentations, the first of which acidifies the beans.  The beans are soaked for 24 hrs, which, in a tropical climate, is long enough to sour them.  Though the vinegar method works, Katz seems to be of the opinion that the traditional soaking method may be worth the effort (though, at lower temperatures, one would have to find a way to speed up the process).  I may try that next time.

Next, it is time to add the Tempeh spore.  Make sure the beans are no hotter than body temperature, then add your starter and mix well.

Step Five: Forming the Cakes

Produce BagsSoybean cake

For this step you’ll need large plastic bags with holes in them.  I’m using produce bags, because they come with air vents, but you can poke some holes in large zip-locks instead.  Put your mix into the bags.

 

 

 

Step Six: Incubation

The tempeh needsIncubation set-up to be incubated at between 85 and 90 degrees F (29 to 32 C).  Unless you have something specially designed for this kind of thing, you will likely need to use your oven for incubation.  An oven cord thermometer is most useful type for this purpose, but any type of thermometer can be used to check the temperature.  Though the lowest setting on your oven will be too hot for incubation, you can fiddle with the temp inside your oven by turning the light on and cracking the oven door more or less until you find a setup that works for you.

When your oven is at the proper temperature, place the tempeh inside.  I put it on a baking tray, but recommend you place it on a rack, as the underside of the cake was not properly colonized by mold, likely due to a lack of air circulation.

Incubation takes between 20 and 30 hours.  During the second half the fermentation period the tempeh will start to generate heat, so make sure to keep an eye on the temperature.

Making Tempeh (after 18 hrs)

Making Tempeh (after 18 hrs)- close-upMaking Tempeh (after 22 hrs)Making Tempeh: Underside of Tempeh

The tempeh is ready when it has become a solid mat of beans, held together by a white mold.  It may have some black or gray mold around the air holes…these are new spores forming.  It should smell mushroomy. As I’ve already mentioned, I had a bit of trouble with my tempeh because it did not colonize on the underside, so I put it on a rack and put it back into the oven.  The cake got a bit more solid, but even though I left it to grow for another night, it never grew in completely.  It was a bit crumbly but I was still able to get it out of the bag in pretty much one piece.

 

Step Seven: StoringMaking Tempeh: Finished Tempeh

Remove the tempeh from the bag, and let it cool.  You can then cut it into pieces for storage.  Fresh tempeh will keep for about a week in the fridge.  Make sure not to stack the pieces in the fridge or the mold will continue to grow and will generate heat.  You can freeze the rest of it.

Step Eight: Eating!

The fresh teFried Tempehmpeh differed significantly in texture and in flavour compared to the Noble Bean tempeh I usually buy.  It was firm, instead of being soggy, and crisped up nicely when fried.  It had a pleasant mushroomy flavour and didn’t have the slight bitterness that I’ve come to associate with tempeh.  It made some fantastic tempeh bacon!  I haven’t yet Tempeh bacontried defrosting any of the tempeh I froze, so I’m not sure how much freezing the tempeh affects its flavour and texture.

Making your own tempeh can save you quite a bit of money, as well, as the cost of the ingredients is quite low.  According to my calculations, it was about 1/6 of the price oFried Tempeh Baconf store-bought (about $4 for 240g).

My next adventure in tempeh making will be soy-free, for my mom who doesn’t eat soy.

Happy Fermenting!

Update:  The defrosted tempeh is a little soggier than the freshly made stuff, but its flavour and texture are still superior to that of store-bought.

Where to Find Fermentation Cultures in Montreal?

Cultures for Health Products Available at Mycoboutique

Good news, readers!  After many hours of fruitless google searching, I have finally stumbled upon a store which sells Tempeh Tempeh Starter and Kefir Grainsspores and Kefir grains:  MycoBoutique.  Both water and milk Kefir grains are available.  I decided to go with the water grains, since I’m interested in doing both dairy and non-dairy ferments, and from what I’ve read it is fairly easy to convert the grains from one medium to another.  The brand they are selling is Cultures for Health. Since the the labels on the products are entirely in English, I’m guessing that selling these products here is not exactly permis, so please, refrain from telling any buddies you may or may not have at the Office about this. Though Mycoboutique’s prices for these products are higher than prices on the Cultures for Health website, when you factor in the exchange rate, shipping cost, and the opportunity to avoid playing russian roulette with customs and ridiculously expensive brokerage fees, I think you’ll find the markup reasonable.

VitalCâlin and Koji

They also carry a product called VitalCâlin which contains a culture of Aspergillus oryzae…which, though it is not being marketed as such, can likely be used to make koji (a necessity if you want to try making miso or sake at home). Though koji is defined on Wikipedia as simply ‘the common name of the fungus Aspergillus oryzae’, a recipe that calls for koji usually refers to rice that has been inoculated with the fungus. A spore starter which consisted of the spores on rice flour, on the other hand, is usually referred to as koji-kin.

VitalCal is made by a Quebec company, Aliments Massawippi who specializes in organic miso. Considering the fact that they’ve been around since 1999, I don’t understand why I’ve never heard of them before! I’ll be on the lookout for their products in the future, though. There’s a list of sales points on their web site for anyone who’s interested…unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to include any stores in Verdun!

Anyway…I’m currently incubating my first batch of Tempeh…I’ll let you guys know how it goes.

Happy fermenting!

Paris Cheeses

Of course, if you go to Paris, you simply must go to a cheese shop and buy a selection of beautiful cheeses. Here are some of the ones I tried…

Rocamadour cheese

Pungent, sharp, and creates a strange sensation at the back of the throat.

Crottin Super Meme cheese

Crottin Super Meme: a fresh tasting, unctuous raw milk goat cheese

Dome de Vezelay cheese

Dome de Vezelay: creamy, a little bit goaty…leaves a tingle on the tongue…would be really nice in a dessert (like cheese cake).

Bleu d'Auvergne cheese

Bleu d’Auvergne: semi-firm,  not too pungent blue with some creaminess. Good!

Compte 12 mois cheese

Compte 12 mois: If you’ve never tried Compte I’d say it’s like a sophisticated swiss cheese.  I’d recommend going for the 18 month old, though,  as the favour is a bit more pronounced.

Wild Blueberry Scones (Gluten-free)

Wild Blueberry Scones (Gluten-Free)

Recipe from ‘The Allergy-Free Cook Bakes Bread‘. The texture was nice, but I did find they could have been sweeter (not surprising, considering the small amount of sugar the recipe calls for). I did make a few modifications: I used butter instead of vegan spread, and I sprinkled some raw sugar on top of the scones before baking.  I didn’t flatten the scones too much before baking (a good thing,  since they didn’t rise all that much). Finally,  I found the yield was off and would have resulted in giant scones,  so I cut the dough into more pieces.

Orange Spice Cookies (Gluten-free)

image

Recipe from ‘The Allergy-Free Cook Bakes Cakes and Cookies‘.  These turned out really well, both flavour and texture-wise.  I did find they needed to bake quite a bit longer than the recipe recommended.   The only modification I made was sprinkling the cookies with a bit of maple sugar before baking.

Update:  It turns out the baking time may have been accurate after all.  Even though I stored them in a tin, they hardened up quite a bit in the 1 1/2 days between the time I baked them, and the time I served them.  They were still good, but they were quite crunchy!

Restaurant Review: Bier Markt

MenuTonight I attended my first ever Concordia Alumni Relations event: ‘an evening of beer tasting and food pairing at Bier Markt’. Though I had never heard of Bier Markt before registering for the event, I have since learned that it is an Ontario-based chain whose Montreal location has been open for a couple of months. It is located on Rene Levesque where high-end steakhouse Queue De Cheval used to be. Having never been to Queue De Cheval, I can’t say how the restaurant’s appearance has been altered since that time, but I can say that the decor is quite nice. I found the bricks on the ceiling especially interesting.bricks Bier Markt

The place was quite busy when I arrived at about six. I checked my coat at the (free) coat check down stairs, then headed upstairs and checked in at the Concordia table. I eyed the menu which was table d’hôte style for the group and included 3 courses with a beer ‘pairing’ to go with each course, all for a flat fee of $30 which included tax and tip. This was quite a deal, especially when one takes a look at their regular prices. I also scanned the beer menu, which includes over 150 beers, about a third of which are on tap.

Palm Speciale Belgian Ale

Palm Speciale AleThe waiter who took our order was nice enough, and took the time to give us his recommendations food-wise. We received our first beer, the Palm Speciale Belgian Ale. Its menu description reads: ‘Brewed approximately 40 miles outside Brussels in Steenhuffel, Belgium, Palm is a well-balanced, approachable amber Ale that is full-flavoured up front and finishes with notes of spice and citrus.’ I thought it had a good, if not particularly remarkable, flavour,  some bitterness, and altogether was very drinkable. As it was only a half-pint of beer, and the wait for the first course wasn’t short, I drank about half of it before the soup arrived.

Bier Markt Mushroom Soup

The mushroom soup consisted mostly of an oily, lukewarm broth, which was faintly mushroomy in mushroom soupflavour. There were some sliced mushrooms (mostly button) in the soup as well, and some parsley floating on top. Needless to say, it wasn’t very good. I think I could have produced something similar in about five minutes with a mushroom stock cube and some button mushrooms. Okay, so to play the devil’s advocate here: I know that groups can be a pain, and that maybe the cooks thought the people in the group wouldn’t really appreciate/pay attention to the food. However, this soup is on the regular menu (so they should know how to make it), and soup is the easiest thing to prep a large quantity of ahead of time. For those reasons, I think the devil’s going to have to accept defeat, here. Since no beer pairing could have enhanced this soup, the beer-food pairing was a fail.

Service & Beer Pairing Gripes

Service started to get spotty at this point. The wait for mains was, again, not short, but the real issue was that our beers arrived when we were half-way through our main courses. This was an especially glaring faux-pas considering the nature of the event. It is apparent to anyone who has ever poured draft beer that (surprise!) it takes time to properly pour draft beer. Yes, they were busy. However, this problem could have been avoided by either pairing a bottled beer with the main, or offering different beer pairings for each of the three options. Pairing the same beer with each of the three different mains doesn’t really make sense anyway- if you take food-beer pairing seriously- which Bier Markt doesn’t really seem to do. In any case, the food should really have been held until the beer made it to the table.

Bier Markt Main: Salmon

SalmonAs for the food itself, considering the fact the I don’t eat meat, I was forced to choose the Atlantic salmon, something I don’t usually eat due to both sustainability and health issues. That said, the portion was large, and the fish was properly cooked and seasoned, though some fresh herbs and perhaps a wedge of lemon to give it some zip would not have been out of place. The tomatoes were fine, though not flavourable enough to add much to the equation, and the garlic chips, though properly cooked, were too few in number to enhance the salmon.  The quinoa cakes were good, though they also could have used more punch, and the bok choy and wilted spinach were fine…but unremarkable. Concerning the proportions of the dish, I could have done with a smaller portion of fish, only one quinoa cake, and more vegetables.

Erdinger Weissbier

When I finally received my pint of Erdinger Weissbier, I found it quite enjoyable. The menu description reads: ‘This Wheat Bier Erdinger Weissbiercomes from Erding in the heart of Bavaria. Erdinger Weissbier has a beautiful golden-straw colour that owes its Champagne-like effervescence to keg fermentation. Brewed according to the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516, Erdinger is an excellent match with seafood or chicken dishes.’ While it is easily the most bitter wheat beer I’ve ever tasted, it also has some of the lightness and sweetness one expects from wheat beers. While I found it quite enjoyable on its own, I wouldn’t say it went particularly well with the salmon.

Früli Strawberry Wheat Ale

Früli Strawberry Wheat AleThe next beer to arrive was the Früli Strawberry Wheat Ale. Its menu description reads: ‘Früli is a unique blend of high-quality, lightly hopped Belgian White Bier and pure strawberries. This all-natural Bier is a soft, refreshing indulgence that is
perfect as an aperitif, with a salad, or even as a dessert’. The intensity of the strawberry flavour was actually surprising. It reminded me of Fragoli, a wild strawberry liqueur. It definitely makes an interesting dessert pairing.

Chocolate Cake

The dessert itself, however, left a lot to be desired. I chose the chocolate cake, seeing as how late February is not exactly the season for strawberries in Montreal. It was okay, though I ate it more out a sense of duty than anything else. Though described as being a dark chocolate cake, the depth of flavour just wasn’t there, and I could taste no hint of mocha.

Chocolate Cake

If coffee or tea was eventually offered or not, I don’t know, but by the time I left, it still hadn’t been. Having only visited Bier Markt this once, I can’t comment on any of the other menu items, but, personally, I’d recommend steering clear of the food. If I do go back, it will be for the beer, and perhaps the oysters (of which they offer four different kinds).

‘Till next time!

Restaurant Reviews & The Industry in General

I’ve struggled with the idea of posting in-depth reviews of restaurants on here for a while, due to the following reasons:

1) I know that working as a cook can be difficult, and don’t want to unduly criticize anyone.

2) I wasn’t sure whether I should risk being ostracized for any potentially negative remarks I might possibly make.

However, presumably, there are people out there (like you) who are interested in my opinion. My opinion represents my view of an experience I’ve had, and since someone else may have an entirely different experience, their opinion may diverge quite violently from my own…and that’s okay. What is important to remember is that my opinion is just that; nothing more, nothing less.

In regards to the second reason listed above, well, I highly doubt I’ll ever want to work in another restaurant in this city (as a cook) unless they magically start paying their employees decent wages and stop taking them for granted. I don’t know of any other industry where a degree, that takes a year of full-time schooling to obtain, often results in a starting salary of $10/hr, zero benefits, no breaks, a dangerous work environment, and no respect from one’s employer. I don’t know if things are better for cooks in other countries, but here in Montreal (and, from what I’ve read, the rest of Canada and the States) I have to say that cooking is an unsustainable industry. A wage of between $10 and $14/hr just isn’t enough to live off of, especially considering the lack of benefits. You may be able to pay your expenses (if you keep them to a bare minimum) but forget about things like saving for retirement, having children, or buying a house.

If cooking is a trade, then cooks should be making $20/hr and receive benefits like workers do in other trades. Since restaurant owners are notoriously cheap, greedy, and crooked, expecting their employees to work long hours while trying to screw them out of the little holiday and overtime pay to which they are legally entitled (and often succeeding), the only way this will ever happen is though provincial or nationwide unionization. Until then, cooking should stop being touted as a trade or a ‘career’ and instead be looked upon as an alternative to working as a cashier (something that pays a similar wage, but requires minimal knowledge or skill).

Though there are many people who will tell you that ‘you don’t go into cooking to get rich’, fewer people will tell you just how low the pay is or how bad the working conditions are. One often has to deal with sweltering heat, broken equipment (that the restaurant owner doesn’t want to pay to get fixed), slippery floors, terrible wait staff, plate shortages, and sociopathic co-workers, to name but a few things. I could go on, but thinking all this over, again, is starting to bring me down.

So, for the reasons I’ve already mentioned, I recommend you only go into cooking if:

1) You really don’t know what else to do (though I suggest you think long and hard until you can think of a few options)
2) You’re willing to slog it out for 10 years or so, work constantly, toot your own horn, and stomp over anyone who gets in your way until you’re finally able to secure a position as executive chef somewhere
3) You are, or want to become, an alcoholic and/or drug addict, and need a job where your boss will look the other way as long as you show up and do some work
4) You’re a workaholic who doesn’t like money
5) You just want to get some experience before starting your own restaurant/bakery/food truck, etc. (Save up some money first and be prepared for the worst)
6) You know someone who can hook you up with a job that pays well (overseas, or possibly at an airport or hotel)
7) You are a masochist, and especially enjoy it when you’re working hard, trying to do ten things at once, and one of your co-workers walks by and tells you that your technique is flawed, because you are not doing it the same way Escoffier’s grandmother did it back in the nineteen hundreds.

So, in conclusion, I know that there are many people out there who love cooking, and I love cooking too…but I hate ‘the business’ as it is called. I don’t see an reason why skilled, hardworking, passionate employees should be payed an unsustainable wage and forced to deal with dangerous working conditions, and abusive employers (and coworkers) in order to do the job they love doing. Many cooks seem to regard these negative working conditions as a badge of honour, or as an example of their commitment or toughness…but this most likely just a justification they need to make to themselves in order to compensate for their reality. If they were offered a higher salary and better working conditions, while still being able to produce a high caliber, quality product, I doubt many would refuse.

Best Potatoes for Oven Fries

oven friesThe other day while I was at IGA I came across something I had never seen before:  yellow-fleshed, red-skinned potatoes.  The brand name is Pisonneault, and they are grown here in Quebec- in Saint-Michel to be exact.  Though sadly not organic, the potatoes are very local, and are produced by a family farm.  Additionally, they make excellent oven fries!  I have never had such delicious, crispy oven fries.

Just follow these simple steps in order to make your own batch:Pinsonneault Potatoes

1) Procure your potatoes: remember, not all potatoes are created equally, and some varieties will make better oven fries than others due to starch content, etc.


2) Wascutting friesh potatoes, remove any eyes, then cut them up. I rarely peel my potatoes unless I’m making mashed potatoes or somesuch; there are a lot of nutrients in the skin, not to mention a lot of flavour. It’s also less work!

 

3) Soak your fries in water: Even if you only do it during the time it takes your oven to preheat, don’t skip thissoaking the fries step.  It will help make them extra crispy.  You can even leave them soaking in the fridge overnight, so that they’re ready to go the next day!

4) Preheat oven to 425 F, and season your fries.  You want a fairly hot oven for oven fries.  Once your oven is heating, it’s time to strain the fries, removing as much water as possible.  You can even dry them off with a towel, if you like.  I like to season them right on the baking sheet, but you can use a bowl if you want to be all proper.  You’re going to need oil, enough to coat all your fries well- I always use olive oil.  And you’re going to need salt.  You can also add pepper, paprika, smoked paprika, curry, oregano, cayenne- whatever spices you like.  Toss your fries to make sure the spices are evenly dispersed.

Seasoning the oven fries5)  If your fries are not already on a baking sheet, put them on one.  However, make sure that your baking sheet is large enough to ensure the fries are not crowded.  If you don’t have a large enough baking sheet, use two…or three.  This is important if you want crispy fries.

6)  Once your oven is hot enough, it’s time to get that (or those) baking sheet(s) in there.  About every 6 minutes or so, use a spatula to move the fries around so that the same side is not always facing the baking sheet.  After about twenty minutes, they should be done.

7) Enjoy!

Foraging Fun: Yarrow, Self-Heal, and Wild Strawberries

Self-healI’ve recently set my mind towards trying to identify which edible (or otherwise useful) plants I could discover growing close to home…whether in my boyfriend’s yard up north, or near my apartment in Verdun.  Getting started with plant identification may not be the easiest thing, but once you learn the name of a certain species you will likely have no problem identifying it when you come across it again, and indeed, if it is a weed, will start to see it everywhere!

Self-Heal

I had been wondering about one wildflower with very peculiar purple flowers which I had noticed grows all over my boyfriend’s lawn.  I was finally able to identify it by browsing through some wildflower photos on my wildflowers.com.  I originally checked my Peterson field guide, Edible Wild Plants: Eastern/Central North America, but I didn’t have any luck there.  It is called Self-Heal, or Prunella vulgaris, and is also known as All-heal.  After determining the plant’s name, I was easily able to do a all-healbit more research into its possible uses.  It is in the mint family,  and the entire plant is edible.  It contains the vitamins A, C, and K.  Medicinally, it can be used as a poultice to treat wounds, or as a tea for sore throat.  I collected some, and decided to use the flowers and stems to make tea, and to add the leaves to a salad.  The tea, which I drank cold, was quite flavourful and meaty- a bit like stinging nettle tea.  I found it tasted a bit mustardy, as well.  Overall, it was quite pleasant.  The leaves, when added to a salad, were a little unremarkable, but good.

Yarrow

Yarrow (or Achillea millefolium) is another plant which I have seen growing in abundance in the yard.  It has also traditionally been used to help heal wounds (hence another of its common names, ‘soldier’s woundwort’).

Yarrow Identification

yarrow-drawing
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Its fern-like, aromatic leaves, and distinctive flower centers (which are actually made up of small disc flowers) make it fairly easy to identify.  However, one must make sure to positively identify it, as one who is not paying much attention to its distinguishing characteristics may mistake it for poison hemlock.

poison hemlock
Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum)

Conium maculatum

Conium maculatum

In light of this, I would like to present you with two drawings which outline the distinguishing features of each plant. As you can see, they are quite different.  The leaves of the poison hemlock resemble those of carrot or parsley, while those of yarrow are fern-like.  The odor of the poison hemlock is rank, while that of yarrow leaves is pleasant and herbal.

Finally, hemlock flower stalks radiate from single points in umbels (like an umbrella) while yarrow flower stalks are more half-hazard, and, additionally, the yarrowappearance of the individual flowers is quite different.  If you are paying attention ( as you should always be when harvesting food from the wild), it is easy to spot the differences between the two.

Yarrow Uses

Besides its use in wound-healing, it has been used medicinally for pain-relief (for menstrual cramps, headaches, and toothaches), as an anti-inflammatory (to reduce fever), and as a treatment for colds and sore throats.  In the culinary arena, it has traditionally been used in beer-making, to make liquors and bitters, and also as a cooked vegetable and seasoning herb.

After tasting both the flowers and the leaves, I learned that the flowers were quite bitter, while the leaves were rather bitter-sweet and reminded yarrow tinctureme a bit of lavender or rosemary.  I decided to use the flowers to make a tincture, and use the leaves as an herb.  I figured I could use the tincture both as a bitter in cocktails, and medicinally.  The tincture worked out quite well, turning a pretty pale green and becoming quite bitter during the two weeks I let it steep.  I chopped up the yarrow leaves and mixed them with some chopped up onions and mushrooms to make a stuffing for fish, and that was quite good, also.  I’m not quite sure why it is no longer used as an herb, but I plan to collect more this summer, dry it, and use it both as a tea, and a seasoning.

wild strawberries growingWild Strawberries

On to wild strawberries.  These are also easy to identify, as they look just like the strawberries you buy at the store…only they’re much smaller, and more flavourful.  If you’ve ever grown strawberries (or seen them grow) you will immediately recognize their leaves.  In order to find more berries, one must simply follow the runners (shoots the plant produces in order to propagate itself).  The strawberries up north (in the Laurentians) usually appear in July.  They are not as sweet as commercially grown varieties, and their flavour is more concentrated.  Eat them as they are, orwild strawberries (runners) use them in any preparations you wish.  Also, I recently came across a blog, Wellpreserved.ca, which suggests drying strawberry hulls and using them to make tea.  I think that this is an excellent idea!  No waste!

Anyway, until next time, happy foraging!