Food: Bill’s Wild Food

If you recall a while back I wrote about my BFF (best foraging friend) Bill.billwild1

And he’s still my only foraging friend.  He gathers, smokes (not cigarettes or cigars), condenses, dries, dehydrates, bakes, liquifies, juices, turns fruit into leather and fills jars full of delectable delights of things you will most likely never find anywhere else.  At least not done with the same amount of know-how, zest and love for foraging from start to finish.

It began as a hobby (Bill is a Foodie and a superb cook) but now his stuff is in demand in Vancouver Island local markets and other food suppliers.  Not surprising since everything is made from scratch, in small batches and with the utmost attention to detail.

He was going to collaborate with monthly posts on this blog sharing stories of adventures from the wild world of foraging.  Instead he’s just been way too busy picking, harvesting and filling orders, etc. so we’ll have to wait.  But in the meantime to whet your appetite or curiosity I’ll share a few things I recently purchased after having tasted them.forage3We might as well refer to it as Bill’s Wild West Coastforage2

Sampling:

Descriptions by Bill

Saanich Peninsula Medlar Jelly – a rare and delicious jelly produced from Medlar’s planted in the 40’s and 50’s in North Saanich, BC.

Wallace Road Sloe Berry Jelly -these fall berries are members of the plum family and produce a tart jelly, great for serving with turkey, bbq chicken and the like.

Willis Point Arbutus Berry Jam -I only recently discovered that those pretty red berries on magnificent Arbutus are edible. I harvested those within reach and wished I could get higher for more.

Fernwood *Goumi berry Jam  – this super-food Asian berry was growing in a hedge in town. A forager friend called me… I answered her call.

Oldfield Road Kiwi Jam  – I had never seen Kiwi Fruit growing before and I had never heard of Kiwi Jam. I was given access to these super sweet ones in January and it is a really great interesting jam. Mosi (a fantastic bakery) used it in their Danish pastries for a few months.

Okanagan Syrah Grape Jelly  – A friend from my time in the wine industry gave me access to Syrah Grapes in the Le Vieux Pin Vineyard. It is a delicious jelly that is less sweet, with a touch of that pepperiness that is characteristic of Syrah wine.

Wild Red Huckleberry Jam – These are tasty little explosions of flavor wonderful sweetness… but they are really small and take hours to pick! These are from the new growth areas between Shirley and Jordan River.

Elderberry Jam (or jelly – the writing was blurry) soaked in single malt scotch.

Willis Point Road Rosehip Jelly – Rosehips are very plentiful around here but they are a lot of work to process. This jelly was viewed as a golden treasure by some of my Instagram forager friends back East.

Oregon Grape Jelly with Lavender  – Before I moved to the coast I had never heard of these tangy berries. I harvested these near Munn Road before the effects of the drought dries them up. This is very good with cheeses and cold cuts.

Oldfield Road Italian Plum Jam -This is a very good jam on toast, but also served with cheeses.

Oldfield Road Brandied Cherries – I was given access to several cherry trees with both dark red and golden varieties, some of which I have had soaking in fine cognac since June. $15.00 per 500ml jar

Cowichan Bay Sweet Cherry Chutney – I had access to so many cherries, and they were ripening so fast… I found this recipe for sweet cherry chutney and gave it a whirl.      $14.00 per 500 ml jar

Including:

Winter Chanterelle Powder        $ 20.00 per 25 mg.

Dried Golden Chanterelles          $ 8.00 per packet (13 to 15 g)

Dried Lobster Mushrooms          $ 18.00 per packet (30 to 35 g)

Dried Hickory Plums, Dried Hickory Pears & Dried Cherries    $6.00 – $ 8.00 (per 75g package)

Hawthorn Hazelnut Candy      $3.00  (sold out)

Hickory Syrup  (sold out – also great as a glaze for salmon).

Spruce Tip Infused Honey – $5.00 per 125 ml jar

General Prices for jams and jellies (depending on demand) runs anywhere from  $5.00 – $7.50 per 125 ml jar up to $12.50 per 250 ml jar

*Darn; I thought he said gummy berries!  I would definitely be out there foraging for gummies.

It was so hard to choose from because everything was so good…..so I bought them all!

Basket of Goodies
Basket of Goodies

Food: to Forage or not to Forage

There is no question that foraging for anything edible is not a simple task. It’s a thing.  I mean it’s a lifestyle choice – a healthy one if you are so inclined.  

One with nature, love being in the wild or be....wild.
You are one with nature, love being in the wild or are just plain….wild.

To be totally self-sufficient food wise it would take a lot of work and dedication and you’d have to really know when to look for what, where to look for it and then what to do with it once you find it.  You must be adventurous, outdoorsy and know what the heck you’re doing.  Most likely you’re also a foodie. It’s not for everyone.

Freshly picked wild cherries
Freshly picked wild cherries

Our ancestors who might have been foodies back in the day had to hunt and gather (or forage as we like to call it) like wild animals do in order to survive.  It wasn’t a choice so much as a necessity.  Survival of the fittest.  We lucky folks don’t have to, but lately foraging has piqued my attention and interest.  Even a few of my urban neighbours are getting into it – albeit lightly.  One has chickens (so fresh eggs for sure) and another is building a terrarium to grow edible plants. I also have friends who have fresh figs, other fruits and trees with bay leaves so sometimes you’ll find me foraging around in their garden.

I really like the idea of having a garden to grow vegetables.  It’s the absolute best but since I can hardly keep fresh herbs alive for long I’ll scratch that idea.  Surprisingly enough two herbs I totally ignored all winter long have survived together in one pot – thyme and oregano.  Rosemary is pretty easy too but let’s face it – that does not a complete meal make.  Many of the plants that we know as weeds are both edible and nutritious, and some plants that grow wild have been cultivated into some of the foods we know today (for example, parsnips, garlic and carrots).

Taylor is guarding the bucket of cherries
Taylor guards a bucket of cherries

If there is one fresh fruit (that resembles a vegetable) I really miss eating – it has to be farm fresh Rose tomato.  Large, meaty & delicious.  I remember my dad eating them like apples. I don’t remember eating a good tomato since I was a teenager – too many years of eating only acceptable tomatoes at best that are usually made tastier with a generous drizzling of balsamic.  Pesticides are to blame and early picking.  We really don’t know what we’re eating.

But now I know Bill.  He’s my first foraging friend. He’s also my only foraging friend until I gather more. He refers to himself as a novice forager but from what I’ve witnessed through photos and in person it seems pretty serious to me.  At least a serious hobby. Bill’s Instagram feed is usually chock-full of some type of mushroom, berry or plant.  Also, he’s constantly making jam and lots of other interesting and/or unusual edibles.  Guess you can say he shops local.

Cherry Fruit Leather
Cherry Fruit Leather

I asked if he would mind talking a bit and educating readers about the process for this blog and send a few photos.  Because Bill makes almost everything from scratch and lots of it he finds in the forest. He doesn’t scavage around garbage bins like bears do looking for food just in case you’re one of those who think that’s how people forage.  But I know you guys are more sophisticated than that.  But to let you know how much I knew about foraging, when I first found out Bill was gathering and cooking up hedgehogs I thought it was the animal, not the mushroom.  I was about to dump him as a friend.

When I called him he was high up on a tree not getting high but he still answered the call.

In Bill’s Words:

Yes, I was really up at tree. I was on a 12 foot ladder borrowed from a building nearby. I was harvesting fabulous tiny cherries from the trees growing wild between the road and a parking lot about 1.5 kilometres from my home. These little black cherries are so intensely flavoured compared to cultivated ones!  I continued picking until I had about ten litres, my dog Taylor patiently waiting below. They were too small to use a cherry pitter on, so I boiled them for a few minutes, and after they were cool, put them through my hand crank food mill. I ended up with about four litres of very flavourful puree. I made a big batch of delicious jam with most of it, and then decided to try my hand at some fruit leather just using honey instead of sugar. It took about five days to dry enough, but it was worth the wait.  

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Me: I can hardly wait for MY jars of jam to be personally delivered!

Okay we just got a little taste of what it’s all about. Bill is a busy guy but we spoke about collaborating on more food posts with stories & photos from his adventures in foraging.  Stay tuned…bill5

All Cherry Photos: Bill Milliken