The Métropolitain

The joy’s of Quebec’s wild, indigenous ingredients

By Nancy Hinton on June 12, 2008

The fiddleheads have been coming in by the potato sac this spring, officially kicking off the season of wild edibles in my kitchen at Les Jardins Sauvages. For those of you unfamiliar with Les Jardins, it’s a food and restaurant partnership between myself and my forager-par-excellence partner François Brouillard, a foremost field expert on Quebec’s wild ingredients. We’re located just on the way to Rawdon—about 45 minutes drive from Montreal.  We serve a terroir inspired cuisine to local gourmands and adventurous diners from all over on the weekends; the focus is on wild ingredients, game and the best local and artisanal Quebec products.. 

We’ve been blessed this year with enough wild greens to assemble a fantastic spring salad mix that includes live-forever, violet leaves and flowers, daisy, cat’s tongue, spring beauty and linden. I have stinging nettle to make soup, day lily sprouts, some wild ginger and crinkleroot to play with too. We’ve spotted the first morels (still in the ground, properly guarded) but all in all—c’est parti! With the cooler over-flowing it’s time to get infusing, pickling, drying, blanching and putting up, embarking on the oh so familiar, constant rush of the growing season, which is all about trying to keep up with processing the pickings amidst serving customers.

This is also when menu planning becomes so engaging—even difficult because there is so much to work with. I launched an elaborate menu for May but my new recipe additions sing spring to another degree because we’re finally really living it now. I was so inspired by my time in the woods for the first picks, and buoyed by all the green and the signs of the local abundance to come—spring is in definitely in my step! The first roadside stands selling local asparagus have appeared too, an essential part of spring, and I’m pumped because I’m done teaching, ready to devote myself to new creations for Les Jardins Sauvages.


François des Bois goes to the market!

As of Victoria day week-end (or la Fête des Patriotes), my accomplice in all things wild and edible (François) will be at Jean Talon market from Thursday to Monday selling his wild edibles. His stand will be next to the Cochon tout rond in the specialty aisle, and will have fiddleheads, wild spring mesclun mix (the greens mentioned above), edible wild flowers, eventually more greens and wild mushrooms (as they’re in season) as well as his 'new and improved' line of products (mustards, oils, salts, vinaigrettes, etc.) and flavoured butters. I might even make some soup and sous-vide dishes at some point that will be available there too.

Of course, it means more volume, work and organization, and that I need to be at the table champêtre all the time, but François loves the market; it’s where he belongs (when he’s not in the woods), and most importantly, more people will have easy access to wild edibles. Chefs can stop by and stock up. Generations of Quebecois can rediscover the traditions and flavours of their ancestors in eating wild greens… And of course everyone can give their immune system a boost in the process.

François won’t be selling anything that isn’t abundant, or that he doesn’t know where and how it was picked. Things like wild ginger and crinkleroot will not be available because although we use them, the government has them on their endangered list. François alleges that this is false (something that’s very clear in our forest), and when picked properly (i.e. not pulling out the roots) these varieties actually prosper. But still, he doesn’t want to cause controversy or create a demand that would encourage the less-aware to go harvesting carelessly. In some cases, eating a species keeps it alive: in other circumstances, popularity can definitely be detrimental.


All things asparagus

André Cormier (our local guy) had his first asparagus out on May 9th, exceptionally early this year; normally they come after, not at the same time as the fiddleheads. But what an exciting time the first Quebec asparagus sighting is! Just about every night since I’ve eaten asparagus in some form. My favourite method with asparagus is sautéed in a hot pan (or grilled) with olive oil, then deglazed with a good balsamic or lemon, salt and pepper. Sometimes gratinéed with a hard cheese afterwards (like Valbert, Tomme de Kamouraska, Alfred de Compton, Piave or Parmesan) I also like it steamed or blanched with a bit of butter for a more ‘au naturel' taste, maybe with a poached egg and tomato. Another option is having it accompanied by a vinaigrette with EVO, lemon zest and almonds, or yet another favourite is thrown into a sauté of mushrooms as they finish cooking. Now that the green is a given, I'll be moving on to Daigneault's white asparagus this week.