A few of the many wild edibles that are in season in and around Edmonton in early fall:
Highbush cranberries are traditionally picked after the first frost, when they are said to be sweetest. I don’t know if the freezing temperature itself does something to sweeten the fruit, or if it’s simply that waiting until the first frost gives the fruit the longest possible time to ripen and sweeten.
Cool, cloudy summers like the one we’ve just had yield berries with more acid and less sugar. Even so, the berries will still be good, so go pick a handful to save for Thanksgiving dinner.
Cornucopic clusters of chokecherries hang along the trails of the river valley this time of year. The ease of picking is counteracted by the relatively low yield of usable fruit: there is after all a large pit in each cherry (hence the name..) A food-mill with the right sized plate will separate the flesh from the pits. Chokecherries are extremely astringent, and make a superb fruit wine.
The fruit of roses.
A quick digression: I’ve often wondered why rosewater hasn’t become an Albertan specialty, given the provincial association, the omnipresence of wild roses, and how easy it is to make.
I’ve pondered for some time whether the low-lying juniper planted in front lawns (Juniperus horizontalis) is edible, like its cousin Juniperus communis. I recently decided to stop wondering and start eating. These berries rarely seem to get as dark blue and fleshy as those sold at the grocery store, but they still taste fantastic, especially with game and sauerkraut.
When Lisa and I started noticing these bright, matted red berries, we thought for sure they were poisonous. Turns out they’re not. The berries and the root of this plant taste uncannily like watermelon.
Mountain Ash (Rowan)
I always assumed that mountain ash berries were inedible. They stay on the trees through the winter, and I figured that if the birds don’t eat them, people probably shouldn’t, either. Then I stumbled over the entry for rowanberry in Larousse: “An orange-red berry the size of a small cherry. It is the fruit of the mountain ash tree, a species of Sorbus. The berries are used when almost overripe to make jam or jelly (good with venison) and, on a small scale, brandy. They have a tart flavour.”
As with the juniper, I worried that Edmonton had a different, inedible species of Sorbus. Then, after a certain botanist assured me they were safe, I started eating them. They’re sour, and kind of taste like rhubarb.
Many trails I recently walked near Hinton were absolutely overgrown with buffaloberry. The fruit is tart, bitter, and slightly soapy. There is some good information on-line about the traditional uses of buffaloberry (also known as foamberry, soapberry, and sopolallie). Most interesting is the practice of beating the berries in a large bowl until a meringue-like foam develops. This preparation is called Indian ice cream.
I didn’t even know bog cranberries grew in Alberta. These are the low-lying cranberries that are traditionally maintained and harvested by flooding the field in which they grow.
While we stepped over plenty of cranberry bushes, ripe berries were few and far between. Those I was able to sample had the classic tart and bitter blend we expect from bog cranberries.
Walking in the woods is fun.