Backyard bounty: Foraging for free flavour in Alberta
When Chef Blair Lebsack goes for a walk, he never knows what freshly foraged ingredients he might come back with.
“We have people who’ll yell out their windows and say: ‘We have a hazelnut tree right here. Do you want some?'” the Edmonton chef says.
There’s an incredible variety of food hidden in Alberta’s landscape — free for the taking if you know what you’re looking for.
Lebsack, who’s long been on the leading edge of whole-animal cooking and locally sourced ingredients, is sharing that inside knowledge with everyday Albertans.
“These are just things that grow naturally. No one seeded anything, no one planted anything. These are just volunteers.”
The chef/owner of Edmonton’s RGE RD restaurant lists off plants growing in the river valley, including horseradish, stinging nettle, asparagus and saskatoon berries, along with lesser-known foods like garlic mustard. Picked at the right time of year, it can add a burst of local flavour to your plate for no cost at all.
“It has the texture of spinach and the flavour of garlic,” he explains.
Lebsack gestures to a plate overflowing with plants and berries in shades of purple, green and red, all of it gathered a short distance from home, none of it tended to like a traditional garden. There are cherries, onion greens, raspberries, nasturtium, and leafy oxalis – which tastes of rhubarb and tart citrus.
The chef cuts into some crusty bread baked in his wood-fired oven, saying: “One thing we’re trying to tell people: just take some of your favourite foods and add these to them. It’s not about finding everything in the wild.
“Small things will add a lot of flavour.”
As he talks about the bounty in our own backyard, Lebsack spreads some pork rillette onto the slice of bread. He sprinkles on top freshly diced green onion, peppery nasturtiums, and the tangy oxalis – usually thought of as a weed. It’s an instant picnic lunch that you can only find in Alberta.
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