Bringing the wild into your kitchen with Pat Wells
Growing in Revelstoke, By Hailey Ross
The other morning I topped my bowl of cereal with the most flavourful, and probably the healthiest array of wild foods there are: wild berries. Harvested from Revelstoke’s backyard, I have been feasting on strawberries, black and red raspberries, blueberries, Saskatoon berries, and huckleberries.
I had never picked huckleberries before meeting Patrick Wells, who has inspired a rising infatuation of mine over these deep red to almost black spheres of sweet, tart, juicy fruits. Patrick, who many in Revelstoke know as “Pat,” takes absolute pride in his purple-stained fingers this time of year. He actually teases people with them. With just one wave of his stained hand, he shows you that he knows where the best patches are. You are lucky if he lets you in on these secrets.
As it turns out, wild Huckleberries are known to be one of the best sources of antioxidants in North America – even higher than blueberries. The berries are a fantastic local source of vitamin C, B vitamins and iron. Not surprisingly, huckleberries have been harvested for their medicinal qualities for centuries.
While Pat is well aware that these berries are healthy for you, the combination of where the berries grow and how they taste are what attract him to this particular fruit.
According to Pat, “the only thing that tastes better than a huckleberry is huckleberry pie.” If you have never tasted huckleberry pie, then I suggest you make this your goal this year. At last year’s Harvest Palooza (an annual harvest-themed family festival), Pat’s Huckleberry Pie raised over $100 in the silent auction. In the coming weeks, I plan to try Pat’s recipe for Huckleberry Liqueur. Last night, I made a grain salad with a dressing that included basil and huckleberries. It was delicious.
In my mind, the flavour of locally-sourced food is accentuated by the experience of growing – or in this case – harvesting the food. For Pat, this is certainly the case. As I swatted the mosquitos circling around my face while I picked a bush clean of its small purple fruit, I asked Pat what motivates his endless hours spent out in pursuit of the berries. “Look around you,” he said. “I can’t imagine anywhere else I’d rather be.” The sound of berries hitting the bottom of his plastic bucket stops for a minute and all of a sudden, Pat is lost in his descriptions of the things that he has seen the valley that surrounds us.
Pat knows this area like no one else, and Huckleberries aren’t the only harvest that he brings home from the wild. Just one day in the bush with Pat and you learn that his love for this area runs deeper than huckleberries. This is reflected in the diversity of the flavours in his kitchen, which include other wild berries (wild strawberries being his second pick), a variety of mushrooms (including chanterelles, porcini, and morels), wild herbs, spices and teas, wild game, and fish.
Like gardening, the process associated with sourcing local food can be therapeutic. Pat explains that when he’s out looking for berries or other wild foods, his mind is at ease. “I’m out getting fresh air, I’m getting exercise, and I’m in nature discovering things. I couldn’t be happier.”
Through Pat, we rediscover that not all food needs to be cultivated. Some of it grows naturally in our surrounding wild spaces. This food is as local as it gets, not even the seeds have been imported. Learning to value wild foods means that we are learning more about the native biodiversity of this area. It is also likely that we are increasing our personal connections to the land via the experiences relived while enjoying that slice of huckleberry pie.
Hailey Ross writes Growing in Revelstoke on behalf of the North Columbia Environmental Society in partnership with the United Church. The column contributes to a joint project aimed at increasing the sustainable production of local food and intergenerational knowledge sharing.
For your chance to learn from a local-foods expert, join us at the next workshop in the Garden Guru Series: Dehydrating your harvest with Toni Johnston. July 27th, 7 p.m. at the United Church. By donation.