Foraging is a super fun, rewarding hobby that can be enjoyed year-round and even though spring, summer and fall dish up a much wider variety of edible wild plants for harvesting, winter is well worth cashing in on, too, especially if you love spending time outdoors in the snowy woodlands as much as I do.
Below are a few of my favourite winter picks from the forest which are plentiful, easy to identify and guaranteed to add a delightful touch of woodland flavour to all your cooking. So bundle up, grab a basket and, as grandma used to say, “Let’s go gathering.”
Rosemary-scented pine needles, with their refreshing, citrus-like flavour, make a wonderful seasoning salt for dishes, as well as brines and marinades.
Using scissors to harvest, snip off (randomly, from a few different donors) about five inches from the tips of pine boughs. You will not need many.
At home, hold the sprigs over a bowl, one by one, and snip off the needles, cutting them into smaller lengths about a quarter to half-an-inch long, to measure one cup. Mix the needles with one cup of coarse Himalayan pink rock salt or other coarse salt of choice.
Transfer to a salt grinder or store in a jar and crush with a pestle and mortar upon use.
Sassy Pine Seasoning Salt
Make the salt as above. Put into a bowl and create personalized blends by adding any or all of the following in amounts to suit your taste: dried, roasted garlic or granules, dehydrated onion, whole coriander seeds, dried chili flakes, whole black or coloured peppercorns, crumbled bay leaves, celery seeds, smoked paprika, parsley or any other dried herbs and spices of choice. Store as above and use as you would any seasoning salt.
Variation: Spruce needles can be used in place of pine needles in the above recipes for a sprucier flavour.
Juniper Berry Salt
Regardless of the season, harvest the darkest, purplish berries, leaving the paler and green ones to ripen during their three-year cycle. Spread the berries on a cloth and dry in a warm place for a couple days before making the salt by mixing one part whole juniper berries with three parts rock salt. Store as above and use for brines and marinades; it’s an especially nice seasoning for pickled fish.
Delicious drizzled over fried fish and used as a glaze for meats. This sparkling jelly can be made from pine needles, too, but I prefer spruce for this recipe. Yields eight half-pint jars.
1 to 2 cups spruce needles (or tips if making it in the spring). The more you use, the greener and more potent the jelly will be
4 cups water
Juice of 2 lemons
5 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 box pectin crystals
Put needles into a kettle, add water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, remove from heat, cover and steep until cool. Strain liquid into a large saucepan and discard the spent needles. Stir in lemon juice and pectin, bring to a boil. Stir in sugar and boil hard for one minute.
Remove from heat, skim the scum and ladle into scalded canning jars. Wipe rims, put on inner seals, lightly screw on the metal outer bands and place in a boiling water bath canner. Add enough water to cover the jars, bring to a boil and process for 10 minutes. Cool and label.
Wild Cranberry & Orange Jelly
Glistening red cranberries are easy to spot clinging to the bare branches against the snowy backdrop of the forest. Gather the frozen berries in a container as they will juice up on the trip home. I love fried or roasted birds and grilled steaks glazed with this tart and tangy jelly. Yields seven half-pint jars.
4 cups (more or less) wild cranberries
2 cups water
bottle of store-bought pure cranberry juice
Juice and grated zest of 2 oranges
Juice of 1 lemon
1 box pectin crystals
5 cups granulated sugar
Put cranberries, water and orange juice in a kettle, bring to a boil, simmer for 10 minutes. Strain through a sieve, pressing out all the juice. Discard the spent berries. Measure the juice. You need four cups. If short, add enough of the store-bought cranberry juice to make the measure. Put the juice, lemon juice and orange zest into a large saucepan, stir in the pectin. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Add the sugar and return to a full, rolling boil and boil hard for one minute. Remove from the heat and follow directions above for the spruce jelly.
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