A local chef is bringing forward the conversation of utilizing wild food in cuisine, taking the time herself to forage throughout the Okanagan.
Minette Lotz went on her first forage two years ago when she moved to the Okanagan, to learn about seasonality in the area and what grows wild.
“I have been absolutely hooked ever since. I think finding food that you've been looking for hours for is really satisfying and then learning more about what grows here and when, has been integral to how I cook and how I design menus now,” she said.
“I think it's a really sustainable way to eat and the food is made by the natural resources that are already here. The water in the forest, the sunshine, there's no input going into it. I think overall, if we want to eat more sustainably as a society, we do need to eat more wild food.”
Lotz pointed out that while there is something edible out here every season of the year, it would become a portion of the food system.
“It's tough to call it sustainable in the way that we eat now. It would be hard for me to live completely off the land. Of course there's urbanization and things that have changed the landscape, but people have been doing this here for thousands of years and we can learn a lot from them.”
While Indigenous communities would have had foraging as just a way of life before, now the cultivation for local food has come forward in present times when areas have struggled to stock shelves.
Lotz has been spending her time lately in the last year’s wildfire spots, where a specific mushroom has started to grow.
“Fire morels are something most foragers around here are pretty hyped about. They're delicious. They've got really great nutritional properties and they grow the first year after a burn.”
The last couple of weeks for Lotz have been in the hillsides every day seeing if the morels have started to grow.
“They're elusive, they're very well camouflaged. They are finicky, they grow sometimes in grass, sometimes not,” she said.
Lotz said one of the biggest challenges is learning to identify what is edible and the amount of time it takes to track the food down.
“I've just done a lot of research. There's a few really excellent books published on it. A lot of information online, a lot of taking photos of what I see out and then researching it when I get home,” she said.
“Trial and error is not the approach because it can be pretty dangerous, especially with mushrooms. So I would say if you're going out, go with someone who knows what they're doing or always err on the side of caution. Take something home, research it before you eat it.”
As morels are spotted in old wildfire burn sites, Lotz adds for those to be careful when trekking through.
“There's logs that have fallen, there are trees that are still about to fall. There can be big holes in the ground from roots that have burnt. So just be really aware of your surroundings and don't hurt the habitat more. Have a low impact.”
“I think finding wild food is foraging in a mindful and sustainable way. So not picking everything that you see, leaving some for the birds and the animals, some to grow and making sure that you don't leave anything out there, no trash, nothing like that.”
She also encourages everyone to try more wild food.
“Learn more about what's growing around. You learn more about what's here and what's in season and if you eat that way it can just help our entire food system be a bit more sustainable,” Lotz said.
Keep an eye out for Lotz this summer at the Naramata Farmers Market.
“Starting in June, I'll be there for the whole season. I'm making some donuts with foraged ingredients, not so much mushrooms, more berries and flowers, that kind of thing,” she said with a laugh.
“And then selling my foragables as well. So when there's enough bounty, I will absolutely share that with the community.”