WILDCRAFTED CUISINE & BREWS with PASCAL BAUDAR
Have you ever thought: that is just what the mountains tastes like? That is just what the forest or the ocean must taste like?
For wildcrafter Pascal Baudar, author of "The New Wildcrafted Cuisine" and "The Wildcrafting Brewer", both from Chelsea Green Publishing of White River Junction, Vermont – this idea of what a place tastes like, even what it tastes like in a specific season, is close to his heart, his plate and his garden practice
Terroir – the French word for the specific taste imparted to something – specifically wine – from the soil, geology, air and water of a specific place. It’s an old idea, but that one that wild food advocates understand with a greater precision than others of us. What we call wildcrafting – gathering of plant materials for food, medicine, other utility or ritual, is an age-old practice across all cultures. And ancient though it may be, it’s also alive and well – as I speak to you, wildcrafters are identifying, gathering and preserving various botanicals.
Pascal Baudar, born and raised in Belgium and now living and foraging in Los Angeles, CA grew up foraging as part of his normal everyday. As a teenager he wanted to a garde forestier – or guardian of the forest – something akin to our forest rangers in the US. The two terms – Forest Ranger and Guardian of the Forest highlight some critical elements of good wildcrafting: being intimately familiar and knowledgeable about the forest, caring and tending for the plants and animals there, understanding, working with and protecting them, their life cycles, their future wellbeing and their interwoven communities.
Now a resident of Los Angeles and a lover and advocate of California native plants and landscapes, Pascal fell in love with the desert first – the space, the scent and the stars. Developing a relationship over time with any land on which you wish to forage, is a great foundational step according to Pascal. As well as being aware of the overall health of any environment in which you might collect. Once you are familiar and intimate with a place, its seasons and plant palette, you will see windfall leaves as candies, stems as aromatic spices, and more....
Pascal's work and writing celebrate a life firmly connected to the place in which you live, to the food you eat, and the spirits you drink. The books provide not only philosophy but also recipes from ferments to infusions and spices, from cheeses, savory snacks and salads to beers, country wines, herbal meads, and natural sodas.
Returning in many ways to the wisdom and ways of native peoples of his region, Pascal studied diligently for years before putting his own knowledge to the public as an educator, teacher and writer. He has taken hundreds of classes from regional experts and native plantspeople, and he spent 1 full year eating nothing but native or local gathered and foraged foods.
In our conversation, Pascal talks about a lot about learning through studying, through observing and through experimenting. He focuses on the aspects of foraging that are related to gardening – including being aware of which native plants you might enjoy foraging for will do well in your garden – an extension of the wild, a well stocked pantry of another sort.
As we sit just past the vernal equinox, when life is stirring, sap is rising, and chemistry of all kinds – in the soil and in the soul – is vibrating on a renewed frequency, Pascal joins us via Skype from his home and garden in Los Angeles.
"In Belgium, foraging for dandelion, hazelnuts, walnuts, all kinds of wild greens - this was just completely normal, so nature was looked at as an extension of the garden -
something that can sustain you and provide food for you”
- Pascal Baudar
Currently, native plants and other locally foraged foods make up between 30 and 40% of Pascal’s diet in and around Los Angeles.
He describes his own journey to incorporating native plants and foraged foods into his everyday life as: his own adventure in a year, and in the way he perceives the environment. Much of which he now sees as possibly tasty.
Among the plants Pascal mentions are mugwort, California sage brush, white sage and black sage. Mugwort and California Sagebrush are in fact both California native plant members of the genus Artemisia. Both are plants of the chaparral and the sagebrush steppe and are strongly aromatic. Mugwort is also known botanically as Artemisia douglasiana and California sagebrush is known botanically as Artemisia californica. Black sage and white sage are both California natives of the genus Salvia.
Both salvias and artemisias have long histories of ethnobotanical uses medicinally and ceremonially by first peoples of California, and are easily cultivated in the home garden. In the wild, they should only be collected with knowledge, permission and care.
In the course of our interview, Pascal described to us how to create a chaparral spice blend and to collect wild yeast to make a starter for fizzy sodas, fermentations, sodas and even breads. One of his missions in his foraging and out of the ordinary meal planning is to recreate the taste of his own multi-faceted experience of a place in time. It started for him when he was gathering greens specifically and it was just after a deep, cleansing rain in the chaparral and forest– when the volatile organic compounds of plants and soils are at their most active and expansive with the moisture. He smelled the sage, the Artemisia, the mushroomy scent of the leaves and twigs on the forest floor and the fresh scent of new growth. He wanted to recreate the taste of what he was smelling – almost he describes like trying to translate music into taste
In "The New Wildcrafted Cuisine", Pascal writes: “As a species, we humans started as hunter gatherers, then became farmers, and now we are simply consumers. In the process we are losing our freedom of choice and limited by what is made available to us. A good example of this is potatoes. Presently, only 78 varieties of potatoes is available in the markets, but did you know that there are over 7 thousand types of potatoes in the world? In this process of increasing domestication, we are losing precious knowledge. For many of us who are now learning about local edible plants and foraging, there is…..a feeling of independence from the regular food system, a sense of freedom and choice.” He ends: "There is a happy marriage to be had between organic gardens of fruits, nuts, vegetable and herbs and wild foods of your place. We are missing a tremendous amount of cultural and culinary identity by not exploring and creating a cuisine all the flavors our untamed terroir has to offer."
One of the things worth noting in my opinion, is the many layered benefits of foraging non-native invasive food plants from the environment: chickweed, fennel, purslane, chamomile, blackberries, figs and olives come immediately to mind in my region. In the cases of these plants, feel free – gather what you may, while you can and eat up. There’s more where that came from.
I will admit to gathering miner’s lettuce in spring, and a few kinds of mushrooms with certainty. I will snack on blackberries, on watercress and on wild mint and fennel. But to create a whole pantry – to determine the best ways to ethically gather, to clean and then to preserve by way of drying, freezing, salting, fermenting - this is another level. And the fun of the independence and relationship this builds to our places, like our gardens but a little more wild – this seems well worth the effort.
Something about Pascal’s enthusiasm for the tastes and flavors of the wild gathered plants and foods of his region is really contagious to me. I think it is the connection of it that pulls me – the connection to the soil and life cycles around me and the freedom from a grocery store or market – it is very similar to the pull of the garden, or a new knitting project.
And I very much get Pascal’s take on how wild gathering/foraging work hand in hand to both inform and extend our own gardens. This mindset embeds our gardens and us into and as part of the places we live, rather than separate from them. Which I think is crucial to a healthy mindset and intentionality with our gardens: work with, rather than battle against.
We have just crossed one of the year’s most poignant of thresholds, that of the Vernal Equinox, where we in the Northern Hemisphere experience if just for a moment equality of light and dark. There is symbolic balance there – and balance is always a dynamic, rarely a destination and one to not be taken for granted. Hope you enjoyed the Vernal Equinox message I mailed out to subscribers last week. I am so looking forward to the new sound of Cultivating Place -incorporating the loving music of MaMuse. If you didn't read your seasonal note and if you didn't request y sample of the new Cultivating Place theme music and song - check it out here!
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Are there wild foods you collect seasonally or year round? Nuts or berries, greens or edible herbs and flowers?
I like the idea that people for millennia have been doing just this. Handing one another a green, a root, an oil and saying "here, try this for that headache, or rash or stomach ache. Try this to flavor that!" Or just "Hmmmm try this!"
When Pascal talks about the plants hanging from his rafters, drying and scenting his home like a witch’s hut of old, and of hand grinding the dried materials with a mortar and pestle – because it connects him to it so much more and because this hand grinding connection produces just the right touch for the fineness desired. Things you do by hand are like this – human scale. The fine art of slow living & slow gardening. A life lived in association rather than disassociation.
As spring draws settles in by the day – what do the trees look like near you? Is sap rising? Are buds plumping and swelling and coloring up? It is seasonal observation and the rhythm of it that gives us the understanding of 1001 a seasons – not just 4. What seasons is it in your garden? Here – as I drove recently to the still snowy mountains of the Sierra Nevada, the willows and native dogwoods along the creek bottoms were coloring up: warm yellow and red and purple, and I thought to myself: It's willow coloring season.
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