There is not much I love more than a cold, sunny day on my snowshoes with the woods to myself.. The mishmash of animal tracks remind me I have four-legged company, but they leave me alone, mostly not to be seen or heard. Only the wood peckers are less discreet. Then maybe the odd cry of an owl or coyote calls me back to planet earth from my zoned out state of zen-like peace.. ‘Oh the sun is setting, time to fly home!’ I really do relish my solo time in nature breathing fresh air, but it’s true that much of it is spent in my head, it’s just the way I am. Natural to me, faulty in the eyes of a coureur des bois.
A whole different kind of winter wonderland experience unfolds with François on board; for one, there is no zoning out. His plugged-into-nature way means constant stopping and starting, picking and probing - a slower more attentive trek, peppered with anecdotes and commentary. On the state of the trees, any new signs of wildlife.. I am awakened to phenomena/ unfathomed riches I blindly ploughed by before. He pauses long enough to watch a woodpecker pass out from exhaustion. Maybe the little pecker was playing dead? Funny and intriguing, none the less. François might fiddle around to erect obstacles for skidoos with sticks and stones; if on the river, he studies it meticulously trying to understand this year’s landscape reality, scanning the ice for air-bubbles.. Not a bad idea - if it weren’t for him, I might have taken off with the underflow a few times.
When foraging, the escapade is necessarily less leisurely, ie planned out – charted, flatt(ish) terrain being key without poles, given the bags/pails to lug back, a need for snacks, water and gear.. A mindset more along the lines of ‘Rendre l’utile à l’agréable’..
With Pimbina (aka squashberry or highbush cranberry) on the agenda, one of the few things we can pick in winter, we set out on snowshoes for an afternoon involving more picking than play. January is ideal, but the creeks and rivers have to be frozen for easy access, meaning that we had to wait until February this year. This little berry is equally coveted by the foxes and birds, but there is more than enough to go around if you enjoy snowshoeing.
We love this berry for making coulis, jelly and sauces.. As with cranberries, they need to be cooked with a good dose of sugar to counter the tartness, but once transformed, they make for heady concoctions, equally tasty in savoury or sweet dishes, pairing well with poultry, stellar with cheese and a strikingly delicious foil for chocolate desserts. There is more to pimbina than run of the mill cranberries.
The only thing is that it is a stinky affair – the cooking, that is. We need to plan pimbina production for off days, and even then, the scent lingers.. Like blue cheese, with notes of stinky socks, sweat and vomit. Hard to believe it’s a delicious berry, eh?
But yes. Tasty. Mega umami. And plentiful, Local, harvested in winter.. What’s a bit of stink? Easy to love otherwise..