Forager Sylvain Cormier is harvesting Prince Edward Island’s natural bounty for his Everything Wild local foraging company that supplies local restaurants with delicacies like fiddleheads and sea asparagus
© GUARDIAN PHOTO BY MARY MACKAY
For Sylvain Cormier, the fields, forests and waterways of Prince Edward Island are his office. His company, Everything Wild, supplies local foraged edibles such as chanterelle mushrooms, fiddleheads and quahogs to local restaurants.
Sylvain Cormier is always on the hunt for something good to eat.
And although he’s within sight of the city of Charlottetown, he’s not searching for typical dining fare.
For this practiced forager, there are delicacies to be had everywhere in the wild.
And with his Everything Wild company, he is bringing this natural bounty to some of Prince Edward Island’s finest restaurants where they’re plated with pomp and pageantry.
One of the things on this day’s harvest menu is delicate sea asparagus.
“It’s new for me this year. I’ve never picked it, but everybody wants some for some reason,” says this four-season forager.
“It’s seasonal: in the spring it’s fiddleheads, everybody wants fiddleheads, and then I move into shellfish — I do a lot of quahogs and bar clams — and then I move into the mushrooms in the fall usually.”
Being in the outdoors comes naturally to Cormier, who grew up in Wellington and has been a hunter and trapper since a young age.
“I always picked whatever I could find — berries or fiddleheads — on my treks. You live with it, you grew up with it, it was always around,” he says.
“I always had some uncles showing me things when I was hunting with them, or I’d go to Nova Scotia for a week every year to go deer hunting and there was always somebody showing me this mushroom is good to eat or that’s good to eat. And that’s how I started.”
Two years ago Cormier decided to focus on his almost innate knack of sourcing nature’s harvest in addition to his shell fishing and trapping skills.
“I wanted something to go around the calendar all year round so I needed something to go from spring till fall. Foraging was just a natural thing for me to do because I knew already so much about berries and picking some edibles,” he says.
He upped his wild edibles ante to a commercial level with his Everything Wild local foraging company that promotes unique and wild edibles that are available all over the Island.
It takes eating locally to the max, with a list of 20 products, such as mushrooms, spruce tips, fiddleheads, cattails and more, all of which are foraged locally and in season.
He decided to give sea asparagus a try this year to see what the demand would be for this tender shoreline plant.
“If you’re picking something it takes a few days or maybe a week before you get an eye for it and you can spot it, no problem,” he says.
Cormier has patches of fireweed on record so he can find them in a spring when they are not in flower to harvest the shoots, which taste somewhat like asparagus.
“But you have to be able the find the patch when it’s young and it’s hard to find in the spring when there are no flowers on it yet. So the challenge is to get them all marked out before the flowers go away in the fall,” he says.
He has also been harvesting the more mature fireweed plant, drying it, grinding them into a powder and sending them in bulk to a pharmaceutical company in Saskatchewan that uses them in anti-irritant products.
Of course, foragers cannot go on a free-for-all on any property they wish.
If it’s private land, Cormier gets permission from the landowners beforehand — all of those he has approached to date have been very accommodating.
The general rule of thumb for harvesting on private, crown or other public lands is to never over pick any species — always leave some behind for others.
Of course with nature’s harvest, everything is first-come, first-served, and that includes both animal and human early birds who can scoop up some of these sweet stuffs before this avid forager arrives.
This is why he has his eye set on farming some of the edibles he presently picks wild, such as sea asparagus.
“I’ve been researching it to try to get a lease from the government to try to grow it myself because it would be a lot easier than scavenging all the rivers every day,” he laughs.
Demand for wild berries was, in fact, so high last year that Cormier couldn’t keep up, so he’s decided to leave them off the harvest list this year because of the return for all the time picking and sorting.
Now he’s looking at the possibility of farming different types of wild berries and fiddleheads as well.
“That would cut down in my time out in the woods, foraging and scouting,” he says.
Scouting out new sources is time-consuming, but it’s part of the mandate of harvesting for the future.
“Picking all these edibles is a big thing for me. If I pick out one of my patches tomorrow, I’ll not have it for the next year. So I have to make sure that I always have some for the next year,” Cormier says.
Business has been pretty good. Cormier directly supplies some of P.E.I.’s hottest chefs and restaurants, such as John Pritchard and Dave Mottershall at Terra Rouge and Robert Pendergast at Young Folk & The Kettle Black, with his straight-from-nature’s harvest.
Any overstock goes to Forbes Wild Foods in Toronto, Ont.
“The demand is always climbing. It’s doubled since last year and it’s probably going to triple next year. I think the allure of it all is because it’s wild and it’s known that any wild food has much more (nutritional value) than anything farmed,” he says.
“And there are flavours that you wouldn’t get anywhere else. Like fiddleheads, I can’t describe them, and from one day to another they taste different, depending on their size or where they grew.”
The good thing about knowing what edibles there are in the wild is that one can pack lightly for an outdoor excursion.
“I’d never starve if I was stuck in the woods,” Cormier laughs.
“And I could go out in the woods for a week straight with just my pocketknife and my rifle and not go hungry.”
AT A GLANCE
Everything Wild is a local foraging company that promotes unique and wild edibles available all over Prince Edward Island. Its top priority is to encourage eating locally and appreciating the delicious wild foods available have growing in P.E.I. backyards.
Products include mushrooms, sea asparagus, fiddleheads, cattails and more, as well as shellfish and are all foraged locally and in season. They are delivered fresh to various chefs, restaurants and farmers on P.E.I.
Sylvain Cormier is the owner and forager of Everything Wild. He can be reached through the Everything Wild Facebook page or at email@example.com.