Jane’s Walks started in Toronto, following the 2006 death of the urbanist, Jane Jacobs. The idea was for members of the community, politicians, planners, designers and leaders to provide free walking tours of neighbourhoods to present information on planning, design, history and community engagement. Since its inaugural event in 2007, the idea has spread across Canada and to cities around the globe. Every year, around Jacobs’ May 4th birthday, citizens take to their streets to learn more about their built and natural environments as well as the people living, working and creating around them.
One of the Ottawa walks that caught my eye this year was given by Amber Westfall. It was an urban foraging walk. She took us around one of the city’s parks and showed us several plants that were edible, medicinal, or both. Turns out, this is a great time of the year for foraging since the snow has only recently melted, so very few cultivated plants are harvestable, but a number of edible weeds are perfect for picking! The walk also fell perfectly in line with Day 27 of my 30 day challenge. So my 30th sustainable habit – urban foraging.
Aside from pointing out some tasty vegetation, the walk also included some discussion about foraging in a responsible and sustainable manner. Part of urban foraging is stewardship – make neat, clean cuts; backfill any holes you dig; pick up litter that you find where you’re foraging; don’t over-harvest; don’t waste the plants you forage; and only harvest at the appropriate time for the plant.
There was also a discussion about some of the dangers associated with urban foraging and the importance of knowing what you’re harvesting and where you’re harvesting. For example, you need to make sure you have a 100% positive identification of any plant you intend to eat, particularly if there are similar-looking poisonous plants. It’s also important to consider where you’re picking plant – don’t forage on private property without permission, in National Parks, or areas that may be contaminated like along rail lines, busy roads or agricultural fields that are sprayed with pesticides.
Here are a few resources that were introduced at the walk:
Herbmentor (this one requires a paid subscription)
Armed with photos and descriptions of some of the plants we encountered, I returned home and immediately checked out the weeds in my garden and lawn…none of the delicious plants we’d seen were there. So I decided that I would just keep an eye out for plants in the future. Since then I’ve identified some burdock (gobo) on one of my walks with my daughter, but it was along the side of the road next to an agricultural field at the Central Experimental Farm…probably not the best place to pick.
So when I came across this recipe and started to add spinach to my grocery list, I stopped and realized that maybe I could use some of the gobillion dandelions in my back yard instead of spinach. When I looked into it, dandelion greens seemed to be a great substitute for spinach and they pack a serious nutritional punch. So out I went to pick some weeds. While I was down on the ground picking dandelions, I even came across some wintercress to add to dinner as well! And so was born my Forage-Pot-Pie (recipe below).
Foraged Skillet Pot Pie
For the pastry top, use a frozen puff pastry sheet or:
2 cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup frozen butter or shortening
1/2 cup sour cream
For the filling:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, roughly diced
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
3 medium mushrooms
2 cups greens – I used dandelion greens and wintercress
1/2 cup artichoke hearts, quartered – if you use artichoke hearts from a can or jar, like I did, drain them
1 large carrot, sliced
2 teaspoons curry powder
1-2 cups milk
2 tablespoons flour
Salt and pepper to taste
Prepare the crust in advance and store in the fridge until needed.
For the flakey crust:
- Sift together flour, salt, and baking powder.
- Chop the frozen butter (or shortening) into smaller pieces and add to flour, working it in to make a coarse/crumbly mixture. Leave most of the butter in large, pea-sized pieces. (These tiny pockets of butter are the key to flakiness).
- Add the sour cream and mix to incorporate. Turn it out onto a floured surface, and pull it (pat it) together into a rough log.
- Roll it into an 8″ x 10″ rectangle.
- Dust both sides of the dough with flour, and starting with a short end, fold it in three like a business letter.
- Flip the dough over, turn it 90° turn, and roll it into an 8″ x 10″ rectangle. Fold it in three again. (you can repeat this again, but don’t let the dough get warm)
- Cover and chill the dough in the fridge for at least 30 minutes before using.
- To make the pastry top, roll into a circle large enough to cover your skillet. After rolling out the dough, put it in the fridge on a plate while preparing the filling.
If, like me, you have enough dough leftover for another pot pie, you can freeze it for up to 2 months. To use, thaw in the refrigerator overnight.
Preheat the oven to 400° and start the filling.
For the filling:
- If you’re using a store bought puff pastry sheet, leave it out to thaw at room temperature. It will take about 20 minutes to thaw. While the puff pastry is thawing, work on the
- Heat oil in a cast iron skillet over a medium heat. Add the onions and mushrooms and cook until they are soft and starting to brown. Then add the garlic and carrot and stir for about 3-5 minutes to soften the carrot a little.
- Add the greens, artichoke hearts and curry powder to the skillet. Cook for a couple of minutes.
- Whisk the milk and flour together in a small bowl until there are no lumps. Pour it over the vegetables. Bring to a boil over a high heat.
- Season with salt and pepper. Mix well and turn off the heat.
- This is when you roll out the puff pastry that’s been thawing.
- Cut the pastry or dough so that it will fit over the skillet with a little overhang. Place the dough over the skillet and gently press it around the rim of the skillet. Use a knife to poke holes in the middle of the pastry to allow steam to escape.
- Place in preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes or till the puff pastry is golden (20 minutes if you make your own crust). You can place a cookie sheet underneath to catch any filling that bubbles over.
And there you have it. From this: