Healthy Living in the North

Foodie Friday: Berry Adventures

buckets of berries in a kayak.I am thankful to live on the beautiful traditional lands of the Tsimshian people. Recently, on a lovely morning when the water was calm and the sun was out, I departed for an adventure in my kayak. Because I went alone, I made sure someone knew where I was, picked a spot that wasn’t too remote, and brought safety supplies along. Part way along my journey, I stopped and picked two buckets of high bush cranberries. Although it was a bit of a juggling act to kayak back without spilling them, it was well worth the effort. I came home and looked through my wild plant books to make sure I had indeed picked cranberries, not some poisonous imposter. There are some excellent books available as well as reputable online sources, like this Edible Berries of BC guide. You can also seek guidance from an experienced picker or an Elder. When you aren’t sure, don’t eat it.

I embarked on the quest of deciding what to do with my berries. While I am quite familiar with making jam, I haven’t made jelly before. Since these cranberries have a significant seed in the centre, I decided to strain them out. I looked up how to do this and began navigating my way. It was trial and error as I was trying to blend the old and the new…recipes without pectin against those with pectin. So I’ll be honest with you, while I haven’t mastered the art of making wild cranberry jelly yet, here is what I learned. This is part of the adventure itself, to experiment and make something delicious! Next time I would just strain the berries and drink the juice!

Gathering berries has been an important activity, food and medicinal source for First Nations and Aboriginal peoples for thousands of years. Cranberries are known for their medicinal benefits, such as anti-bacterial properties that can help prevent urinary tract infections. They are also high in antioxidants that help boost the immune system and they are a source of vitamin C. For more information on traditional foods, access the First Nations Traditional Foods Fact Sheets from the First Nations Health Authority.

The activity of picking berries is good for my mind, body and spirit. Being out in nature is healing for me. When I am having a tough time for one reason or another, being in nature helps to restore me to balance. I also enjoy being self-reliant. Berry picking can also be a family activity. When my children were young it was a great way to get them out and active.

Remember to leave some berries for other people and animals to eat, and be careful not to damage the plants so there can be future harvests.

High Bush Cranberry Jelly

A bowl full of freshly picked berries.Ingredients

  • 2 small buckets of cranberries
  • 4 cups of water
  • 4 ½ cups sugar
  • 1 ¼ boxes of Certo light

Instructions

  1. Boil cranberries with water for 10 minutes.
  2. Make a cheesecloth bag and place inside a strainer inside a bowl. I used elastic bands to hold my cheesecloth in place.
  3. Let the juice drip out overnight. I got about 7 cups of juice. If you have less pour some hot water through the berries to get more. I squeezed my bag, but if you want a clear liquid you aren’t supposed to!
  4. Sterilize the jars and metal lids. I put them in the oven at 225 degrees for 10 minutes.
  5. Put snap lids in water that is hot but not boiling.
  6. Mix Certo with a ¼ cup of sugar. Stir into juice. Bring to a boil. Add rest of sugar and bring to a rolling boil for 1 minute.
  7. Test mixture for the right consistency by putting some on a spoon and letting cool in the fridge. If it firms and then falls off the spoon in one ‘flake’ it’s done, otherwise boil it longer.
  8. Pour into hot jars, wipe rims with a clean cloth dipped in the water the lids are in, put on snap lids and metal lids and tighten.
  9. If the lid pops down, it’s sealed.
  10. Enjoy with turkey on fried bread!
Victoria Carter

About Victoria Carter

Victoria works in Northern Health’s Aboriginal health program as the lead for engagement and integration. She is an adopted member of the Nisga’a nation and was given the name “Nox Aama Goot” which means “mother of good heart.” In her work she sees herself as an ally working together with Aboriginal people across the north to improve access to quality health care. She keeps herself well by honouring the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of her life through spending time with her friends and family, being in nature and working on her own personal growth.

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Getting your feet back on a natural path

Agnes picking berries

Agnes picking berries and enjoying nature near Prince George.

How often do you get back to nature? Returning to nature has therapeutic benefits for our health. Research shows access to nature is important to the healthy development of children and very important to the mental and physical health of adults. In many larger communities, people have difficulty finding places to enjoy time with nature, or perhaps they can’t afford the travel or the time to get away.

In northern B.C., we do have some advantages in this regard. Many of our communities are surrounded by nature’s majesty and accessing places to enjoy time in a natural environment is relatively easy. Even in our larger centres, getting to the river’s edge is often only a matter of a quick walk.

Aboriginal communities have many lessons to share about enjoying nature in ways that improve our health and well-being. Looking to the land as a guide and as a provider is still the backbone of Aboriginal culture. Many of our friends and colleagues who are of Aboriginal ancestry return to the land regularly. They also do this particularly in the late summer and early fall for berry picking, and for hunting and fishing. These expeditions don’t just feed the family of the hunter or gatherer, they feed many in the community, as hunters will present parts of the hunt or of the catch to the Elders and other families in their communities.

A basket of berries.

Have you ever tried gathering berries near your community?

Berry picking is a bit back-breaking but really worth it. The skills to work with foods we have picked directly from the earth are dying out but many people, both Aboriginal and non–Aboriginal, female and male, carry on the traditions of processing and preserving food from the land for themselves. Berries are a great example of how, with labour on our part, the bounty of the earth can be transformed and feed our families: berries will reappear throughout the winter baked in pies, as jams, jellies and syrups or dried in baking and snacks. Frozen blueberries may show up in muffins or pancakes in January. The burst of tart sweetness will bring back the scent of summer in an instant. The brightness of the day you knelt among low bush blueberries, with the sun on your back and the sound of honey bees surrounding you will flood your memory and warm a cold winter’s day with the promise of summer. In fact, the berry’s life cycle is the story of a perfect circle of returning to the land and finding satisfaction, physically, emotionally and nutritionally.

The story the humble berry tells us is that the land can give us more than just food and can feed people in more ways than just physically. Nature can also feed our spirit and soul.

Where do you go to enjoy nature? What are your favourite pursuits outside of the city?  Let’s share our stories of how to enjoy nature in a healthy way.

[Editor’s note: Don’t forget to enter the Healthy Living Week 4 Challenge and tell us about how you source local food for your chance to win a great mini freezer!]

Agnes Snow

About Agnes Snow

Agnes is Northern Health’s regional director of Aboriginal health. She started her career in health as a licensed practical nurse in Vancouver, and then moved back to her home community of Canoe Creek where she worked as an additions counselor and then as an elected leader. Agnes originally came to Northern Health as a counselor and treatment therapist at the Nechako Treatment Centre, and then moved to Aboriginal health as the Community Engagement Coordinator, before taking on her current role.

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