On my plate was a piece of copper coloured fish, resting on a bed of seven kinds of sea greens. I had probably walked on the those very same plants across the road on the wide red sandy beach that stretched on forever in a half moon shape around the bay.
Along the Bay of Fundy coast in Nova Scotia, Canada, where high red cliffs rise above a rocky coast, often covered in a blanket of fog, is the small town of Advocate. Cape Chignecto stretches beyond that in a big roadless point, inviting walkers to discover. Surrounded by dramatic scenery, the few homes that remain have stood strong against the elements and there is a pride about living in this majestic corner of the world.
We were here to hike Cape Chignecto and dine at the Wild Caraway Restaurant and Café. I sought out this dining experience because it is well known that the owners Sarah Griebel and Andrew Aitken include foraged foods on their menu.
Foraging is a becoming trendy with the chefs of the East Coast, all across Canada and in many other countries. Trendy…. but not new.
In this province harvesting and using wild foods was how the Mi’kmaq included greens and fruit in their diet long before Europeans set foot on this country.
In Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens, Marie Nightingale wrote this information about the Mi’kmaq diet from her research.
“For vegetables, there were the wild potato and wild carrot as well as other roots and plants which grew in the forests. The Indian Pear, or Service Berry, was eaten fresh, while blueberries, huckleberries and cranberries were boiled and shaped into little cakes which were dried in the sun.”
In the Wild Caraway Restaurant and Café, history surrounds. It is situated in one of the old homes of Advocate, dating back to the 1860’s. It has been adapted to life as an eatery while maintaining the character of the past. Old furniture, and a big bookshelf full of cookbooks, creates a cozy feeling and out the windows are views of the sea.
But the menu and food are what attracts diners from far and wide. Much of the menu reflects an appetite for adventure, with surprise tastes of the earth that are not served in other restaurants. Steak and home cut fries and fish and home cut chips are served as well for those who prefer “the known” on their plates.
Sarah and Andrew and others knowledgeable about wild edibles get out there themselves and forage for foods to add to their menu. They are constantly learning. The menu is always changing, Sarah claims, because they are easily bored and love to add new tastes to their menu.
Sarah grew up in Alberta and Australia.
“Foraging harks back to ages ago,” she said as she reminisced picking wild mushrooms in Australia.
“Andrew’s Mom made her own ginger beer,” she added. They have included homemade ginger beer on their menu, an ode to the old Nova Scotia tradition. And the pickled herring they serve follows a recipe from Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens.
I ordered: “Crisp skin Arctic Char, homemade soba noodles, foraged sea greens, smoked char consommé” When my meal arrived, Sarah took the time to tell me what each sea green was named. Crowsfoot, Sea Blight, Sea Lettuce, Oyster Leaf, Sea Purse, Auric and Goosegrass. I was excited to try the tastes and they were unlike anything I had tasted before; fresh and unique. Sarah said that one older customer commented that the greens brought back memories of his mother serving sea greens.
My husband ordered: Pan seared scallops, cattail pollen pancakes, cattail shoot salad, corn and sage puree, spring onions and sour cream.
Both dishes were a taste of wild heaven. Among the other specialties that used the wild, was a dessert: chocolate, date and coconut cake, rose ice cream, elderflower and lemon marmalade. On the Beverage list was: Homemade Elderflower Soda, Homemade Rhubarb Soda, and Homemade Ginger Bear along with the more usual drinks.
On the Wild Caraway menu is a botanical drawing of a Caraway plant after which the restaurant is named. It reads:
- a prime ingredient in ancient love potions,
- In German folklore, parents would put a dish of caraway seeds beneaththeir children’s beds to protect them from witches.
- Helps to treat a loss of appetite.
- Ancient peoples used to sprinkle caraway seeds on prized possessions, with the belief that it would protect the item from thieves.
Wild caraway grows everywhere around the landscape of Cape Chignecto, where this special restaurant feeds us delicious and surprising foods that are there for the picking. Taking us back to age-old traditions and giving us a taste of the past.
Thanks Sarah and Andrew for the dining journey……