You don’t need to be a locavore or a penny-pincher to appreciate the value of “found” food, that is, food we can find growing in our very own backyard. Eating what comes readily to hand in our home environment has several benefits: we lower our reliance on imported foods and their associated large carbon footprint, and we indirectly develop our resiliency and ingenuity by searching out locally available alternatives. We also save a bit of money in the process.
I’ve made a short list of some delicious alternatives to imported everyday food and drink. I’ve tried them myself and can vouch for no feeling of deprivation afterwards! Here they are:
1. Sugar (or other sweetener): Highly-processed, and grown far away, the sweetness of sugar is still something most of us would have a hard time giving up. Enter your backyard maple tree(s)! Did you know it’s not just sugar maples that can be tapped to make maple syrup? It’s true—we’ve been tapping our neighbour’s humble Norway maple for a couple of seasons now, and have discovered the yummy butterscotch flavour of the syrup made from Norway sap very much to our liking. You could do the same with a red maple, if that’s what you’ve got.
It’s not expensive to tap a maple—you really just need a bucket (or 1 to 2 litre plastic milk bottle), a hand drill and a spout (or spile) costing a couple of dollars at the hardware store (rural stores are better bets for finding maple supplies) or if you’re in Nova Scotia, try Acadian Maple (https://acadianmaple.com) of Upper Tantallon, a place that has been known to allow backyard tappers to use its evaporator for a small fee.
There are many sites online detailing the finer points of tapping maples; (for instance, http://www.tapmytrees.com ). You should know that it takes around 40 litres of sap to make 1 litre of syrup-- that’s a lot of boiling. We used our camp stove for the job rather than our woodstove—all that steam would have made the house into a steam bath. Still very doable.
2. Coffee: We are fortunate to live in an area with a ban on cosmetic pesticide use. This means homeowners aren’t allowed to douse their lawns with chemicals when the spring crop of dandelions makes its appearance; many choose to defeat dandies with the help of that handy tool that digs down and pulls them up by the root. That root, when cleaned and scrubbed well and roasted in a low oven until brown and crisp, makes a really good coffee substitute, I’ve discovered. You can grind it in a coffee grinder and put it in a tea ball or a French press pot, just like you would for java. You can buy exactly the same drink at a health food store—for many needless dollars! Speaking of edible lawn care: dandelion greens have long been known for their health-giving properties as a spring tonic or light liver cleanse: they are high in calcium, potassium, Vitamins A and C. Try them in lieu of other bitter greens like raddichio, arugula, or endive.
3. Tea: Do you buy herbal teas? If so, you should know that many of your favorite varieties can be made easily at home. If you’re a gardener or know one, it’s likely you have access to mint (spearmint or peppermint), a really invasive and delicious herb that dries beautifully and makes a great tea that you can drink when you have an upset stomach. Lemon balm is another really common, prolific herb that works well as a calming, citrus-y tea. So does chamomile, and the leaves of the raspberry plant—a favorite remedy for menstrual cramps. For extra citrus flavour, try cutting small strips of lemon or orange skin and zest and drying them in a dehydrator or very low oven. They go well with lemon balm in a tea, as does lavender, well known for its calming properties.
Much has been written lately about cultivating emotional resiliency, both in ourselves and in our children. Thinking of food as medicine and cultivating knowledge about its healing properties offers the same kind of benefit to citizens of a changing world.