For as long as he can remember, David Furlonger has had a unique connection with the earth—an innate sense of how he can use nature to provide himself with the food he needs when he’s out in the wild. Recently, he hooked up with ecologyst to show them how it’s done, and chat about foraging in the Northwest. Check out this awesome video of the Canmore native foraging and creating on the coast of Vancouver Island, and tune into the chat below to hear more on foraging.
How did you get into cooking/chef work/foraging?
I grew up in Canmore, in a remote cluster of houses high up in the valley near Spray Lakes. My first time eating wild foods was around 3 or 4 years old; I ate Tiger Lily petals (Mountain Lily). Most of my childhood was spent outdoors. My first job in kitchens was when I was 14, also in Canmore, I started in a place called The Drake, at one point my dad and family was involved with ownership and operation of the hotel and restaurant, that’s how I got the job. I eventually moved to Victoria in 2007 and began connecting the two passions.
What is it about foraging and cooking in the outdoors that you love?
My love for the outdoors comes first. It’s very calming to me to be out of the city, away from the material trappings, noises and large groups of people. It’s peaceful to get away from it all, the less cell service the better. Foraging comes from my interest in self-sufficiency and security, and maybe a little bit of fearing the unknown- I like to know what’s around me and how/if I can interact with it or eat it haha.
Cooking outdoors is fun, the fewer materials, the more fun. All the gadgets and copper pots are fine when you’re trying to make something showy, but when you’re outside you’re just trying to make something sustaining, anything else feels out of place. There is no pressure, no timing and no reviews out there.
Who and what informed your foraging knowledge?
This question has a funny story; my mom claims I knew at a young age what I could and couldn’t eat in the woods in Canmore. She says she didn’t teach me any of it and I would go out and eat things in the forest and come home for lunch without an appetite, that I somehow was connected to the late botanist David Douglas (my first two names) and whom ironically was the first European to ‘discover’ the tree now referred to as the Douglas Fir Tree (our last name being Furlonger). Though I think in reality we had a young women stay with us for years named Tanis Davis, who ended up looking after me and teaching me most the alpine flowers and shrubs. Haha. But my mom’s story is more interesting. Once I moved out here I did most of the discovering work on my own time, especially with aquatic plants, through surfing, I had and still have an obsession with kelp.
Any other news/links you’d like to share?
A couple important notes on what we foraged; commercial foraging can be contentious, personal foraging, especially for a meal here and there and in most people’s cases once a year is totally fine, YET there are some things to consider. The reason we try to avoid foraging in parks is so that mushroom you pass on the trail can be admired by everyone, keep the foraging to public and private lands (permission on private lands) Mushrooms are the fruit of the organism, you do not harm the mycelium by pulling or cutting, like picking an apple, for this reason, mushroom picking is very sustainable for personal meals. Don’t take more than you’re going to eat.
Gorse is an invasive species, many chefs use the flower, it is the only part of culinary value. ISCBC (Invasive Species Council of BC) recommends not interacting with the plant, if you do, please take flowers well before they start to seed, if you are around gorse while it’s seeding make sure to check clothes and shoes for hitchhikers, we don’t want to spread this plant unintentionally. Plant matter can also propagate, though again, nothing should be taken but the flower – and carefully.
When eating edible flowers, leave some for the bees! (Unless its gorse, then take it all and leave nothing to be pollinated 😉 ). Aquatic plants are protected from commercial wild harvests by licenses, personal use is a-ok, just make sure you’re not in a protected marine habitat. Bears and birds eat berries, be bear aware when foraging berries, and foraging in general of course, you’re a guest on their land and unfortunately, predator conflicts often lead to that animal being destroyed, not cool. Be cool.