Photo by telepathicgeorge/Flickr CC
When the fresh matsutake mushrooms arrived at the Forbes Wild Foods office in Toronto, Meaghan Lynch rushed to open the box. The valuable pine mushroom, loved by manybut particularly by the Japanese, who will pay more than $100 for a good onehad been harvested in northern Quebec for the first time.
Inside were the most beautiful specimens she'd ever seen. "Perfectly clean, soft, no bruising. They weren't soggy," Lynch said. "I opened them and said, 'Look at these.'" And the smell? "Sweet."
Lynch then called the chefs who were waiting for news of the matsutakes' arrival and promptly sold out of the more than ten kilos she received that first day.
The matsutake is just one of many hard-to-find products harvested from the Canadian wilderness and sold by Forbes Wild Foods. Founded by Jonathan Forbes, the business started back in the late 1990s when Forbes realized that no one knew what he was talking about when he told them of the chokecherries he'd picked or the beechnuts he was eating. "If you asked people what are Canadian wild foods, you'd be lucky to get more than wild rice, maple syrup, and blueberries," he said.
Nowadays, Forbes also sells pawpaws and wild leeks, both indigenous to southern Ontario. These are scarce (pawpaws more so than leeks) because human development has taken over their native habitat. But Forbes also sells foods that Canadians simply have forgotten how to eat, like woodland lobster mushrooms that really do taste like their marine namesake and that the Ojibwe used to pick. Saskatoon berries whose bushes cover vast swaths of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. Cattail hearts and shoots that grow wild in wetlands and marshes across the country.