Yes, you can eat them
installation with 17 laptops (videos and text), and preserved foods, Red Deer College, Alberta, Canada, September/October 2011
As a person who is instinctively drawn to nature and to exploring the natural world, I have been increasingly playing with the thought of contextualizing the concept “living off the land” in my artwork. As a child, growing up in Europe, I often went out with my father hunting mushrooms and collecting wild berries in the forest. While my love for the natural world has remained with me ever since, my knowledge about edible plants has so far been limited. Only within the last few years have I become interested in finding out which ones of the plants that commonly grow on unattended lands are actually edible. I generally feel like we – humans – increasingly disconnect ourselves from the natural world and tend to neglect that we are part of it and dependent on it. While I spent a significant portion of my childhood playing outdoors – summers and winters – I rarely see children play outside today. Our relationship to nature, which used to be uncontemplated behavior, is now being discussed on academic levels. “Sustainability” has become a trendy term discussed by people of all scientific fields. For me the primary question is: how can we manage to reconnect with our planet? How can we learn to live off the planet without depleting and contaminating its resources?
Red Deer, Alberta is a small community of 92. 000, and is surrounded by fields and forests. During my first few days as an artist in residence with Red Deer College I explored the town’s surroundings via bike – on what seemed like a maze of bike trails through areas of forest. While I discovered hidden lakes and beautiful river shores I wondered how – and of what foods – people might have sustained themselves here in the past, both Native people and those who arrived in the dawn of the town’s existence. I started researching native plants and their uses, and was utterly surprised how many plants and their blossoms, fruits and roots are edible. As I started collecting certain plants – primarily wild fruits – I adapted my “living off the land” idea to a small town city environment, as I came to realize that a good portion of trees and scrubs planted in city parks for ornamental reasons actually bear edible fruits. Passers-by repeatedly asked me the same questions: Why was I picking these berries? What were they called? What was I planning to do with them? Were they indeed edible? I was surprised how many people do not know what rosehips are, that crab apples are edible and that highbush cranberries can be used in place of cultivated cranberries. To preserve the wild fruits I learnt about food preservation through jarring and drying. I documented all my processes on video – from fruit collection to their final product. The result of this project was shown in the college’s gallery space on five stations, each of them including two videos, samples of preserved foods and a computer with short texts about each food item and opportunity for audience interaction. In exchange for sharing their own experiences with wild growing foods, people were offered to take the foods I had preserved.
I see this project as a beginning for a new body of work. It is my intention to intensify this idea while spending a full growing cycle – from spring to fall – in one place – a fertile area on the countryside. Ideally I will be living off the land entirely, without any other food sources (neither store-bought nor cultivated/grown for food purposes). The ideal place for this has not yet been found. (I am open to suggestions).
Since all processes will be documented on video and photo, pots, bowls and utensils used for food processing are aesthetically essential. In Red Deer I was lucky enough to find plain cooking ware that was not overburdening the artwork. Ideally, however, I plan to learn to create my own cooking ceramics, to ensure coherence of the work. Consequently I hope to find a location that not only supports the “living off the land” concept, but also offers me opportunity to learn to create functional ceramic wares. I am currently trying to find a long-term artist residency that offers ceramic facilities and is open to other artistic and conceptual fields as well.
There was a crab apple tree right by the school I went to growing up. Every morning during the early days of September I would walk by this tree on my way to school. I would crab a few grab apples off the tree and eat them for my morning breakfast. This tradition continued throughout my years in my town and whenever I would walk past that tree in the spring or summer I would grab a few apples to eat on my way.
I used to pick saskatoons and wild rubarb with my grand mother, she would make jam out of the saskatoons we gathered, (best jam I ever had) and a desert called rubarb crisp. Though I haven’t done this in a long time. Kinda regret not doing it more.
I cannot help but be reminded of my grandparents when I see your home made crab apple sauce- my Nana made crab apple jelly herself! I remember sneaking into their basement where she would store mounds and mounds of those goodies, my brother and I would always manage to sneak a few jar fulls home. Thank you for the pleasant reminder.
I never thought about using crab apples as apple sauce. I have eaten many in my life though. It seemed like that at every house I ever lived at that there was a crab apple tree in the back yard, both in Alberta and BC. I find it very odd. Anyhow, we often ate crab apples at my house as a joyous snack.
It’s truly is fascinating to see what can come out from our very own backyards! This reminds me of walks where I would encounter the classic Saskatoon berry bush, and snack on those on my way through. The preserves come to represent memories, in my opinion, and that is my way of looking at it.
I have learned to make home preserves later in my life and have experimented with many kinds of berries and apples. My family enjoys these home preserves very much. I find this art installation very interesting and unusual. Sometimes it is the simple and everyday activities that are the most interesting. Unfortunately, the art of home preservation is being lost to more convenient foods. Thank you for this wonderful trip back in time.
Every summer my friends and I go for what we call “Hobo Picnics” where we take a long walk and gather fruit from the bushes growing in the back alleys. The rhubarb, raspberries, apples and Saskatoon berries that most people let rot on the trees make a delightful meal. The act of picking the fruit and eating it in the same moment was a visceral pleasure, like the earth and sun was our sustenance, not the food itself. This exhibit brought back that warmth and sun to an otherwise dreary fall. Being privy to this artwork also stirs other memories. The sounds of preparing food brings about a nostalgic glow, bringing my thoughts back to making food with my mother, and grandmother. What a full experience this has been!
I enjoyed being treated to rosehip tea in this exhibit. The flavor is delicately sweet and intriguing. I have many roses in my gardens west of Sylvan Lake known as BruceHeart Gardens and many of them produce very large rose hips. Because of this exhibit, I would like to explore making some tea of my own. I often will take a snack of the larger rose hips while wandering the gardens and eat them like a tiny apple. I know they are sweet and a bit starchy from my experience.
Apparently, a big part of my grandmother’s vitamin C intake in the long Saskatchewan winters came from eating rosehips. I have never tried it myself…yet.
I have eaten fresh rosehips from my garden, made rose petal jam, and used the dried rosehips for tea. We have a llama that is normally out in the pasture. One day it somehow got into the driveway, along which we have rows of wild roses. The llama pretty much cleaned the rose bushes of their rosehips.
I’ve always seen rose hips around the forest outside my house and wondered what they are and what they would taste like. I’ve made jams, sauces and tart filling with my Mom before out of raspberries we would go and pick so I am very interested and intrigued to see what rose hips will taste like. It’s also really awesome to see the final product of what I have seen you (Sonja) working on over the period of time that you have been in your residency with RDC. I remember watching you take the seeds out of the rose hips in the ceramics studio wondering what products would come out of your project. Thanks for the chance to try this rose hip jam, I look forward to it!
I grew up in the Selkirk Mountains of British Columbia where we would pick Huckleberries in the mid to late summer. They are similar to wild blueberries, which we would find while a searching for the ‘Hucks’, but we would pass them over as the huckleberries had such a superior taste. We dismissed the blueberries as not being worth the effort to pick! So at an early age I became a Huckleberry snob and would leave the blueberries for the black bears.
Way back when I was growing up (I’m guessing around age 8-10) I used to tag along with some family members when they used to make trips up to the Canoe Lake area (far north in Saskatchewan). I remember during the summers that me and a few family members would take a few days off to gather and pick wild blue berries. I remember the sights, the sounds, and most of all…the bugs!
The multiple mosquito bites were totally worth the amount of wild blueberries and Saskatoon berries that we had harvested (usually more than enough to fill 3 or 4 10 gallon containers. In short…Yum!!!
Ahh the memories!
When I was a little girl my grandmother would make us tea from dried rosehips whenever we were sick. I never knew why and I was never overly fond of the experience but considering how much vitamin C is contained in one berry I understand her logic now. I guess grandma does always know best.
When I was young about 13 and 14, in early fall my neighbor would always make jam from wild berries on an open fire in his yard. I would sneak out of doing my chores so I could help him pick, clean, strain and boil them. Your presentation was very nostalgic for me. I found myself remembering all the smells, sounds and even flavours! I loved it thank you so much!
When I was a little girl I would love to pretend that rose hips held an intense magical power. I knew of their poison and their colour seemed dangerous as well. I would harvest them and write magical potions calling for them as ingredients. I feel as though you have nearly brought this to fruition as you collect and wash and mix them and then seal them in their jars.
Throughout my entire life growing up on the Sunchild Reserve, me and my family picked wild blueberries and wild strawberries… It would take hours to fill up a small bucket! Later we would mix it in with dried meat (totally dehydrated over a fire by the smoke as well as heat). It is really good! I enjoyed watching your labour throughout your project. Thanks.x
When I was young, my dad taught me all about different edible plants and berries that grew wild around our farm. I used to get in trouble at summer camp for eating the berries I found, because everyone thought these berries were poisonous.
In our area wild strawberries grow, producing fruit the size of peas or smaller. I have often taken the time to sit and eat them, searching carefully through the grasses to find the tiny plants. They are an especially sweet nibble. We never had enough to collect them for jam. To cook them would not be right, as they are so good first hand.
We also have wild raspberries that are wonderful to snack on. The berries are not full or large, but there is something special about picking a naturally occurring berry even if it is not as large as the domesticated plants.
I have often harvested the small crab apples in our yard. I like to make applesauce from them as they are redder than other apples and the sauce is very pink and flavorful. Cutting the stem off of each small apple is very tedious, so some years I don’t bother to collect them.
My mom harvests the crab apples in our backyard every fall to make jelly and juice. She will make apple cinnamon jelly and apple mint jelly. Most of the apples on the tree end up being bird and squirrel food. We enjoy watching the animals pick their fair share of fruit from the tree.
It is amazing how much work goes into something like this it reminds me of a time I went with my mother-in-law to pick saskatoons and I would not stop picking. I ended up with Three 5 gallon pails and hours and hours of work to clean and store them. It was worth the effort.