Tasting the Boreal

Flin Flon’s Pickled Loon Kitchen a place to pick, learn and savour


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FLIN FLON— The first bite is bison tartare topped with pickled wild blueberry, resting in a tiny Tostitos Scoop, the kind that usually accompanies a big bowl of salsa.

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FLIN FLON— The first bite is bison tartare topped with pickled wild blueberry, resting in a tiny Tostitos Scoop, the kind that usually accompanies a big bowl of salsa.

It’s cool, crunchy and deliciously rich with a hint of sweetness. Our second course is a saskatoon berry borscht, served at room temperature, spiked with spruce tip vinegar and garnished with crunchy stinging nettle seeds. It’s bursting with the combined flavours of earthy beets and sweet berries and as a lifelong borscht-maker and berry picker, I can’t believe I’ve never thought to put these two things together.

But that’s Lyn Brown’s special gift. As the culinary mastermind behind Flin Flon’s Pickled Loon Kitchen, Brown brings the boreal forest to your plate.

“I simply fell in love with the forest and the rocks,” she said. “The boreal forest is a calming place, full of history. We’ve lost some of the flavours of the forest. Let your palate become used to them again.”

Pickled Loon Kitchen’s Foraging to Feasting experience invites guests on a forest walk like no other. Brown leads the group on an exploration of all the delicious things that grow among the spruces and poplars on these northern landscapes. Armed with new knowledge, guests gather the ingredients then set to work preparing them for a unique feast to enjoy as a group. Depending on the time of year, baskets might include rosehips, juniper berries, goldenrod flowers or Labrador tea, but the list will always include one special evergreen.

“My favorite ingredient is the balsam fir needles as they can be used in so many ways, anything from the balsam fir needle seasoning salt to balsam fir needle crème brulé, plus they are available fresh year-round,” she said.

We’ve devoured open-faced rainbow trout sandwiches with juniper berry mayonnaise, bowtie pasta tossed in rosehip puree and lingonberry vodka sauce and polished off warm glossy buns made from birch bark flour and served with rosehip and jalapeno jelly and richly yellow goldenrod garlic butter. Dessert gets a double billing with balsam fir needle cheesecake with red clover blossom syrup and toasted evening primrose seeds, then pecan bars with blue spruce pinecone syrup.

We all hover around the kitchen, hoping for second helpings of everything. When the platters are empty, Brown gathers us around a table loaded with heavy black mortars and pestles, tiny scissors, a big bag of kosher salt and fresh and fragrant balsam fir boughs. We clip the fir needles and let them fall into the mortar, their sprucy aromatherapy filling the room. A generous scoop of salt then it’s time to grind, grind, grind until our mixtures take on a limey green colour, ready for a take-home bag. Since bringing home my treasure, I’ve sprinkled it on grilled tenderloin steaks and added it to humble scrambled eggs with equal delight.

Brown said her guests are often pleasantly surprised at how unfamiliar ingredients can be so delicious.

“’I can’t believe I’m eating this, and it is sooooo good!’ they will often say when eating something like dandelion stem spaghetti,” she said.

The first foraging walks start in June but Brown hosts tasting events and workshops year-round. She’s also busy brainstorming new and delicious recipes.

“I really want to work more on preserving the harvest to utilize throughout the year,” she says. “Stinging nettles particularly. One recipe I ran across recently that I can’t wait to try is a nettle malfatti with brown butter, lemon and Parmesan,” she said. “Once the nettle has been cooked to a certain extent and shaped into small torpedoes, they can be frozen and preserved for winter use.”

The forever-smiling Brown’s mission to introduce guests to the weirdly wonderful world of boreal forest ingredients is always laced with a bit of whimsy.

“I really interested in hosting a cattail cob eating festival as a summertime event,” she said. “I am hoping to arrange this for the summer!”

Yes, cattail cobs.

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