An Adventurous Meal in Gatineau Park
I was recently contacted by a UK based undertaking called the EatWild Project to join them in a dinner to celebrate historically local foods. The premise this company was using was to be “Culinary Explorers” and follow Samuel de Champlain’s route from the East Coast through to Ottawa doing pop-up style dinners along the way based on historical foods of the time. Interesting concept, right? I thought so too, so when given an invitation to join a group to dine in a Gatineau Park cabin, I accepted. To be honest I was a little sceptical (ie. freaked out) about meeting total strangers in the middle of Gatineau Park, at night, then having to hike 3.5 km to a cabin with no electricity or plumbing. I guess my sense of adventure was particularly strong as I decided to head off into the night.
Arriving barely on time at the parking lot to Lac Phillippe I was met with, well, nothing really. No one. A few vehicles. Maybe everyone had arrived and had headed to the cabin. A quick call to a contact number I was given (the organizers were not travelling with cell phones) – and it looks like the rest of the group is still 10 minutes out. Once they arrived, quick introductions were made , then the 5 of us were off for a bit of a hike. Gatineau Park is quite lovely on a chilly winter’s night. A little unnerving under the circumstances, but lovely. After about a 30 minute hike, where we chatted and got acquainted, we arrived at our cabin destination, and……no one. OK, maybe I should start running back to the car. The organizers were supposed to meet us here. Weird. Well at least the cabin was unlocked, so we went inside to pass a little time, have a beverage, and decide our next move. Isn’t this the premise to 1000 cheesy horror movies? The cabin itself was pretty bare bones: no water, no electricity, a wood fired stove, a table and chairs and bunks for about 8 or so. At this time we are thinking should we stay or should we go? After about 45 minutes, our organizers arrive (happy that we’ve still hung around) with tales of car problems and trail head confusion. OK, light a fire, looks like we are having dinner!
Now that it seems like we are going to eat, I’m wondering what’s on the menu, because it has been a surprise. With a historical reference to the evening, the meal must be locally based, so, here we go. My apologies for the crappy pictures, but it was tough to get any light at all without the flash.
First course: a soup of maize (corn or popcorn), with butternut squash, blueberries and bison meat. This was actually based on a historic recipe where the corn was popped then turned into a soup. It was quite interesting. Not something I would make again for myself, but it was actually pretty good. The roasted squash and blueberries gave it a sweetness and the bison a bit of saltiness, which it needed as the popcorn mash was, as you can imagine, a bit bland. Warming and filling on a cold night.
Next up, the main course. This again was definitely something that could have been eaten a couple hundred years ago. Elk stew, wild rice (the real stuff, not the generic cultivated stuff), sauteed kale and rye bread. Another hearty plate with tender pieces of elk meat and wild rice that was just crispy enough. The kale with still firm enough and the bread had a good chew. Satisfying.
Lastly dessert of course. Maple cake with cream and dried blueberries. Sweet and tasty enough, but fairly generic. Not much more to say about it really.
What was fun was that after we had dessert, we all went outside and poured reduced maple syrup on a fresh piece of snow and had maple candy (my first time).
After our maple treat we said our goodbyes to our organizers and started our long walk back to our cars. The moon was very bright and it was calm and serene as we kept up a quick pace. It was now after midnight and my day was going to start again in only a few hours. All in all it was a fun experience. A nice group of people, a tasty meal and a good hike. It also makes for a good story. Thanks to all that we there and to the Culinary Explorers for putting it together.