Our thoughts usually turn to India, Mexico, the West-Indies or the Middle East when we think of spice growing areas. In the past few years there has been escalating curiosity and interest in certain plants, fruits and roots from the Gaspésie region of Québec. These ingredients from the Boreal forest are definitely taste and flavor modifiers, which as far as we are concerned qualifies them as spices.
We were delighted and honored when Gaspésie Gourmande – an association created for the purpose of promoting the products of the Peninsular – requested our help in creating a spice blend that was emblematic of their region. There was only one small drawback, our preliminary research indicated that these “spices” had never been commonly used in cooking.
The Gaspé Peninsula on the Eastern tip of Québec is surrounded by the St. Lawrence Estuary to the north, the Chaleur Bay to the south and the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the east. This admittedly noble terroir produces an astonishing variety of edibles, from which we selected: Comptonia, a sweet fern; wild Green Alder Pepper, a kind of pussy willow; Dulse, a seaweed and Labrador tea – the leaves of which have traditionally been infused to make an herbal tea.
As there was no documentation of any kind testifying to their use for anything other than medicinal concoctions, it would be our first attempt at combining these plants, leaves and seeds to create a spice blend. Understandably, our expectations as well as our anxiety levels were high.
We had been making spice blends for many years, but to create such a specific, regional blend from scratch, without references or any recognized traditional uses, was a first for us. The initial step was to get the basic ingredients from a reputable purveyor and for this we turned to Gaspésie Sauvage, a company headed by Catherine Jacob and Gérard Mathar. The couple is well known for their genuine artisanal approach to harvesting all that nature has to offer, in a responsible and environmentally conscientious fashion.
Once the forest spices were collected and delivered to us we immediately got to work tasting, measuring and testing our combinations. It took some time but once we added a few trusted classics such as yellow mustard seeds, coriander, whitepepper and sea salt, we began to make headway.
Our Gaspesian Salmon Rub is a true testament to Québec savoir faire, which is a very romantic way of saying that in Québec we have the “know how”. Fortunately, we are becoming more aware of the enviable natural resources available to us and better still, we are finding ways to transform our bounty into products that are tangible and tasty.
The Gaspésie is known throughout the world for its amazing mountains, wild, pristine rivers, exquisite salmon fishing and breathtaking scenery. Could Gaspésian spices and spice blends be the next big thing?
Pourquoi pas? Just another romantic way of saying: why not?