Euell Gibbons, the ultimate forager, would have liked Bernard Tremblays pickled cat-tails. Gibbons devotes a half dozen pages to cat-tails in his book, Stalking the Wild Asparagus. He calls this plant the Supermarket of the Swamps and describes how to make cat-tail flour from the pollen, how to use the roots for starch, and how to pick the spikes and eat them boiled and buttered like corn, but he doesnt mention pickling them when they are young.
It is by their spikes that most of us know them. Cat-tails, or bullrushes as they are also called, grow in wet-lands and are easily identifiable by their tall brown velvet stalks. When they mature, in late summer or early fall, they are easily picked and dried and make splendid ornamental decorations. Picked young, they are short, tender and edible with a taste somewhere between asparagus and artichoke.
Bernard Tremblay has a company in Rawdon called LArôme des Bois that specializes in making mustards, sauces and preserves from wild Quebec plants. From June 24 to July 7 Tremblay looks for cat-tails. Once they appear he says that he has only 48 hours to harvest them while their taste is at their peak.
Pickled cat-tails are small, only about 14 cms tall and barely the width of a pinkie. Tremblay cooks them in vinegar with salt and a little lemon. The cat-tails are packaged in tall narrow jars that hold about two dozen of the young plants. They look delicate. Each has a small stem just long enough to hold while nibbling the thick fuzz. Most people like the taste but some find it hard to get used to the velvety texture.The stalks can be sliced into salads or served on their own as an intriguing part of a selection of vegetable appetizers.
Look for them in in specialty food stores such as Les Saveurs dici at 5572 Monkland in N.D.G., Charcuterie Vieux Longueuil, 177 St. Charles West in Longueuil and Gourmet Laurier 1042 Laurier West.