The Wildcrafting Brewer

"The Wildcrafting Brewer" by Pascal Baudar gives readers a guideline to follow for creating their own boozy concoctions in their own kitchen using available tools.

I’ve been following for a couple years on social media the content created by Los Angeles-based educator, writer and wildcrafting expert Pascal Baudar. I was first introduced to his work by a friend who lent me his book “The New Wildcrafted Cuisine.”

At the time, I was just beginning my jump into foraging and starting to know just a few plants on a more intimate level. His work was exciting and inspiring for a fledgling gatherer.

It remains so to this day.

Baudar’s active online posting displays a hyperfocus on using nonnative and invasive plants in place of the natives to allow for the latter’s sustainability. In fact, he doesn’t even call himself a forager at all, but a wildcrafter, which honestly has a more romantic feel to it anyway. Baudar feels that the tenuous difference between the two is that a wildcrafter tends to possess more awareness of the relationship that humans have with the environment in terms of how they’re collecting and what they’re giving back to the land. It’s not just filling a basket with fiddlehead ferns and ramps (Allium tricoccum). It’s being cognizant that there are ethical considerations to think about before stomping out into the forest and picking whole plants for personal use.

Throughout his 2018 book “The Wildcrafting Brewer: Creating Unique Drinks and Boozy Concoctions from Nature’s Ingredients,” he emphasizes this concept in regards to the current challenges our environment faces. He urges the kind of thoughtfulness in tending the earth that is often lacking when he writes, “At this point in our evolution, we absolutely need to be part of the solution, and this even applies to the simple activity of harvesting wild plants. We must make sure that our activity of picking wild plants for food, drinks, or medicine is done carefully with environmental health and integrity in mind.”

Another point Baudar repeatedly drives home for the readers in “The Wildcrafting Brewer” is that you don’t need to be an actual studied brewer in a pristine, sanitized brewery to produce your own boozy creations. From a historical perspective, our modern vision of brewing is just a blip in the timeline when considering one of the earliest known beers discovered was in China and is at least 9,000 years old. When scientists tested the remnants they found fruit, honey and rice — a sort of hybrid between wine, mead and beer.

There’s a certain amount of freedom offered when he suggests: “There are no real rules! If it’s enjoyable, somewhat tasty, and does the job, you’ve done your work!” It allows us to pause, take a quick intake of breath, and realize that every single one of us can brew without even needing a brew kit by just using normal kitchen supplies. And it’s the kind of brewing that does indeed put us in touch with our primitive roots.

“The Wildcrafting Brewer” gives us the green light to gather ingredients or use what was purchased at a farmers market or grocery store and embrace a craft that is accessible to all because the magic of fermentation predates the alehouse by thousands of years.

There are nine chapters in the book that will guide you in designing your own seasonally flavored fermented beverages based on the terroir of where you live.

Some of the recipes in this book are specific to where Baudar lives in southern California and call for ingredients that we can’t find growing in Lancaster County, like pinyon pine cones, manzanita berries, cactus pears and yerba santa leaves. What’s wonderful about all the shared recipes though is that they’re intended to be read as a guideline and not as gospel. Instead of manzanita berries you could use apples or black raspberries. Throw in some anise hyssop instead of yerba santa. Substitute based on what’s currently available.

I especially enjoy his hiking drink recipes, where you gather on a hike ingredients to make beer, mead or sodas. This hyper-small-batch concoction might have you remembering with fondness the details of that hike in a similar way that gazing at what’s in your curiosity cabinet might do.

At the back of the book you’ll find a resource guide for plant identification (this is of utmost importance because you don’t want to ingest something that’s actually poisonous; if you aren’t 100% sure it’s edible, avoid it), different kinds of alcoholic beverages (I second the recommended reading of “Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers” by Stephen Harrod Buhner if you’re interested in the history of brewing and adding herbal ingredients to beer) and herbalism.

With 290 pages of inspiration, you’re bound to finish reading through this book with the confidence to play with your own wildcrafted creations. Baudar empowers the reader to experiment and throw out all the rules you thought you had to follow.

“We like to chop up this creative line into small, discrete segments and impose etiquette on them: That’s a beer, that’s a wine or that’s a soda. But the truth is that humans, since the dawn of time, have been brewing boozy concoctions that often transcend regular labels. You’ll find all kinds of interesting drinks that are really a blend between beers and wines, or sodas and beer. And it’s all good: Brewing should be about creativity, flavors and, in some cases, medicinal applications. Like many enjoyable activities, it’s a lot less fun when you’re told what you can or cannot do.”

Contact Amber DeGrace with comments and questions at adegrace@lnpnews.com and find her on Twitter at @amberdegrace.