A new business in Inuvik is bringing wild flavours of the Arctic to the Northwest Territories in new – and sugary – ways.
Northern Wild Foods is the passion project of couple Richard Skelhorn and Laure Frajman in Inuvik. Accountants by day, the two scour the Arctic countryside on weekends to find inspiration for soaps and sweets.
“We both like being outside, hiking, this kind of thing, so it’s just something you do on top of being outside,” Frajman said. “It’s actually very satisfying, as well, to be sustainable and to be using things that come from nature.”
What started as a long-held personal hobby for the pair blossomed into a small enterprise in the past six months.
Frajman and Skelhorn take only what is needed for small batches, to ensure they don’t over-harvest certain areas.
At home they concoct new recipes, comparing their kitchen to a “mad scientist’s laboratory.” Out comes wild spruce gum taffy. Cloudberry chocolate. Chaga mushroom tea.
“In the Northwest Territories there is so much to forage and to use. So many edible plants that I didn’t know before,” Frajman said.
Skelhorn continued: “Not often do people have access to some of this stuff. A lot of older folks grew up with the taste of spruce gum, but they can’t get out and forage. Or maybe people aren’t used to the sandy, hard texture, right from the tree.
“Developing a recipe to make it into taffies, so people can still get the taste, has been really fun.”
Even recipes that don’t turn out can become a new product with the right attitude.
When Skelhorn tried to make jelly out of fireweed, it didn’t work. (“He’s a bit of a perfectionist,” said Frajman.) But they couldn’t bring themselves to throw out the mixture.
After mixing the syrup with sparkling water and prosecco, Frajman and Skelhorn decided to see if people would try fireweed-flavoured drinks. They put the offer on Facebook.
“It just went crazy,” said Frajman. “People were amazed by it.”
Soon, the two were bottling fireweed soda using the syrup and a SodaStream.
Frajman also uses foraged materials to create scented soaps and cosmetics: moisturizer, bath bombs, and solid shampoo from fireweed, and powders out of rosehip.
“I wanted to stop using the supermarket shampoo, all the chemicals,” she said. “I wanted to be kind to my skin, so I started to make my own cosmetics and it came kind-of naturally.”
The pair think they’re filling a gap by making local, affordable, natural cosmetics.
“It makes us think,” Frajman said. “What can we do that could be original – or that has not been done yet – that could be accessible and local?”
As with most businesses, Northern Wild Foods’ sale patterns have changed over the course of the pandemic. Social distancing meant they weren’t able to interact with customers as much as they would have liked at the Arctic Market in Inuvik this summer. Local deliveries have become what Skelhorn dubs “a drop-and-run.”
However, the two have noticed a significant spike in their online sales as more people turn to their website to shop.
They now plan to further develop their website, perhaps to include a blog or recipes, and grow their following on social media.
“There is a big community of people who love wild food, so we’re always happy to talk about it and share recipes,” Frajman said.
“Yes, no secrets,” Skelhorn concurred.
After a moment of reflection, he added with a chuckle: “Well, maybe a few.”
This coverage of the NWT’s business sector during the Covid-19 pandemic is sponsored by the NWT’s Department of Industry, Tourism, and Investment. Visit Buy North for more information on businesses near you.