It’s time to get fat.
Winter is coming and if you keep eating like a bird, you’ll have to head south. But if you are planning to stay in the chilly North it’s time to start eating like a Grizzly bear.
Getting fat for winter is not something you should approach lightly and there are a few things to consider before you start plumping up your big bear butt. Eating like a Grizzly bear requires time, resources and dedication.
During the fattening process bears need to consume vast amounts of food that we humans consider to be low calorie. It is easy getting fat while you’re eating pancakes, but try packing on the pounds with berries and salmon. During their eating peak, Grizzlies will consume 5-10% of their weight in food per day. That requires substantial dedication to eating and foraging.
It’s not as easy as a single visit to the nearest fast food joint for your daily fat intact, they have to forage through forest and mountains and rivers to find the food they need to pack it on. Foraging means burning major calories and that means more food to make fat.
Two months before hybernation bears effectively turn into omnivorous zombies. Something switches in their brain that allows the to eat for 20 hours a day. The technical term is hyperphasia, but feeding frenzy sums it up nicely.
During hyperphasia they give the illusion of being more docile, but if you were to approach a bear while in this trans-like state it would become startled and would result in a dangerously defensive bear.
When calories are scarce bears can be especially grumpy, but during salmon spawning bears will gladly rub shoulders while they plump up on the plentiful fatty fish. However in the great stretches of barren land a bear will fiercely defend his plot.
A bear’s diet depends their geography. In Banff the most plentiful calories come from soap berries (an aquired taste by human standards). Tthey fill out their diet with a limited selection of tubers, nuts, shoots and whatever else they are lucky enough to find. As a result of a fairly limited source of protein, the mountain bears are half the size of their west coast counterparts. The Coastal bears have plentiful salmon for protein and juicy berries for sugary carbs. They enjoy better variety with the additionf of wild carrots, rutabagas and sometimes shellfish and seaweed.
While Grizzlies are not true scavengers, they are definitely opportunists, seizing anything that is slow enough to be in the wrong place at the right time.
The pros and cons of honey are always a balance between sweet pleasure and stinging pain, but clever bears will wear a mud mask to protect their eyes and nose from prickly bees. High up in the seemingly barren mountain tops certain bears have discovered that moth larvae have more calories by weight than any other bear food and are worth the effort of flipping over rocks to get them.
If you are hungry in the bush, you can eat what the bears eat, but a steady diet of larvae and parsnip shoots would not be very appetising. You increase your chances of survival by eating what bears eat, but decrease your chances when you start tailing a hungry bear.
Common-sense would tell most of us to avoid bears for our own personal safety, have you considered how dangerous you are to a bear’s well-being?
For grizzlies, much depends on dinner. If you stop your car to watch a bear feeding along the side of the road, it can have a devastating effect on the bear’s ability to reproduce. A frightened bear gets stressed, being stressed takes more calories to make fat, the amount of fat on a female will directly effect the number of cubs she is able to have.
Delayed fertilisation starts in the spring when bears mate. Instead of becoming pregnant right away the female carries the male’s seed in her body until such time that she is fat enough to have a cub. If she gets enough calories during the fall, her body will naturally fertilise the egg, if she does not get enough calories the result is no cubs.
Many scientists wondered how a bear can hibernate without having muscular atrophy. But recent research shows that bears will actually sleep walk and stretch to keep their muscles from atrophying.
If anyone says they haven’t been to the bathroom for 4 months, you could say they were full of crap. Except for bears who hold it in for the duration of hybernation and have interesting digestive adaptations that help circulate fluids to maintain body functions.
How do they hold it all in? Prior to hybernation the bears munch a bunch of bark that acts as a fecal plug to keep it all in.
And to leave you with a classic bear joke…
So there is a bear answering the call of nature, he turns to a nearby rabbit and asks if the rabbit has any trouble with scat sticking to his fur. The rabbit says no, so the bear reaches over and picks up the rabbit…
FALL FATTENING MENU
This menu has two cheats to make it more palatable for humans: salt and butter. If you want to get technical, cooking the food is also a cheat since bears rarely cook anything other than oatmeal.
CEDAR SALMON W/ DRIED BLUEBERRY PESTO + RUTABAGA MASH + WILD CARROTS
600g salmon filet (cut into 150g portions)
1/2 cup dried blueberries
1/2 cup toasted pinenuts
1 bunch small carrots, with green tops
salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to 400˚F.
Peel and dice the rutabaga. Get it into a pot of salty water and fire it up on high heat. Cook the rutabaga until they are very tender and starting to fall apart. It is almost impossible to overcook a rutabaga, but it is easy to undercook one, so just let it cook for a long time. The longer you cook them the more natural sweetness will be enhanced. When they are done cooking, drain and mash with butter and salt.
Meanwhile, in a mortar and pestle or a food processor combine dried blueberries, toasted pinenuts and a pinch of salt. Blend on low and use a little bit of warm water to get the desired thick pesto consistency. When it is a smooth paste, set it aside at room temperature for later.
Cut your salmon into 150 g portions, season with salt and pepper. Wrap them in a piece of cedar paper and line them up on a baking sheet with the seam of the cedar paper on the bottom. It will look like a row of wooden canneloni.
Place the washed peel carrots (keep greens attached) into the pot of salty boiling water with the green sprigs hanging out of the water, careful not to let them touch the heat source. Boil the carrots until they are tender. Then for 1 minute, submerge the greens in the boiling water to quickly cook them. Drain and serve hot.
Serve the salmon in the opened cedar plank on a plate with a scoop of rutabaga, two or three carrots and a generous spoonful of blueberry pesto.
Serves 4 hungry bears.
Get some cedar sheets at the Cookbook Co. in Calgary or Gourmet Warehouse in Vancouver. They are thin and pliable and more delicate than your average cedar plank. While you’re there, grab some dried blueberries.
MUDDLE BLACKBERRIES W/ HONEY + HAZELNUTS
2 pints blackberries, raspeberries
2 ounces gin
2 juniper berries, crushed
1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts, crunched
Place the gin, crushed juniper berries and blackberries in a small pot over medium low heat. Cook for 15-20 minutes until the berries are very soft and the liquid gets a little syrupy.
Portion out the berries into bowls and drizzle on some lovely runny honey. Top with toasted crushed hazelnuts.
Grouse Mountain Bear Sanctuary,
Grouse Mountain, Vancouver, BC.
Feeding time is 10 am and the bears are hungry
Banff Information Center
224 Banff Avenue, Banff, AB
Call ahead for showtimes.
5 Comments so far
Leave a comment