Saturday, 10 September 2011

Nothing like a good forage

You may have noticed that foraging in the wild has become popular of late. The pace at which we've become foodies, folkies and (garden) forkies in recent years has led to a plethora of niche trends from cup cake baking to bunting stitching. So my instinctive reaction to sounds from the countryside, rustling in the bramble bushes if you will, was one of caution. Is this just another London media crowd driven trend?

Now that the country appears to all be growing its own, are we also not seeing another classic case of British one-upmanship? My fruit is wilder than your fruit? Who needs an allotment when you have it all down the lane? 

But slowly I’m being persuaded by River Cottage, seduced by Alys and coming round to the sound of the foraging chefs. And half a bottle of home made Exmoor sloe gin once numbed the pain of an ex-girlfriend taking un-nerving pleasure in removing 35 sea urchin spikes from my foot one by torturous one with a scalpel and tweezers. It was amazing stuff.

As I've mentioned before on these pages, gardening has done a funny thing to me. It genuinely has made me take a little step back and look at food in a different light. Indeed, look at nature as a conscious, complex thing, which has led to a humble appreciation of just what it takes for fruit and veg to come to life.

Nature has developed a careful balance of water, light, heat and minerals to provide us with fruit and veg that keeps us well oiled. Only we go and manipulate them, pass chemicals off in their place (artificial blueberry bits anyone?), or just leave them to rot.

This appreciation is important. And once you’ve taken that step, the next logical one is away from the ordered, control-freak world of allotments and towards a naturally created treasure trove. Sometimes the bounty gets devoured on site, other times it becomes the highlight of the plate or glass. You know what you're looking for, but unsure if you'll find it, and the thrill when you do... (note of caution, stealing carrots from Farmer Giles' field does not count as foraging).

However, I'm yet to go out there and get my hands pricked since moving to the south-west, and I bet all the good sloes have gone already. I need to get my rear in gear as, yes, I'm conscious that there’s more to foraging than being in with the latest trend. 

Indeed, one could say foraging goes to the heart of our very existence, being at one with the complexity of nature.  Just take care with the mushrooms. Get it wrong and they can go to the existence of your heart.


elaine rickett said...

I have been a 'hunter-gatherer' (well, not the hunter bit) for lots of years and know all the secret places round where we live for free goodies. See my post Magic Mushrooms at
You could say I have had a field day with Field Mushrooms - and delish they were too.

Linda's Garden Blog said...

i like your post and have always wanted to forage for things like wild onions ,and the rest like mushrooms but a bit scared to do it on my own would like some one to do it with me first if that makes sence happy gardening

Nome said...

Ah, just because something's 'trendy' doesn't mean it's a bad thing or lacks value. I always thought foraging sounded too much like hard work, but I've taken a one-plant-at-a-time approach this year and once I started getting into it (although I'm still very much a beginner doing it occasionally for novelty and learning) it just amazed me how much of the wild foliage I was walking past everyday was in fact really good food. (Did you read any of my posts on nettles, fat hen and elder? ) Wild foods always seem to be much more nutritious than our cultivated veg, and considering the speed and abundance with which they grow, it's crazy we don't make better use of them!

The Courtyard Gardener said...

Fab post, thank you. I am nowhere near confident enough to try mushrooms (too many horror stories!) but love blackberrying (for memories of childhood as much as for the fruit), and last year foraged for ramsons for the first time, which are very easy to identify. I made them into a pasta sauce with mushrooms and cream and they were delish and very pretty! A friend made pesto with it, which looked really good - you can find her recipe here if you want to try it: (it really doesn't look like lily of the valley though ... she is more on the cooking side than the plant side!!)

The only downside is it is getting quite cool. Anywhere within striking distance of London and you have to bring a stick in case you need to fight some Hoxton trendies for the goods...

Janet said...

There's nothing quite like getting food that you've collected yourself for free. Chanterelles are the only mushrooms I eat until I really know my fungi. But there are so many brambles elders etc ot there. Go for it.

The Hapless Kitchen Gardener

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I only feel hapless because some people make it look easy to grow 10 ft marrows or a banquet of greens whereas my courgettes got nabbed by killer slugs and I only got one raspberry. So tips and stories from people less hapless than I are more than welcome. As a disclaimer though, none of my comments should be taken as expert advice on which you can rely! © Unless stated otherwise, and with the exception of guest content where that guest retains copyright, all photos and posts are the copyright of Tom Carpen and may not be used without permission.