This weekend I combined my love of being outdoors with my love of food and cooking. I signed up for a day course introduction to foraging and wild cooking. I’ve wanted to do this for awhile, as i’ve become increasingly interested in growing my own food and making use of food found in nature.
During my hike across Scandinavia, I noticed an abundance of edible berries. There were wild blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and lingonberries growing along the trail. The locals make good use of all of these in everyday cooking. I became aware that many of the meals I had in Sweden and Norway included foraged foods. My favourites including lingonberry and chanterelle mushrooms, which I had on several occasions. These foods would be really expensive to buy from a supermarket and a real luxury. I found myself wishing that all of these things could be found so readily in the woodlands back home.
Whilst i’m unlikely to come across a wild lingonberry in England, I am aware that there are foods to be found (and more than just the trusty blackberry). I’ve done a little foraging over the past couple of years, just things like sloes, rosehip, blackberry (of course) and apples, but have wanted to learn more. I’m trying to shift my food consumption habits to be more sustainable and eco-friendly. Learning about the diverse, free, wild foods out there is only a good thing for that. I’m becoming frustrated with supermarket packaging and wastage and damage caused by the commercial nature of how we get our food today.
So, I finally decided to take a positive step forward in learning about what we have here in our forests. I decided to book onto a introductory course to learn about foraging for wild foods. I searched online and surprisingly, there were a lot of courses to choose from, but I booked through Meetup onto the ‘Foraging and Wild Food Cooking with Carol Hunt & Natural Pathways‘ course.
The day started by meeting the group in a beautiful woodland about a 35 minute drive from my house that i’ve never been to before. We spoke a little about why we were interested in foraging and Carol answered some of our questions. Next she gave us an introduction into some of the do’s and don’t of gathering wild foods. This included recognising areas to avoid and the limitations of the law.
We walked off together into the woods, looking for fungi and interesting plants to discuss. She identified any we were curious about and showed us some edible plants she could find. She gave us an idea of ways in which each can be prepared and encouraging us to smell and taste the plants, using as many senses as possible to develop our ‘food memories’, so that we could better assess these for ourselves in the future if found whilst on a forage.
Foraging edible mushrooms is a complicated business. You really should study in depth before you even think about eating a foraged mushroom. Carol has over ten years of experience but even she is not confident about eating every edible mushroom out there. As she taught us, it is so easy to mistake a poisonous mushroom for one you can eat. We didn’t gather any mushrooms, the edible ones were too old, though we did gather chestnuts to take back and roast on the fire.
At the end of our walk, we headed back to camp to try some baked pastry goods that Carol had brought with her. Ingredients included Hogweed Seed, Chestnut, Acorn, Apple, Rose hip, Sloes and Burdock root. We also had a little tipple of Nocino (Walnut Brandy) and Sloe Gin.
Next we had a go at making Carols vegan burgers made from Chickpeas, chestnuts, re-hydrated acorn meal, hogweed seeds, thyme and onion. We also made a Burdock root stir fry using chilli, garlic, ginger, burdock root, oyster mushrooms, soy sauce, chestnuts and horse radish leaf. The bulk of ingredients foraged with a few larder staples. This opened my eyes to how we can supplement our diets with free found foods. Even if it’s just a seed to add a little intrigue and flavour. Both were delicious.
Carol and Hannah provided us with some recipes to take home. They also recommended some good books to study from. If you have an interest in learning how to forage, Carol recommends using and comparing several books, rather than relying on one for information. Buy up-to-date copies of the books, because the information is changeable. It can also become diluted as time goes by. Notable authors include Roger Philips, Richard Maybe and Micheal Jordan.
I learnt so much from the day that I didn’t expect. I can now appreciate thousands of years of accumulated knowledge available and think of food and medicine more as one. Recognising the way in which foods affect our body and can work with and against modern medicines. Plants can used as both food and remedy.
This was a very simple introduction, so i’m no expert yet. If you have an interest in learning how to forage, I recommend an introduction like this. This way you get to observe the plants where they grow. You get to smell, taste and touch them, and put them into context by learning how to use them in a dish. I’m looking forward to getting some books, spending more time out in nature, looking for and learning about plants. I hope that i’ll become confident enough to find, identify and use wild foods in my cooking.