Reading a note in a Waitrose magazine this week, I noted that a "trend alert" comments:-
Foraging - it worked for the worlds best restaurant (Noma) - but really? Does anyone have the time, energy, or sensible clothing?"
An old article from Conde Naste had a quote from an owner of a wild food school in the West Country. "Despite the efforts of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall - the closest thing that British foragers have to a figurehead - our wild plants are relatively safe beyond the confines of the River Cottage
Watching the box set of "The Good Life" over the Xmas period you get the sense that most people probably still think of slightly mad, ex-rat race, middle-class types with a bit of inheritance in the bank who can afford to "give it all up", whenever phrases like "foraging" come up, inevitably linked to "self sufficiency".
So if you will permit me to break the mould, note that both Cath and I are graduated, fully employed, highly sociable creatures, who have no intention of "giving it all up", but wish to offer an opportunity you might be missing, if you're reading this and thinking "why should I go to all this effort for a nettle omelette, and forever being nicknamed "Tom & Barbara" if we ever tell our friends and colleagues we've picked wild salad".
Question for you:-
If every time you walked to the shops, someone randomly stopped you on the street and gave you supermarket vouchers for drinks, bottle of wine, dessert, tin of soup, bag of salad.....would you use them? or would you throw them away because you thought it was all a bit mad....?
So if you're walking in the countryside, or along the beach, and nature hands you the same....would you accept or reject them too?
So...without the sensible clothing
Our foraging adventures in Kent started with a walk around a public park - where we saw we'd just walked past a bramley apple tree, the floor beneath it scattered with fresh wind-falls
The following weekend, we went for a walk along the river, and walked past 50yards of blackberry bushes just past their best, and reminisced about picking them as children
couple of weeks after that, in another public park, we realised we were walking through fallen sweet chestnuts, and whilst the first few we picked up had been raided by squirrels, there were enough to fill a pocket and bring home to try roasting a few, street-seller style
That was Autumn 2009, shortly after buying our first house in Maidstone.
Whilst 2010 went by in a blur of house renovation, and trying to grow a few veggies in our first proper garden, spring was interceded by realising there was an elder tree in our neighbour's garden.
Having tried our friends "home made" elderflower cordial a few years back, we thought we'd give it a try...how hard can it be to stroll next door, pick some flower stalks off low level branches, pour boiling water over them, strain and pop in a couple of old squeezed oranges & lemons languishing unloved in the fruit bowl, bag of sugar hiding in the cupboard since we stopped having it in tea a few years back, and stick it straight into an old pop bottle freshly rinsed in boiling water.
Ten minutes later, diluted, and cooled with a fresh ice cube, we realised that in 20 minutes we'd just made something which tasted identical to the Belvoir bottle we'd once spent £3 a bottle on from Waitrose.
Those first three bottles we made kept us in fresh summer drinks from April until September.
Later that summer and autumn, we went back to the apple tree, and the blackberry bushes we found the year before and filled a bag full of each, and after a summer of cordial, we had an autumn of fruit crumble, sauces for roast pork, and a fruity alcoholic Grenita's...from a few receipes we found between Waterstone's, River Cottage, and Google...and I thought this foraging was all about nettle-omelettes and 400-page mushroom identification guides?
In 2011, our resolution was to try and have a more active lifestyle, and thinking that joining a gym was a waste of money, we stared out from our bedroom window across the Medway valley and realised we have miles of free walking, running, cycling, and fresh air staring back at us.
A year of strolling around the Kent countryside, along the Kent coast, and down the river banks, and without actively setting out to "forage", the countryside and coast has laid before us a veritable supermarket shelf of free to pick produce. free drinks, free soups, free desserts, free salad and herbs, free sea-food...as if someone had given us the vouchers to buy them for free.....so why would we not pick them and use them if they are there infront of us as we walk by?....and the best thing is...they will be there next year too...and the next, and the next....there are now items like elderflower cordial, apple sauce, mussels and oysters, damson & blackberry jams, we will never buy again commercially as we know we can just "pick them up" as we pass by on one of our seasonal walks, carrying nothing more than the same shopping bag we would have taken to Tesco's, and the odd rainy afternoon spent having fun together in the kitchen mixing, boiling, bagging, freezing, and tasting....
The New "Good Life"
If i might be so bold, I'd like to think I'm describing what could be a more contemporary definition of "The Good Life". where you get your family, friends, and colleagues, as well as your home grown veg patch, and the free foraged bounty, and whilst you cherish each of them individually for what they bring to your life; more importantly, you spread the joy, and share the bounty of the latter with the former.
The map on this blog shows everything we found, picked, and used in 2011 - and will be added to in 2012....
Share the bounty
One common note I see is people not willing to share their finds, so they can keep them to themselves.....but with that mentality, how are we to encourage others?.....I have taken tens of pounds of fruits from certain trees, and not even made a dent in the amount of fruit it still had on it, and I challenge anyone to strip a whole elderflower tree..given you only need 30 out of the thousand or so flower heads on a full tree to make several litres of cordial. I would love to see more people at our favourite trees, on our favourite beaches, on our favourite trails, shopping bag in hand, browsing the "shelves" high and low for something that might go well with supper.
We also set up a little facebook page in 2010 - Maidstone Glut-Club - which has blossomed into a great little swap shop of produce home grown, and foraged and have made some great new friends, and swapped dozens of varieties of fruit, veg, jams and chutneys, helpful advice and good humour. Feel free to join us.
Browse our map, share with us your favourite places, recipes, hints and tips - and if there's something you'd love to find...let us know, we'll post it if we find it on our travels.
enjoy, indulge in, and share, the New Good Life.