Sunday 20 October 2013

Foraging for beginners

Since moving to the countryside 8 weeks ago I've been initiated into the joys of foraging for food. This is not really something I've ever done before, I can recall blackberry picking as a kid and I've been to a couple of pick your own but that was about the extent of my experience.

Now you will often find me out and about seeking out what my family can enjoy next! I am of course super lucky to be living on a 220 acre country estate but I'm assured by a friend who lives in central London that you can find food to forage most anywhere. Check out your local parklands, hedgerows and disused areas like overgrown footpaths.

It is not only me who has been bitten with the foraging bug though, my kids are all keen for it too and what a marvellous thing that is.

There are so many benefits to children being involved -
  1. Getting outside for exercise and lots of fresh air
  2. Great learning opportunity for the children to learn where their food actually comes from and what it looks like both ripe and unripe
  3. They develop confidence in their own abilities to pick and use the food we have foraged
  4. It gives them an awareness of seasons and what grows when, it is so easy to lose this knowledge with things like strawberries now being available in the supermarkets all year round
  5. Once the kids have picked their food they are keen to bake with it and thus there develops another passion
  6. We have a blast as a family and really enjoying chatting as we go along

Don't forget to get kitted out when you are going out foraging and remember a few bits of etiquette:
  1. Wear long legged and sleeved cloths as brambles and bites can hurt (we know this first hand!)
  2. Use kids buckets for easy picking
  3. Remember to just forage on public land or seek permission from the landowner if you are accessing private land
  4. Take what you need and leave some for other people too (it's good to share)
  5. Leave some for the birds and animals too
  6. Give your foraged foods a good wash when you get home and let all those bugs creep out (yuck!)
  7. Don't pick mushrooms unless you have an expert with you, it is all too easy to get fungi wrong and there can be serious repercussions
  8. Only eat foraged foods if you are certain what they are. We have numerous berries here on the estate but until I take the gardener out with me to identify them I'll just stick to the blackberries
So what can you easily forage for in the UK?

There is so much it is unreal, some things seem to be easier than others. I'm really looking forward to the next couple of weeks once the sweet chestnuts are big enough and fall to the ground. It won't be difficult to collect them but it might be a bit prickly, so I have my gloves at the ready. Roasting those will be a real treat.

Wild garlic (Spring)
Blackberries (September time)
Hazelnuts (or cobnuts) (September time)
Elderberries (August/ September) and Elderflowers (June time)
Crab apples (September/ October onwards)
Rosehips (September time)

As you can see the early Autumn is a real feast of a time and I have just touched on all the things you can find if you are a bit more adventurous - what about nettles, dandelions, chickweed and seaweed? Oh and something like wild plums if you are very lucky!

I hope I might have inspired you to get our looking for some sweet chestnuts or to be aware of all the great finds you might have next year and make sure you get some apples as there are so much great cooking with apples recipes. Or why not check out Aly's how to make bramble jelly post.

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