Ever thought of foraging for 'wild' food?
You don't have to come home empty handed from a walk in the fresh air.
There has been a massive resurgence recently in foraging, with increasing numbers of ‘freegans’ even going so far as to rummage for meals in bins, living very well off almost-past-their-best pre-packaged sandwiches. Fear not! You don’t have to dangle your kids into a skip though to get yourself some food for free.
What do you think of foraging? Is this something you are doing already or does the thought of collecting your own ingredients al fresco leave you cold?
Both my children love the thrill of finding their own food. There is something magical about going out hunting for blackberries, filling your basket, and then taking them home to eat.
Here are some ideas for seasonal wild foods available now in a hedgerow near you:
A family favourite - what child could fail to enjoy the thrill of blackberry picking, complete with scratched arms and purple stained fingers? It's something I have fond memories of as a child, and I'm keen to create the same memories for my own children. You’ll find blackberries growing all over the place, and when the alternative is a dozen blackberries in a punnet from a supermarket for two quid, it’s well worth it. We have huge blackberry bushes lining the canal paths near our house and my eight-year old daughter Belle loves collecting fruit for her lunchbox and showing it off to friends at school.Turn your bounty into delicious apple and blackberry crumble, jam or blackberry jelly.
Early October is the perfect time to collect chestnuts, and not just because they are in season - it's a lovely time of the year and Belle loves outings to the park, rummaging in the autumn leaves in the late afternoon sunshine. Chestnuts look a bit like conkers and will fall and split open when they are ripe, revealing two or three smooth, brown, shiny chestnuts inside. You can tell them apart from conkers as they have a spiky tuft at one end rather than being smooth all over. Slit the skin, boil them until tender, and peel off the darker outer skin. You can eat them whole, puree them, or add them to stews. Check out these chestnut recipes on the BBC website. Christmas dinner just wouldn't be right in our house without whole chestnuts with our sprouts!
The fruit of the blackthorn bush, sloes are in season during October and November and are a small, soft, plum coloured fruit. Prick and marinate the berries with sugar in gin for your very own sloe gin – perfect for Christmas gifts if you’re quick. Although I've had home-made sloe gin as a gift from friends before, I've never actually made my own. Friends reassure me though that it is incredibly simple, so, as a big gin fan, I'm looking forward to having a go myself this year!
Other things to remember:
- Respect the environment – only take what you need and leave the area as you find it
- Do not uproot any wild plants without permission
- Don’t forage on private land without the permission of the landowner
- Be safe and use your head – don’t do anything silly like forage on the banks of a motorway or just downstream from a landfill site
If you're worried about the risks of foraging for wild food, the Food Standards Agency can offer you some helpful dos and don'ts, and if you want to plan ahead for the rest of the year, why not download this fantastic ‘Forager’s Calendar’ from the Guardian?
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