Foraging!  Or – ‘Food For Free’

By Bernie Bell 

As Director of the Orkney International Science Festival , Howie Firth is already in the throes of preparation for this year’s events. The Festival may not take place until September, but preparation involves a great  of thought and planning – getting ideas for the different ‘strands’ which will run through it, and then weaving all these strands together to produce a, hopefully seamless, interconnected flow of events which will educate, entertain, and …illuminate!

One of the themes for the 2019 OISF is likely to be foraging – remember the book ‘Food For Free’  by Richard Mabey, which was something of a ‘bible’ to those involved in the resurgence of interest in living more ‘naturally’, which took place in the early 1970’s?  We still have a copy – though it mostly stays on the shelf, these days.

It’s not exactly wild foraging, but, in our garden, we have a veg patch, in which Mike cultivates what could be called ‘weeds’, on purpose, to eat.  He grows veg, obviously! And hoes away most of the weeds, as they would compete with the …domesticated… veg.  He leaves the poppies, as they look good, and he also leaves hairy bitter-cress, and sorrel, which he eats as salad leaves. Rather than as a salad leaf, he treats chickweed like spinach – great cooked with butter and garlic (wild or domesticated!) – it has a unique, pleasant, taste all of its own.

These ‘weeds’ aren’t just seasonal, they grow through much of the year, and can provide ‘salad’ leaves out of season. This pic of the hairy bitter-cress, was taken in February.

hairy bittercress

We have friends from Germany, who, when they visit Orkney, also visit us.  Mike introduced them to the idea of eating the ‘weeds’ from their veg patch, and they were very taken with it.  He also took some into work for a colleague to try – who wasn’t quite so taken with it!  A matter of personal taste, I suppose.

As my Mum would say “It wasn’t off the wind he took it.”  Mike’s Dad used to have a row of dandelions in his veg patch.  He didn’t let them flower or go to seed, as they would take over the garden, but he purposely grew a row of dandelions, as salad leaves.  He also used to cut nettle tops and cook them like spinach.

This was a throw-back to the war, when folk grew, and ate, anything they could.

Andrew Appleby (aka The Harray Potter), is a great one for foraging, and he did a short series for TON about the benefits of eating A Wild Thing A Day

It has to be said, I’m not a great forager, myself, except from the ’fridge!  Too much aware of the warnings from my parents about eating wild things that I didn’t recognize. Which brings me to the tale of the Suffolk mushrooms. We used to live in Suffolk, and had a regular walk down across the nearby marshes to a ruined windmill. One time, on our way back, we picked what we were both quite sure were ordinary field mushrooms.  We included them in a pie for our tea, and both felt most peculiar!  Not un-well, more, un-real!  No real harm done, but it was a bit disconcerting, and shows how much you need to know about, and be quite sure about, what you’re eating, when foraging for free food!

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2 replies »

  1. Thank you for this post .
    You know with how many people there is out there that is able to forage as you do I am surprised that there are not more classes on how to do this. Or people who would come and show others on how to look for food on the land they own. This is really a hands on thing knowing up front about this food. Have a blessed day!

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