If you left the house 10 years ago with a wicker
basket to harvest sorrel, ceps or cobnuts, most people would snigger and point
you towards the nearest supermarket. Mushrooming? Heaven forbid; the fungi
world was fraught with danger. Hedgerow berries were bird food, wild herbs were
weeds and anyone who knew where their food came from was an anorak-wearing bore,
a die-hard hippie or plain eccentric.
But in recent years, that perception has changed. Television
programmes such as Valentine Warner's What to Eat Now and celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver have
enlightened us to the edible delights that can be found on our doorsteps.
Today, any chef worth his or her Michelin salt is foraging or sourcing wild
food that sings with natural, integral flavours, not least René Redzepi, chef
of the two-starred Noma in Copenhagen, crowned World's Best Restaurant for the third
time in 2012.
As any expert is quick to point out, foraging is
about more than a good meal. Gathering food in the wild immerses us in the
elements, sharpens our senses and reconnects us with our surroundings. Where globalisation
has, gastronomically speaking, cast us adrift, foraging anchors us in the here
and now. There is such a thing as a free lunch after all -- if you are willing
to look for it.
Think of foraging and what comes to mind? Wild asparagus in France? Meaty mushrooms
in a Scandinavian forest? Summer bilberries in the Alps? While urban railway
bridges, parks and pavements may not be the first image you see, many cities
have been quick to embrace the foraging trend.
In London, a growing number of groups, including Abundance and Hackney
promoting free, pick-it-yourself forays, with maps of fruit trees in the area to
get you started. North London-based Urban
Harvest also organises events, including
edible flower walks and the urban harvesting of plums, apples and chestnuts.
proper introduction to the art of foraging, consider joining a guided walk or
workshop. You will swap the tube for the trail on the one-day Food Safari tour,
led by foraging pro Nick Saltmarsh, one-time supplier to famous London restaurant
Le Gavroche. In summer you can hope
to find cherry plums, elderflower, chickweed, nettles and wild garlic; in
autumn, a fruity feast of rosehips, blackberries, crab apples, damsons and
hawthorn berries. Besides learning to identify wild food and pick it safely
(and legally), you will learn how to turn what you find into appetising
fritters, pies, pestos, preserves and jellies. The £150 cost is not cheap, but
it includes lunch and you will go home armed with recipes. It is popular, so booking
months ahead is highly advisable.
Alternatively, hook onto one of the wonderfully informative Foraging Courses,
run by the author of the wild food guide Eatweeds, Robin
Harford, who taught at Cornwall’s Eden
Project and was featured in BBC Two's Edwardian Farm. Robin's courses
in central London and Edinburgh (£85) introduce you to what he calls “nature's
wild food larder”, and have an emphasis on sustainable foraging as you comb the
city for edible plants, which are later prepared into a light lunch.
If mushrooming is more your scene but you cannot tell your morel from
your chanterelle, help is on hand at Fungi to Be With. Andy Overall leads you into the enticingly
earthy and outstandingly diverse depths of the mushroom world on walks, forays
and workshops in London’s green spaces, including Wimbledon Common, Hampstead
Heath and Epping Forest.
North America’s park life
Hopping across the pond brings you to the wilds of New York. True, the
much-frequented parks of Manhattan and Brooklyn are not where you would expect
to search for your supper -- but passionate naturalist and “Wildman” Steve
Brill proves otherwise. For a mere $20, you can join one of his
four-hour foraging tours in Manhattan’s Central Park or Brooklyn’s Prospect
Park, which he peppers with unwavering enthusiasm, be it for the common
dandelion or pungent wild garlic, the chickweed that “tastes like
corn-on-the-cob” or the “lemony flavoured sheep sorrel”.
deeper into this mysterious world, visit the urban foraging blog of Ava Chin, who writes with vigour for the New York Times on
everything from Fort Greene Park's field garlic to Staten Island's chickweed.
across North America are also in on the trend. San
Francisco's wild food community ForageSF is the brains behind the Underground
Market and the Wild Kitchen,
where sustainably foraged ingredients shine on an eight-course tasting menu. In
Los Angeles, Forage brings
freshly found produce to the table. Heading north to Vancouver, imaginative
chef Robin Kort is the pioneer behind Swallow
Tail Tours, which offers Dungeness crab
fishing and wild mushroom hunting.
Head down under
As of late, foraging in Australia
has gone way beyond the survival skills of finding food in the bush. In Sydney,
search for herbs and berries that thrive in the sunny, coastal climate. Naturalist
Bonetto leads foraging excursions in and around the city, including mushrooming
jaunts and walks to dig up seasonal treats such as dandelion, chickweed, plantain
Melbourne's shining star is the award-winning Attica,
where chef Ben Shewry has won the highest accolades for his cool approach to
foraging and his winningly fresh and interesting menus. If you would rather
hunt for the raw ingredients yourself, browse Edible Weeds for walks and cooking workshops run by local permaculturalist
and edible weed enthusiast, Doris Pozzi.
The article 'The art of urban foraging' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.