Tag Archives: Food For Free

Foraging for wild garlic

Mmmm wild garlic I love you so much!

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Yesterday we went foraging for wild garlic in our local woodlands, within walking distance from Blackpool town centre, the leaves are vibrant and the flower buds are aching to open. It’s the perfect time of year to collect some leaves and turn them into garlic delights. Remember the foraging code though, only take what you need, I only take 2-3 leaves from each plant to leave enough for healthy growth.

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Has foraging gone too far?

We love to forage but always follow the foragers code of ethics, it got me thinking though, surely like everything else on our planet, there will be some people who don’t follow this code and rape Mother nature for profit.

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Gathering fungi in the Gwydir Forest near Betws-y-Coed in Wales. Photograph: The Photolibrary Wales/Alamy

Funnily enough The Guardian had the same thought and wrote this article below:

This has been called the year of the foragers. Every year more and more people armed with guidebooks are exploring the hedgerows to indulge in a spot of Mesolithic role-play. Something that was once seen as anorak hobbyism has slowly gained traction, probably due to the early efforts of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and even Jamie Oliver, who got into mushroom collecting a decade ago thanks to his mate Gennaro Contaldo.

The rise of the 21st century hunter-gatherer has also been aided by the popularity of eating locally and seasonally, and the recession certainly made the concept of food for free attractive. But nothing pushed this once-specialist occupation to the forefront like the media spotlight swinging suddenly on superstar chef, René Redzepi, whose commitment to this fundamental procuring of ingredients is likely what won his Copenhagen restaurant Noma the title of “best restaurant in the world”.

It was only a matter of time before concerns grew over the sustainability of harvesting mother nature’s bounty. As a forager myself, the protection of wild plants and mushrooms has always concerned me; will there be enough elderflower or jelly ear fungi for the next person? But more importantly, has enough been left behind so no negative impact is made on the local ecology?

While the organisations that care for our countryside are keen to embrace “one for the pot” foragers playing by the rules, they are worried about those gathering for commercial purposes. There are sensible harvesters that forage sustainably, but, as with every industry, there are those looking to make a fast buck: apathetic in their approach, unconcerned about the impact of their actions.

Foraging has to be done carefully, and common sense dictates that there is little point in denuding an area that you and others may wish to rely on in the future. There are many like Yun Hider, a professional forager who, through his company Mountain Food supplies some of the country’s top restaurants, that share this ideal and show concern for the sustainability of the foods they forage. In some cases just like coppicing a woodland, harvesting can have a positive effect. As Hider points out: “sea beet is often over-crowded, by removing a certain amount of leaves, we are actually encouraging growth”.

Fergus Drennan, one of the UK’s leading foragers and very much against the supply of wild foods for commercial gain, turns down at least one chef a week asking if he could supply them. Aside from the ecological concerns, he believes the connection with nature is lost by the time wild food hits the pass.

More and more restaurants, desperate not to miss out on the popularity of foraged fare, have increased the demand for wild foods. Ceps, chanterelles and oyster mushrooms can fetch as much as £25 a kilo at London prices, so it is no surprise that areas in and around the bustling conurbation are being hit harder than ever. Epping Forest, though protected by local bye-laws suffered greatly during the course of last year’s exceptional mushroom season, with some pickers being caught and prosecuted.

I have always thought that if a chef wishes to use foraged ingredients on the menu, then he should damn well go and pick them himself. So I was quite pleased to see that if you are a chef at Noma, it’s part of the job description. Even Redzepi, however, was accused of picking illegally on Hampstead Heath last year following a mushroom hunt to promote his new book.

But is it unfair to lay the whole blame at the door of the restaurants – if we, as consumers, naturally seek out foraged ingredients shouldn’t we accept part of the responsibility both as restaurant-goers and home cooks? Or are we just responding to cheffy fads and media hype?

It would be interesting to know what your thoughts are about foraging and the sustainability of it all.