ESCAPING COLUMN Colder days are on the way, but there’s plenty to tempt you outside.
Head outside to see what seasonal treats are there for the nding
Come gather ye blackberries while ye may – the advent of autumn is the perfect time to try your hand at foraging. The art of gathering wild food to eat is thrifty and fascinating, as well as a brilliant excuse for a mindful ramble. And making tasty salads, potent liquors and fresh puddings from your ndings is just as calming and ful lling as hunting them out in the rst place.
There are very few places on earth where nature won’t provide the patient seeker with something good to eat. In Finland, the woods are carpeted with dusky blueberries and gleaming yellow cloudberries – local children love to collect them to eat with thick yoghurt. In Spain, the little daughter of the family I was staying with con dently took me into the forest to pick chanterelle mushrooms, and then we ate our bounty for lunch, fried up with cream and garlic. I usually pick mushrooms with someone who knows what they’re doing, but if I’m travelling solo I tend to search for wild herbs on my own – they’re one of the easiest things to forage for because they’re so easy to identify. In Tuscany I found huge stfuls of wild rosemary that scented my ngers and went well with Sunday lunch, and I came home from a hike high in the mountains on the Greek island of Chios with a rucksack full of delicately scented wild thyme.
The valleys, forests and coastline of Britain are my favourite places to go hunting, perhaps because, on our little island, wild food is so intrinsically aligned with the changing seasons. Spring brings the delicate white blooms of elder ower for cordials and champagne and the waxy green leaves of wild garlic for salads and pesto. In summer, ripe plums and apples hang heavy from branches, begging to be transformed into jams and chutneys, and edible owers like borage and rose scent the air. Even in the depths of winter, when the landscape seems bare, the trusty nettle makes a lovely soup and there’s nutritious seaweed to harvest on the beach. But autumn is the best and the most bountiful season for the forager. As the leaves turn russet and gold, chestnuts ripen on trees and mushrooms sprout in woodland clearings. I nd the food of the forest irresistible at this time of year, and just listing the goodies that are ripe for the picking sounds like writing poetry – rowan, damson, crab apple, rosehip, sweet chestnut. There’s plenty of sustenance out of the woods, too – go beachcombing for seaweed such as dulse and bladderwrack, for sea cabbage (a kale-like plant that is delicious when cooked) and for sea buckthorn – a sharp and acidic berry that makes a Vitamin C-packed cordial.
I have long argued that foraging is a form of mindfulness. It takes you outdoors, into remote forests and along wild coastal paths. It allows you to set a slow pace, to engage with your surroundings and to focus on the little details. There’s just something so simple and pleasing in picking wild food – it reminds me of the happy, heady summer days as a little one, face sticky with the juice of stolen berries.
Inspired to nd food for free? Be aware that foraging is legal in England, but only if you’re collecting for your own personal use. In America, what’s okay to pick varies by state and even by city, but information is usually easily found online. If the apples you’ve taken a fancy to are on private land, it’s always best to ask permission to pick them. Take only what you can eat and leave plenty behind for wildlife (and other pickers!). Don’t forage near roads, to avoid polluted plants. And if you’ve never foraged before, stick to easily identi able crops, such as blackberries or nettles. See if there’s a local wild food course you can take – it’s easier to recognise plants if someone shows you their characteristics, plus you’ll learn secret hotspots to forage at.
Once you start, you may nd yourself as addicted as I am to foraging – it’s the ideal way to enjoy the seasons.