Whether you’re an experienced forager or you’ve not yet given it a go, late autumn is the perfect time to get out into the hedgerows scrabbling around for your next feast.
Why this time of year, when it seems like everything’s dying back instead of springing to life? Well, just because our green and pleasant land is a little more like a subdued palette of browns, golds and rust, we shouldn’t despair; in many ways, this makes it easier to find what you’re looking for – or didn’t know you were looking for!
There are plenty of edible fruits, nuts, fungi and plants still available in the wild as winter approaches, but one word of caution: wildlife depend on these goodies, too, so keep them in mind when you discover a rich stash of berries, nuts or other things essential to keeping wild creatures nourished through the lean months.
Some edible plants may not be at their best at this time of year, but you can still find nettles, which are great for a winter-warming soup and eating nettles is not nearly as frightening as it sounds!) The abundant wild garlic plant is dormant, which means the bulbs can be harvested and planted in a suitable spot in your own garden.
Seaweed, too, is the edible plant that keeps on giving. Many people, myself included, are understandably cautious about picking and eating something straight out of the sea, but most research seems to suggest that at least in small amounts, makes for a nutritious and healthy treat. Some experts warn of pollutants or naturally occurring elements such as iodine, so it’s best to do some research of your own – although tasting a little seaweed from a freshly exposed rock is unlikely to cause any problems. Just check out your surroundings; it’s best to stick to more secluded coastlines, rather than somewhere next to a town, industrial or developed area.
If you’re curious but cautious, try boiling, steaming or quickly frying seaweed, or even putting it in a smoker or food dehydrator. Seaweed can be used in salads, stir-fries, soups, sushi or just as a snack.
Fruits & Berries
The blackberries will be gone or well past their best in most places, but you may still be able to harvest things such as crabapples and quince, which are both good in jam; haws and rosehips, which are packed with Vitamin C (just beware the irritating seeds); and, best of all, sloes.
There are recipes for any number of ways to eat or drink these other hedgerow gems, but sloe gin (or vodka or whiskey) is pretty simple. Once there’s been a frost – or you’ve given about a kilo of the purplish-blue beauties a turn in the freezer – half-fill a sealable container with sloes and cover with the spirit of your choice. Swish around every few days and after a couple of months, decant into a clean container, ready to drink. You can add sugar at any stage, or leave it out entirely; the amount depends on how sweet you like your tipple.
Collecting nuts can be an exercise in frustration. First, there’s the thrill of the hunt – finding a tree and gathering what you can find. But often, squirrels and other creatures have made off with the haul (as they should, really) or what’s left are mysteriously empty shells. Still, there are few things more simply pleasing than roasted chestnuts or hazelnuts in a hearty nut loaf
Most of all, foraging is a fun excuse for getting outside and having a good yomp, whilst appreciating the natural world and all its bounty. So don’t let the grey days, cold and damp stop you, just bundle up and get out there!
Photo credit:Transition Heathrow