How to step up your cooking right now with foraged food – gcfrng
A new wave of foragers has sparked a new interest in gathering wild ingredients. Videos containing the hashtag “foragingtiktok” have amassed nearly 16 million views on TikTok. Many pickers share their advice online, so we asked them what we should be looking for this fall.
Women and man picking blackberries
No fall feeding guide would be complete without blackberries. “They are the perfect place to start,” says collector Fern Freud. Rinse them and eat them raw, put them in your porridge or make an apple and blackberry crunch. To enjoy them year-round, freeze them, make blackberry jam, boil them with sugar and white vinegar to make a salad vinaigrette, or make blackberry-infused gin or vodka.
Look for crab apple trees, wild apples found in woods and hedges, to make hedge jam; you can add wild berries, including blackberries.
Trees that provide summer elderberries (hello, elderflower cordial) can also be harvested for their dark, rich berries in fall. The biggest tree is found on the outskirts of the forest, along the trails and in people’s gardens (but don’t take what isn’t yours!). It can be detected because “the leaves always grow in leaflets of two opposite pairs, with a pinnate leaf (a leaf that looks like a feather) at the top,” says Freud. “Trees with similar berries have a different leaf pattern,” he adds.
Simmer the elderberries in some sugar water to make a cordial or syrup, then shake with ice and vodka to make cocktails. Add them to cooked fall puddings, like an apple pie or apple crumble. They can also be cooked and served with roast meats, such as duck, pork or game. Chef Galton Blackiston adds them to his venison juice (made from frying venison in oil and butter), but he can make this sauce with any meat. However, elderberries can be toxic when eaten raw.
Separating berries from their stems can be tricky, but a good trick is to “freeze them in bunches and then remove the berries with a fork,” says Isle of Wight food collector Alex Richards.
Rose hips are the fruit of wild roses. “The completely red, ripe hips (fruits) of all species can be used,” says professional harvester Fergus Drennan. During the world wars, many imported fruits and vegetables, such as oranges, were in short supply, so rosehip syrup became a popular substitute for vitamin C. Children were encouraged to collect rosehips (reportedly , for three cents a pound of products during World War II, about 35 cents today) for factories to produce the syrup.
Rose hips are bright red berries, often teardrop-shaped. The plant has thorns that “curve toward the base of the plant,” says Freud. These can be quite large and very sharp, so be careful when picking them up. Some people grow rose hips in their garden, but wild rose hips can be found in hedges from late summer to fall. They are a bit fiddly to prepare as there are rough “hairs” inside that should seep out of whatever you make as they can cause an irritating reaction.
Drennen boil the rosehip until soft, crush it and filter the liquid through a cloth (you can also use a coffee filter), discarding the pulp.
Sloes on bush with leaves
Sloes grow on the blackthorn bush. These dark purple blue fruits look a bit like large blueberries or very small round plums, with a whitish flower. As the name of the tree suggests, it has very large black thorns, so be careful when picking it up. Depending on when you pick the sloes, the bush may or may not have leaves. “Sloes should be harvested after the first frost, but if you want to harvest sooner, you can just pop them in the freezer before use,” says Richards.
Sloe gin is the most popular way to use berries – it will taste good this Christmas, but even better next. Other recipes for sloes include sauces and jellies.
Like sloes, there are round wild plums called bullaces. They are slightly larger than sloes and the shrubs are spineless, making them easy to pick. They are much sweeter than sloes, although less interesting and a bit too tart to eat raw. However, cooked as part of hedge jelly or in a fruit hide, where they don’t need to be tediously stoned, they are very useful.
Cobnuts are a type of hazelnut that is cul
bnuts in the fridge to preserve them for longer.
Sweet chestnuts in shell and spiky husk
Sweet chestnuts are a renown autumn and Christmas treat. The shiny nuts are encased in a spiky husk, and you’ll find them scattered around the base of chestnut trees. After a windy night, you are likely to spot a haul, says Megan Howlett, a forager from the South Downs. They are not to be confused with horse chestnut (conkers), which are inedible. The sweet chestnut husk has many more, very fine, spikes than a conker, which has short stumpy spikes. “Tread gently (wearing shoes) on the‘ sea urchin’-like burrs to release the nuts, ”advises Richards.
“November nuts are not worth saving until Christmas – they tend to dry up,” says Howlett, “so roast them and eat them as quickly as possible,” or freeze them for winter. The many dishes you can cook with chestnuts include salads, pies and stuffings.
Nettles have been eaten for centuries. “The best time to pick [nettles] is spring, but they often have a second flush of new growth in the autumn,” says Richards.
You can use nettles as you would spinach, for an earthy flavor, cooking them before they wilt. They first need to be de-stung and cleaned, and the easiest way to do this is to blanch them in boiling water for a minute and then rinse them before adding to dishes. Nettle soup is a favorite, and pesto is a great way to preserve any greens. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall makes a nettle risotto, but they can also be simply sautéed with garlic for a side.
Drennan takes inspiration from chef Giorgio Locatelli, who showed him how to make nettle crisps at a BBC Children In Need event. “Pick the first two pairs of larger leaves from the top of the plant, deep-fry in vegetable oil for about 20 seconds, or until semi-translucent (not browned), transfer to absorbent paper, and sprinkle with salt”, he says .
Wear gloves when picking nettles and avoid them if there is a chance they have been sprayed with chemicals, such as by a roadside.
Always be sure you can positively identify any plant before you pick it, and never eat a plant you are unsure of, as some are deadly. Only pick from areas that have a plentiful supply and have not been sprayed with chemicals, and ensure you leave plenty for wildlife. Britain’s wild plants are protected under the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act, which makes it illegal to dig up a plant. Check the law before you forage, or take part in a foraging class with an expert.