Wild Food – Gourmet Foraging

Shaggy Ink Cap

Foraging can be a journey of delight and disappointment – my highlights include finding a glut of field mushrooms on my doorstep (literally, I trip over them when I leave the house), while 2 hours of fruitlessly pouring salt into razor clam burrows in force 9 gales on Padstow beach is a memorable low point.  But over time, just an awareness that there is food all around can introduce you to a world of free gastronomic delights straight from the source.

The act of ‘foraging’ is something that appeals to some and repels others.  The term itself is hardly inspiring, it conjures up images of someone frantically looking through a drawer for batteries or perhaps a misplaced safety pin.  For me, as for many, the interest started with the gift of the book ‘Food for Free’ by Richard Mabey.  This is a great book that will not only give you the means, but also the motivation to find those hidden treats all around us – and with honest appraisals of the culinary potential for each. The book is broken down by season, and also gives you a general idea of the kind of locations to look in.  There is a great section on mushrooms too showing the main European mushrooms of choice, together with any potential opportunities for an upset stomach or early demise.

 rock samphire Watercress
Rock Samphire & Watercress

Autumn is perhaps the peak time for foraging as the mushroom season comes into full swing.  Mushroom hunting in the UK and USA is much less popular than in many European countries where it is fundamental to the cuisine of the country.  In France, all chemists offer the service of identifying collected wild mushrooms, and the incredible Italian white truffles exchange hands for huge amounts of money in the November auction in Alba.  Admittedly there are higher numbers of fungus poisonings in these countries, but these are often due to tourists seeing locals picking mushrooms and trying their hand themselves.  If you try to use three guides to identify your mushrooms, stick to the easily identifiable (most of these make the best eating anyway) and don’t eat it if you’re in any doubt, then you’ll be fine.  I use Richard Mabey’s book, the highly entertaining River Cottage mushroom handbook, and the very detailed online Rogers Mushrooms guide (the latter can be a little overwhelming; usually I manage to narrow my find down to about 40 potential species).

Agaricus Bitorquis, 'Pavement Mushroom'

So, in the interest of spreading interest in this joyous pastime, I have produced a public map on Google maps showing my most interesting finds and the exact locations for each.  I’ll continue to update this, and as it’s public, I’m hoping that others will do the same.  This may be tantamount to asking people to tell everyone where they keep their pot of gold, and I hope that others will use the maps for general interest rather than financial gain, but I think that a renewed interest in this subject could help not only to broaden peoples attitudes to wild food, but also provoke action to protect the habitats of these increasingly rare finds.

Click Here to view ‘Alifeinfood.com Wild Food Locations’
in Google Maps and add your own locations.

My philosophy is that you benefit most from supplementing your diet with choice wild food, rather than existing entirely from it, Ray Mears style.  There are numerous foods that can be found in the wild that can be eaten, but relatively few of them are actually worth seeking out – familiarise yourself with the best, try to be on the lookout at all times rather than setting out to find them, and you’ll get great enjoyment (and even save yourself some money).  From common grocery items (e.g. thyme, rocket, fennel, mint) to items not out of place on Michellin starred menus (chanterelle mushrooms, porcini, samphire), there is much to be found.  For mushrooms, my tip is to look in car parks.  They always seem to have the best ones (all the mushroom photos on this page are from car parks), and are most ignored. You might not have too much luck in multi-storeys though…

Twitter: @foragerltd, @markwildfood, @WildMushroomMan
Links: http://www.wildmushroomsonline.co.uk/
Also, a general Google search will likely bring up foraging courses in your area.