Wow! I’ve been chatting to professional forager Fergus Drennan, and I’m feeling very excited about wild food week, which is about to begin!
As part of my challenge to beat rising food prices, I am spending a week introducing foraged fare into my diet to see if it will save on my shopping bill. So getting Fergus’ advice was vital. He has been attempting to live solely on wild food since April, and hasn’t found it easy despite being a wild food expert and chef. “I never realised how stressful it can be,” he told me. “You’re constantly thinking about what’s for lunch, what’s for dinner. I didn’t realise how insanely tense it would make me.” Unfortunately he is laid up with a painful bad back and unable to meet up, but still able to impart great advice over the phone.
As well as getting to know your plants, another limiting factor to foraging is your location. “It takes years [to become accustomed to identifying wild foods],” he says. “It’s repeated familiarity. If you live in a town [it can be difficult] but if there are plenty of wild plants and you know that the council hasn’t been spraying then there’s all sorts of things. Herne Bay where I live is looking its most verdant and beautiful because the council hasn’t sprayed. So all I’ve had to do is walk around.”
But if there aren’t wild plants nearby foraging can prove costly. “Unless it’s within cycling or walking distance you’ve got to drive, so you’ve got to think about fuel costs,” he points out. “But even in London you don’t have far to walk to get to a park where you can pick some nettles, fat hen or chick weed.”
Fergus says one of the best ways to use wild food is in soup. “Depending on the resource, I make 40 to 50 portions of soup which I freeze. That really does help me save money. Cook it with some onion, leek, potato and some stock and it’s great.”
Mushrooms are also useful. “You can use wild fungi in quiches and risottos,” he explains. “My friend Chris and I found a 6 ½ kg chicken of the woods that could feed you for the whole week. Shallow fry it with garlic or use it in stews. They’re around this time of the year growing on oak or chestnut. Disregard it if it’s growing on yew or any trees that aren’t native to the UK.”
The wet weather also means mushrooms. “I’m seeing field mushrooms coming out already and giant puffballs have been around from the 8th May. These are easy to identify. Plus there’s marsh samphire around the Thames Estuary.” However it is very important to know exactly what it is that you’ve foraged to avoid any upset tummies or being poisoned. So make sure you carefully identify your mushrooms.
Our squirrel, courtesy of John the Poacher, still languishes in the freezer. So I asked Fergus how to cook it. “Squirrel is absolutely delicious,” he says. “Pot roast it in a light stock (2 hours at 150 degrees) so you can get some idea of the flavour. Throw in some wine. Another nice recipe is to cook it with elderflower cordial.”
And if all else fails, there’s Mother Nature’s spring greens. “It’s a wonderful time for making salads,” says Fergus. “I like the sour taste of dandelions but you can put them in water overnight to lessen it. You can also pickle the buds before they open or shallow fry them.”
A plant called reed mace, growing by lakes, can also be used like leek. And elderflower fritters are another tasty seasonal recipe.
Hopefully Fergus’ advice will stand me in good stead! I’m also foraging later in the week with another professional wild man, so maybe there’s hope for me yet!
Have a great weekend and thanks for your great comments this week xxx Piper