Posted 12th Nov 2014
We met up with professional forager and chef, Caroline Davey, to find out her top tips on foraging for beginners, and the unusual wild foods you may stumble upon this autumn
Having spent 11 years working as an ecological consultant specialising in botany and mammal ecology, Caroline Davey made the decision to swap her botanical identification skills for a future in foraging. Her love of food, her keen interest in cooking and a slight obsession with nature and wildlife propelled her forward and, in 2007, she began foraging and supplying restaurants with scrumptious wild food. Learning how to identify plants, where to expect them to grow, identifying habitats, species and plant communities and what that could tell us about the landscape, was all part of Caroline's work, and a perfect basis for her to set up her own business, which she did in 2008.
Her company, Fat Hen, is a combination of wild food foraging and cookery courses, cementing her love of foraging and turning her hobby into a career. In 2009, Caroline gave up her ecological consultancy work to focus solely on Fat Hen, recently teaming up with Gallo Family Vineyards to launch their new Autumn Red, inspiring the nation to embrace autumn ingredients and explore the great indoors with delicious home-cooked meals.
If you are a first time forager, Caroline has offered her top tips on what to do when you're starting out:
1. Start with species that are easy to identify like elderflowers, nettles and blackberries, and once you have created some great things to eat you can build up the confidence to move onto slightly more unusual things. Only pick things you have a 100 per cent positive identification for. There are plants and fungi out there that can kill you so it’s important that you don’t take any chances.
2. Buy yourself a wild flower identification guide and keep it in your bag or car so that wherever you go you can start to identify plants. The hardest part of foraging is plant identification and it takes lots of practice and repetition to get it right.
3. Start foraging in your own area. You don’t have to travel miles to forage; you will find edible plants on your street, in your garden and in your local park.
4. Follow a responsible foraging code. It is illegal to take rare plants listed under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Only take very common plants such as nettles, alexanders and sorrel so that you won’t be responsible for depleting plant stocks. Don’t take the whole plant, leave more than half of it to grow back. Do not trespass to forage for wild food, either get the landowner’s permission or stick to public footpaths.
There are a number of different places across the UK that you can source some of the finest ingredients, Caroline offers an insight into the world of unusual wild foods and where to find them:
Beefsteak fungus can be found in living and dead oak and sweet chestnut in Wales, the New Forest and Scotland (other places including woodlands throughout the UK). It’s an unusual bracket fungus that looks like flesh and exudes a liquid that looks like blood.
Sea buckthorn berries are located in coastal regions such as Northumberland, some parts of Scotland, Dorset and the Cornish coast. These are very citrusy and great served as a glaze on an orange cake.
Blackberries are one of the most popular berries to be foraged in the UK and are often used in many home-made recipes. Why not use these to make a blackberry sauce perfect for serving with meats such as venison or beef.
Witches egg is the immature ‘egg stage’ of the stinkhorn fungus. This grows in broad-leaved and coniferous woodland and feeds off dead matter.
Porcelain fungus, a slimy, delicate, white, other-worldly looking fungus that looks far from edible, however is edible and has a great flavour. It grows on beech wood.
To find out more search Gallo Family Vineyards UK on Facebook.
By Lauren Morton
Images courtesy of Caroline Davey and Gallo Family Vineyards