The London Forager

I’ve been a Richard Mabey fan for years. Not long ago I gave away my copy of Food For Free then missed it so much I had to re-buy it. It was out of print at the time and was so bloomin’ expensive I needed to make an awful lot of Damson Jam and Elderflower Fritters to justify it, but I guess that’s what comes of having charity-shop purges on one’s book collection…

It’s back in print now, but before you rush to buy it, take a peek at the site Michael sent me, about the ancient tradition of foraging in London. I had no idea that I was doing anything other than gathering a few nuts and berries, but these guys have made it into an art form. They’re based in Blackheath, so although it’s supposed to cover the whole of London, Greenwich and Blackheath feature heavily on their as-yet smallish London Forager site.

Not to be confused with the characters who hang around supermarket bins (they’re big in the States and have given themselves a fancy name which I can’t remember) this lot follow the time-honoured country occupation of gathering free food from the hedgerows. They’ve updated themselves – less grass potage and mud pies, more Nettle Pesto, Lime Leaf Salad and Elderflower Champagne (which we used to make as kids – it tastes of Summer.)

On the Continent – France, Italy and the Balkans in particular, they’ve a long tradition of foraging, and they take it VERY seriously. I’ll never forget the Italian guy who I asked to take me to find the best fungi on Hampstead Heath. He agreed, but only on condition I was blindfolded. He wasn’t joking. And as we become more cosmopolitan, we’re gradually seeing those skills being brought back over here, where we have all but forgotten how to do it.

There are sundry codes to follow – no nicking from people’s gardens, for example, but mostly it’s just common sense. Learning what toadstools you can eat before you set out will also save a trip to Casualty.

Last Autumn, I gathered damsons, elderberries, blackberries, rowan berries, wild apples, rose hips and sloes – all from the same lane. Sadly it was in Herefordshire. With a bit of luck, this site might help me do things a little closer to home. And any time they want to make Dandelion Bhajis out of the weeds in my ‘lawn’ they’re welcome…

Oh – and if you want to check out Richard Mabey, I’m still having fun with my widgets:

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