Husband's main Christmas present from me was the Collins gem guide Food for Free by Richard Mabey. And one of my favourite presents was a tea towel (thanks Mum!) Yes, really.
It's a seasonal guide to British wild foods.
So now we're pretty well covered when it comes to identifying wild foods.
And we have no excuse for not knowing what's in season.
According to Richard Mabey it's chickweed, oyster mushrooms and velvet shank.
Chickweed is at its freshest in the new year and has a taste similar to mild lettuce. You can cook it or use it in a winter salad.
|Chickweed - commonly found in hedgerows and gardens.|
Oyster mushrooms are obviously and velvet shank not so obviously, fungi. Now, I'm not very confident about foraging mushrooms. Intellectually I accept Mabey's argument that, "Wild fungi are the most misunderstood and maligned of all wild foods. There are 3000 species of large-bodied fungi growing in the British isles, yet only twenty-odd of these are seriously poisonous." But unfortunately, as he later goes on to say, many of the poisonous suspects closely resemble edible fungi, so there's plenty of room for confusion. I guess you really need to know what you are doing.
The good news about velvet shank is that it is one of the few fungi able to survive severe frosts, so at this time of year there's not much chance of it being confused with anything else. Check out The Mushroom Diary blog for some photos and identification tips.
My tea towel tells a different story to the gem guide. According to its unbleached cotton calendar, (way too organic and useful to be used for drying up!) chestnuts, cow parsley and juniper berries are the things to look out for. Chestnuts I can do. Without even having to leave the house as I have some left from Christmas, sitting in a bowl in the kitchen.
Cow parsley is the closest wild relative of chervil. I thought I'd be certain at identifying it, until I checked Food for Free and found that I should be careful not to confuse it with hemlock or fool's parsley. Oh dear. It seems that this foraging lark might be harder than it first appears. Maybe I need to find a foraging friend, with good botanical knowledge. In the meantime Richard Mabey does give clear guidelines on identifying the edible and the inedible.
And even if you never set foot near a hedgerow, woodland or field, Mabey is a wonderful writer and it's a pleasure to read his descriptions and suggestions for cooking.
Where's all this leading?
If you prefer to stick to bought and home grown foods, then British fruit and veg that are seasonal this month are: apples, pears, broccoli, brussels' sprouts, carrots, cauliflower, leeks, onions, parsnips, pears, potatoes, pumpkins, swede and turnips.
And of course, as my tea towel says, this blog post "is intended as a guide only, do not use for identifying plants or fungi. Similar looking species may kill you!"
I'd love to hear your experiences of foraging for wild food.