Thursday, 17 January 2013

What's in season this season? And the first giveaway of the year!

Synchronicity was at play this Christmas.

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

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?

When I saw that The Works had Food for Free in their sale (if only I'd waited until after Christmas to get Husband his Christmas present!), I felt it my duty to get a copy for one of you. Just leave a comment by 7pm on Sunday 20th January, and a winner will be selected at random.

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.


  1. I have no need for a copy of the book, but love the idea. I've done some foraging myself - just simple greens to add to my salad and wild berries,etc...

    It's a great feeling to pick fresh, wild food.

    Dan @ ZenPresence

  2. The first wild edibles we have in our area are fiddlehead ferns and watercress, But those won't begin to show themselves until about March 1! I have a ways to wait for our wildies.

  3. I'd love the book as I am going to try foraging this year. Please enter me in your draw.

    Sarah. X

  4. My husband tells great stories about his grandmother visiting from Guatemala when he was growing up, and having weeds for supper that she had picked.

  5. I love the idea of foraging for food as well, but unfortunately we don't have a lot of native edible plants. We can eat a lot of weeds though, a lot of which come from Europe. I went to a talk about urban foraging and got all inspired but then never managed to do any.

  6. In her last letter my sister in Wales says she is hoping for milder weather to bring on dandelion leaves and nettles as she has nothing left in her garden. She tries to love entirely off the land. I would love to be able to give her this book. I'll have to wait for Economies of Kale's book for myself, as I live in Australia.

  7. I live in the States, in Maine. There is nothing to harvest outside right now as we are covered in snow. During the spring and summer, we have wild-harvested morel mushrooms, lambs quarter (which is even tastier than spinach), wild cranberries, blueberries, dandelions, purslane and other things I can't recall at the moment. I enjoy your blog.

  8. As a child I grew up next to a tidal creek in Essex - we used to harvest buckets of samphire and slurp it all up with lashings of butter. Not at all sure what we could harvest here in a London suburb but I'm sure there must be something other than just blackberries.

  9. In Leicester they still call cow parsley by the old english name of 'keck' - but how exactly do you prepare it for eating [raw in salad, steamed, or what?]
    I read Alys Fowlers foraging book and the only edible things I found using that volume were the buds on the fuchsia bush [quite delicious, tasted like blackberries]