This month, Prospect‘s food columnist Wendell Steavenson forages for her supper in the foothills of the Alps, experimenting with dandelions, mushrooms and snails. Here, veteran forager Becky York, who runs cooking blog Girl Interrupted Eating, explains how to get started and what to cook with some of the ingredients you’ll find in the countryside—and even cities—of Britain.
I became interested in foraging through my Dad, who had grown up in the countryside on the south coast of England. Although we have always lived in in the centre of a large city he would take me foraging and taught me to recognise edible mushrooms, nuts, berries and plants from a young age. It’s a skill I am teaching my three year old, Emily, who knows to ask “Can we eat this one?” If told it is for the animals she will leave it be.
For me it is a free and fun thing to do and I love experimenting with my finds—I’ve even made mushroom sushi and tempura using foraged ingredients. You don’t have to go out to the countryside: I do a lot of urban foraging, finding asparagus growing on canals banks, abandoned fruit trees and mushrooms growing under an M1 flyover. I would encourage people to forage responsibly: buy a guide book so you know what you are doing and, if you have any doubts, don’t risk it. Many local authorities run free foraging walks for some expert advice when you are getting started.
Becky’s top tips for foraging in Britain
1. Obey the law, and follow the Countryside Code. Some sites are now protected as sites of Special Scientific Interest; removing anything from them even for your own use requires a licence. When foraging on any private or public land be sure of the permissions and be responsible for your actions.
2. Only take as much as you will actually use. Food waste applies to wild food too.
3. Buy a good wildlife flora/fauna guide and keep it in the toilet for thumbing through. Stuff will stick in your head and its really satisfying to be out and recognise items for foraging. I use Roger Phillips Mushrooms. Whatever guide you use should have clear descriptions and pictures.
4. Don’t limit your foraging to the countryside. I have happily picked plenty in the city centre—blackberries, elderberries, rosehips and the odd bracket fungus.
Becky’s full list of foraging tips can be found on her blog.