Take a Walk on the Wild Side

    Posted by Louisa Mills
    3 September, 2014

    I started this email by hand, jotting out inspired notes with fingers stained purple by blackberries. Isn’t it a lovely feeling to get giddy on fresh air and flushed with the invigorating labour of foraging?

    Happy, healthy foraging

    While we’re busily picking away, the suns rays are treating us to a valuable dose of vitamin D and all that exercise is causing a surge of the feel good hormone, endorphin, for a happy, healthy high. And all that fruit we’re gathering, from our hedgerows and native trees, is an abundant source of bioflavonoids, Vitamin C and antioxidants – free from pesticides, waxes or any other unwanted chemicals.

    BBC2’s Horizon covered an interesting topic last week. Immunologist, Graham Rook, explained how our health is being affected by a lack of contact with the bacterial spores present in nature. “You eat your squeaky clean apple from the supermarket and you live in a steel and glass enclosure with air con and you’re just not encountering the right microbiota”. He believes this is impacting our immune system, making us more allergic and susceptible to inflammatory disorders. You can watch that episode of Horizon over the next couple of weeks on the BBC website and, for a more in depth look at Professor Graham Rook’s theory, here’s a video of one of his lectures:

    Free food!

    Just think how much you can save picking free fruit from the great outdoors. A few trips out to the fields and forests can earn you a supply for the whole year. Please remember not to deplete the area where you’re foraging – keep moving on to new trees and brambles, always leaving something for the wildlife.

    The fruit you harvest can save you money this coming Christmas too. Cygnus books have some of the best books for foodie gift ideas. My favourites ‘Letting in the Wild Edges’, ‘The Hedgerow Handbook‘ and ‘Hedgerow: River Cottage Handbook No. 7‘, have really impressive recipes that, with some pretty presentation, will make delightful homemade gifts.

    Blackberry picking

    Blackberries are usually in season from the end of August through September. It’s best to wear long sleeves and long trousers to avoid getting scratched. And take something to help you reach the juiciest berries at the top of the brambly hedge – a traditional shepherds crook works well while adding a little classic charm to the experience.

    Be quick to get your blackberries into suitable storage as they spoil quickly at warm temperatures. I take a freezer box out with me, with a couple of cooler ice blocks made from old plastic milk bottles (just part fill a plastic bottle with water and freeze ready for use). When you get home, put them in your fridge or freezer right away. The berries will last a couple of days in the fridge and keep through the whole year in the freezer.

    Enjoying your blackberries

    You likely have your favourite way to enjoy blackberries. I love them in a nice oaty crumble with hot custard, it’s my ideal comfort food. Maybe the most traditional or obvious thing to make with them is good old jam (which brings us back to Christmas gift ideas, doesn’t it?). The good news is that making jam doesn’t need to be an arduous task – as the video below shows us. Watching this friendly mother share her easy, pectin free, blackberry jam recipe has certainly got me in the mood for some kitchen hubblebubble.

    What else will we find?

    It’s a good year for foraging and nature’s cupboard has an abundance of tasty treats for us right now – rosehips, elderberries (which, by the way, taste amazing added to that crumble I mentioned), hazelnuts, hawthorn berries, poppy seeds and lots of delectable mushrooms. Of course we have to pay careful attention, when mushrooming, as mistaken identification can have serious consequences – and that’s where the book ‘Mushrooming with Confidence’ helps big time. This guide teaches us to positively identify the most valuable mushrooms by their unique and unmistakable features and even claims to automatically eliminate dangerous or deadly species, provided you play your part correctly. As the introduction explains, this basically means:

    1. Be disciplined enough to leave alone most mushrooms you encounter
    2. Look closely at what you see in front of you, not at what you wish was there
    3. Stick to the rules and tick off every box on the identification page in this book.

    I keep this book in my kitchen (it includes recipes and storage instructions) and can also vouch for it’s effectiveness out on the field. I never thought I’d feel confident enough to go out mushrooming myself but the book really does live up to it’s title.

    I hope you’re feeling motivated to get outdoors and enjoy connecting with nature and the turning seasons … if you listen really carefully, out there, you can hear the call of harvest and golden ripening, whispered on the cooling air.

    One love,


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