Foraging: food for free

Some of our foraging spoils

Some of our foraging spoils

As I mentioned briefly in my last post, I’ve been getting quite excited by the idea of becoming more self-sufficient. I want to grow my own veg, brew my own beer, make and repair my own things. I quite want some chickens too.

It feels good doing these things, it’s amazingly cost-effective (it’d be nice to spend less time having to think about making money and more time having fun, no?), and it’s good for the world if you cut down on things like transport costs for food, screwing over of farmers, that kind of thing.

I’m no revolutionary. And I don’t know much about much of these stuff. Many of my ideas have come straight from Tom Hodgkinson of The Idler and also Carolyn Steel’s Hungry City, which I’ve mentioned before.

Because of this newfound excitement about such things (maybe it’s just a phase, I hope not) when I read this article in Leeds Guide a month or so back, I decided I had to do it. Incase you haven’t clicked the link, it’s a piece about Food For Free Foraging Works in Leeds, a guided walk around parts of Leeds teaching what grows in the parks and woodland in Leeds, what you can and can’t eat and how to pick it in a way so as not to damage the wildlife.

I did this walk earlier today. And it was excellent.

Our guide, Mina, was effusive and clearly excited by the possibilities of foraging (she gets most of her food through foraging and freeganism) – you should have seen her excitement at finding osyter mushrooms – and she took us round Meanwood Park (which is simply stunning, look at the picture below) showing us some choice selections.

Meanwood Park, ahhhh

Meanwood Park, ahhhh

It’s amazing just how much you can pick and eat. Mina pointed us in the direction of the obvious (nettles, camomile, water cress) to the more obscure (jelly-ear mushrooms and hairy bitter cress) showing us how to identify plants and mushrooms, how to check they’re not going to kill you, and how to not deplete the area of any plant (ie never take something if you can’t find it twice in the area).

The key finds, other than the aforementioned osyter mushrooms were wild garlic (which is all over Meanwood and is a long-leaved plant that smells just like garlic) and chicken-of-the-woods mushroom. The latter was half way up a tree, required some climbing and is amazing. It smells, looks and tastes like roast chicken. And it’s quite ugly look:

Chicken of the Woods

Chicken of the Woods

After a good three hours of strolling, picking and tasting, Mina serves up an amazing picnic of quiche, pie and cake, made using ingredients found from foraging. Plus, she cooks up some wild garlic and oyster mushrooms that we picked just an hour ago – no more than one food mile there!

It’s a fascinating walk, and it’s left me itching (not literally, although I did get a few nettle stings) to get back out and do some foraging of my own. I’ve already got a wild garlic pesto in the fridge from today’s finds, and a third of that chicken-of-the-woods mushroom to boot.

As a final note, all the proceeds from these walks go to a very good cause, a non-denominational education centre in Kenya (more info here: www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=34548307757&ref=mf) run by Mina’s family.

If you’re interested in doing the walk yourself, contact Mina at minamoo@gmail.com, and she will get in touch with the next dates

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