Foraging is right up there at the moment in terms of food fashion. Not that it ever went out of fashion for some people but many chefs now actually employ foragers to bring them the best of what nature has to offer, because as well as reading so well on a menu, of course the flavour is unbeatable. On top of the last of the chanterelles that have been around since mid-August we are now seeing lots of other interesting mushrooms popping up out of the ground. Blackberries are perfect for picking now, as are crab apples, damsons the wild plums, and elderberries, not to mention watercress and little butler-leaf sorrel, among many others.
Foods that grow wild in our countryside are free for a start. Being as close to local and seasonal as you can get, they are super healthy – just what our bodies need at this time of the year – and taste amazing too. What with all this talk of tightening our belts in this credit crunch time, for want of a better term (I am so sick of hearing those two words: credit and crunch!) but the time is ripe for a new appreciation of all the good things we take so much for granted that are growing sometimes literally on our doorsteps. And besides, try telling me, once you have been out there in the elements for a bit of a jaunt picking your harvest, that you have not enjoyed yourself just a little bit. I always find it amazing, after half an hour spent dragging my children out (mind you Isaac, the husband, is not much better), they end up having a brilliant time, like proper little free-range children, stuffing blackberries into their mouths.
Last October on a foggy drizzly Sunday morning we went to Longueville House in Mallow, Co Cork for their annual mushroom Hunt. We all put on our wellies and set off with our baskets for a big hike around the beautiful estate with a mushroom expert in search of edible and non-edible varieties of mushrooms, which, even if you are not interested in mushrooms, is a really nice walk. We then headed back to the front of the house where we were greeted with hot drinks while we all examined our harvest with our guide. Then we all piled into the dining room for a lovely lunch which of course included lots of mushroomy things, before slowly making the journey home with our baskets of funghi.
This year there are two Longueville Mushroom Hunts, on Sunday 5 and 19 October, so hopefully, all the rain we had this summer should mean that there are lots of mushrooms out there to forage. Make sure to bring waterproof hats and overcoats due to unpredictable weather. It's a fun day for children too, and dogs on leads are also welcome.
My mother-in-law Darina is the queen of foraging and next Saturday, 27 September at Ballymaloe Cookery School she will be leading a group for a one-day foraging course. The morning, after coffee and delicious biscuits, is devoted to the thrill of the hunt in the country side and after lunch, the afternoon will be spent using the harvest to the best advantage in the cookery school. Expect to find elderberries and crab apples for jellies, damsons and blackberries for jams, nettles, watercress, sorrel and red orach for soups and salads, not to mention some Carrigeen moss from the rocks on the beach to make a pudding and sloes for a bit of sloe gin ready in time for Christmas. The day begins at 9:30am to 5:00pm
Tel: 022 47156
Ballymaloe Cookery School
Tel: 021 4646 785
* Make sure you correctly identify the plant, fungus or seaweed you are gathering
* Do not gather any sort of produce from areas that may be been sprayed with insecticide or weed killer
* Avoid too, the verges of heavily used roads, where the plants may have been contaminated by car exhausts
* Wherever possible use a flat open basket to gather your produce, to avoid squashing. If you are caught without a basket, and do not mind being folksy, pin together some dock or burdock leaves with thorns
* When you have got the crop home, wash it well and sort out any old or decayed parts