Contributed by Anna Scott:
You’d be forgiven for thinking the words ‘foraging’ and ‘London’ don’t necessarily go together. It’s a term that evokes scenes of countryside, woodland and riverbanks rather than the Westway and the Chiswick roundabout. When I initially racked my brains about potential opportunities, I have to admit, I struggled. But clearly my head was switched to the slow setting on that particular day, because the fruits of some successful local foraging had been in my very own kitchen up until recently… my husband is big on elderflower picking and spent last summer scouring Ravenscourt Park on a twice-weekly basis to make sure he nabbed plenty to keep us in cordial for several months. A foraging pioneer in my own midst and I didn’t even realise…
So, is sourcing wild food a realistic prospect around these parts? Foraging is becoming big business, what with world class menus based on the ethos and companies charging thousands for foraging weekends at 5-stars hotels, but maybe it’s time to go back to basics and see what it can do for you and your family. John Rensten set up Forage London to promote the bounty that our city can offer the novice forager with tutored walks through parks right across the capital, including our very own Ravenscourt Park. But where to start and what do you look for? John recommends not going it alone if you’re unsure.
“Go out with people who know what they’re looking at, who can tell you 100% what something is and have eaten it. And repetition is another wonderful thing – you see something at one point in the year and you don’t know what it is then you go back later in the year and it will reveal it’s secret, which is lovely really, because you have to be patient.”
Writing you own notes and cross-referencing from plenty of different sources are other nuggets of advice offered by the expert. And when looking in our own local area, he is enthusiastic about what Ravenscourt Park has to offer – with its secluded nature reserve to the north of the park, there are plentiful soft fruit trees, elder, hawthorn, blackthorn and damson. I previously mentioned our successful foraging of elderflowers (more on that later), but John also extols the health benefits of elderberries too, which start to appear later on in the summer and early autumn.
The growth in its popularity raises a few other questions – with everybody doing it, where does this leave us in terms of the ecological angle? John also has this dilemma at the very heart of his business.
“You know the people who write for the Lonely Planet? They find a beautiful island off the coast of Thailand – they’ve got a duty to not tell people that island’s there because they’ve got a duty not to spoil the island, but they’ve also got a duty to tell everybody because they’re supposed to be writing a travel guide. And I want the same thing – I kind of don’t want everyone to go foraging because it will spoil it but, at the same time, I want them to.”
I suppose it’s all about sensible foraging – do your research and only take what you’re going to use. It’s a great way of discovering where your food is coming from as well as educating your children in this respect too. With so much in your own backyard, foraging could well be an activity that pays in terms of knowledge as well as money saved. If you want to give it a go, John is running tutored walks through Ravenscourt Park in July and September, and local voluntary organisation Abundance London, aims to source otherwise unused wild fruits from both public and private spaces.
Back to that elderflower cordial… It’s all very well finding the edible wild foods, but what to do with your bounty? Here’s a handy recipe from my very own household and it’s the nearest thing you’ll get to bottled sunshine…
To make one litre you will need –
1 kg. granulated sugar
15 elderflower heads
2 each of oranges, lemons and limes, thinly sliced
25g tartaric acid (you can buy this from a chemist)
Bring the sugar and water to the boil, then add the elderflower heads and bring back to the boil. Put the rest of the ingredients in a large enough container and pour the liquid over them. Steep for 24 hours and then pass through a muslin cloth and store in sterilised kilner jars or similar airtight containers. Dilute with chilled soda water and enjoy! You can store in the freezer to keep you going through the winter months when you might need every bit of sunshine you can get.
For more details on local foraging, please visit: