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Sunday, 26 April 2009

So what's all the fuss about foraging?

It seems that everywhere I look right now, all the foodie experts are extoling the benefits of foraged food with the prime example, wild garlic, making an almost ubiquitous appearance in every sunday paper and on UKTV Food's Market Kitchen daily for the past fortnight.

Now, I have nothing aginst wild garlic, in fact I quite like it - it cropped up in the organic veg box I used to have delivered; but am I going to forage for it? Am I buggery.

I'm relatively aware of what foods look like, I grow my own herbs and don't expect veg to come in nice shiny bags, but the simple fact remains that I have no idea where all these foods grow or time to go looking for them on the off-chance. I only come across wild garlic when I'm taking my boys for a walk by the riverside (the garlic smells fantastic); no problem so far, but this is a walk popular with more than parents and toddlers, there's lots of dogs for one thing and I'm not keen on the thought of eating something that's been hosed down by half a dozen golden retrievers.

And have you considered mushrooms? Nice wild mushrooms are wonderful in principle but simply Russian Roulette in practice; I once went on a professional mushroom hunt and my wife and I were the only couple that managed to pick some mushroom which, in small quantities, Mongolian shaman use to travel to the spirit plane and which if ingested in larger amounts ensures a permanent place with departed spirits.

Now I do know what a cep looks like and a morel and even a chanterelle but am I brave enough to risk mis-identification? Not on your nelly. I also know what can happen if I get it wrong.

In his excellent cookery book, Essence, David Everitt-Matthais espouses the use of foraged ingredients and then mentions the forager he uses if he's unable to go out; I'm guessing that'll be most of the time. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of his restaurant but there's no way the head chef of a 2 Michelin star joint spends his mornings poking about a hedge looking for the odd sprig of Lemon Balm. No, he's in the kitchen letting the professionals do the work outdoors.

So, if you really want to show off with something foraged at home, do the smart thing and just buy it. Or do the smarter thing and serve some butter poached lobster tails a la Thomas Keller.

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