About this blog

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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Friday, 31 January 2014

Foraging challenge review

One year ago, I challenged myself to eat a different foraged food every week for a year, and I did it! I may not have hit the Friday of every week, but I found fifty two foraged foods and reported on them more or less once a week throughout the year. In fact, I did much better than that; I had so many extra foraged foods that I wrote a fifty-third Friday post with an additional fourteen foods, bringing the total up to sixty six for the year. Now, sixty six foraged foods isn't much variety for the serious forager, but I've substantially exceeded my target and I'm feeling very pleased with myself.

What about the experience of doing the challenge, though? Well you'll notice that the blog has become dominated by foraging over the last year, and that's not just the effect of writing the weekly posts; my life has become dominated by foraging. I've really enjoyed learning about new plants and it hasn't been at all difficult. Although some weeks have been a bit, I suppose I'd better find something to write about this week, even in my most uninspired weeks, I haven't had to go far to find another plant to eat and tell you about.

What's pleased me most has been learning about seaweeds and mushrooms, which aren't even plants. Well, there seems to be some debate about seaweed, but mushrooms belong to an entirely different kingdom of life: They're fungi. Whatever they're classification, these are completely new to me, so it felt like a big advance in my knowledge to learn anything about them. Whilst I'm satisfied to be able to identify a few species of seaweed, I've got completely hooked on mushroom hunting. I never used to even see them, but now I've trained my eyes to pick them out from the background, I can't resist seeking them out and when I find a new one, looking up resources that will help me solve the riddle of what it is. It's satisfying to identify even the inedible ones.

I'm not sure what I'd expected regarding deliciousness of wild food; I think probably that most would be so-so and some not worth the bother. I was pleasantly surprised with my assessment of what I found:

DelicaciesUsefulWorth knowingWon't bother with again
HeatherDandelion flowersDandelion rootsDandelion leaves
Wild garlic leavesHairy bittercressFennelGoose grass leaves
Bracken fiddleheadsRosebay willoherb leavesRosebay willowherb stalksRosebay willowherb flowers
Elder flowersLesser celandine leavesPignutsHawthorn leaves
Wild strawberriesGround elder leavesWild carrotsPlantain flowers
Fairy ring champignonGarlic mustard leaves and seedsSpeedwell leavesShepherd's purse seeds
CepsNettle leavesKelp
ChantarellesSorrel leavesGutweed
Oyster mushroomsVetchOak moss
Field mushroomsCarrageenHoneysuckle flowers
LaverGreen laverFir cones
SloesJapanese knotweed
BlackberriesEvening primrose roots
Beech leavesOak leaves
Marsh samphireGreencracked brittlegills
Rowan berriesBlusher mushrooms
Brown birch boletes
Scarletina boletes
Fat hen
Crab apples
Rose hips
Common hogweed leaves and seeds
Black mustard

Of course this is entirely subjective and it's quite possible that I'll change my mind about some these, but the Delicacy column, containing foods and drinks that I can get quite excited about, is longer than the Won't bother column and even than the Worth knowing about column. The largest category is the one I've labelled Useful, things I'll turn to again and again, even though I don't get terribly excited about them. These are on a level with potatoes, carrots or spinach, whereas the delicacies are up there with olives and asparagus. The Worth knowing about category includes foods that might be useful if it weren't for some other factor. For example dandelion roots are a good coffee substitute, but I don't drink much coffee. Pignuts are delicious, but it's illegal to dig them up. Some of the delicacies take quite a bit of processing before I can get excited about them. For example, I wouldn't eat bits of heather straight from the plant, but it does flavour a very nice ale.

With this focus on wild foods, I've learnt to more about preserving food and adapted my cooking to use these new ingredients. I never used to use dried mushrooms and seaweeds, though at least the mushrooms are readily available to buy, but now do, regularly.

Jars of dried mushrooms and seaweed on top of my kitchen cupboard

What really made me happy, though, was my home brew.

Wine brewing in the store room

Having foraged various plants, it's not necessary to make alcoholic drinks from them, nor is it necessary to forage in order to brew your own drinks, but I enjoy both activities and find them happy bed-fellows. Not all of my home-brew experiments have been successful, but most are good and some are truly excellent.

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