I’m not a fashionable forager. You won’t find me back in the kitchen preparing to fry hogweed, or blitzing ground-ivy into my mayo. I’m a bit conventional, and I stick with what I know. A month or two back it was elderflowers for cordial. Just now the blackberry season is in full swing, and cob nuts are there if you know where to look. Friends with big gardens invite me to forage beneath their apple and pear trees for windfalls, and as soon as the first frosts strike, I’ll be looking for sloes to make a batch of sloe gin, and maybe I’ll make some rosehip syrup too..
I like to look for mushrooms too, though I’m only confident to identify two or three kinds of fungi at most. There are field mushrooms for the taking at the bottom of the garden.
But last Thursday I was out walking with a friend when we saw something that put any existing evening meal plans on hold. Over there in the corner of that meadow – look! A white football, miles from any football pitch or recreation ground, with a tennis ball alongside, and a couple of golf balls next to them too. Except we knew they weren’t lost property accidentally abandoned by sportspeople . They were puffballs, those extraordinary giant white mushrooms which have no open cap with spore-bearing gills. And they are barely attached to the ground, with no apparent stem. My friend didn’t want them: she’s married to an amateur mycologist and sees quite enough of mushrooms without eating the wretched things, thank you. But I did. I reorganised my rucksack to accommodate the football and the tennis ball , and left the golf balls to grow up to be footballs in their turn.
My pack seemed unexpectedly heavier for the last mile or two of our walk. It was hardly surprising. My football weighed in at 827 grams – well over 1 1/2 lb. It made a wonderful supper, fried in thick slices in butter with lardons and parley and lemon zest, with just a hint of garlic. I gave a big chunk to friends who had us round to forage for apples and plums the next day, and the rest made a vast vat of soup. Who said there was no such thing as a free lunch?
- ‘Food for Free 2’ to distinguish it from a post I wrote in April 2011, when I did indeed join in foraging for some rather odd items of wild food