Foraging: fresh food from our hedgerows
Foraging seems to have been a bit of a buzzword before the world shut down, and in the days of the pandemic, growing our own produce and hunting for wild treats in our hedgerows became something of a coveted hobby. But hunting and gathering is no new trend; our hominine ancestors had foraged for food for millions of years before we, as homo sapiens, began to develop agriculture. Foraging is in our collective memory, and so turning to the abundance of nourishment that our ample hedgerows provide is a natural step for those interested in where our food comes from and how to eat well from our local surroundings.
With wet winters and temperate summer seasons, foraging for berries in the laden hedgerows around Pembrokeshire meant that Anne-Marie, the owner of Farmers Food at Home, could fill her popular jars of jams and preserves with the freshest, most delicious produce available quite literally on her doorstep. Autumn has always been a favourite picking time for foragers like Anne-Marie, with the British countryside offering up juicy delights such as blackberries, crab apples, wild strawberries, rosehips, sloes, hazelnuts, chestnuts, and bullace, or wild plums.
These gorgeous goods can help you to create wonderful autumnal dishes of your own. In Anne-Marie’s kitchen, they culminate in the fantastic Hedgerow Jar Range, which includes Dandelion Honey, Rosehip Syrup, Rosehip Jelly, Crab Apple Jelly, Bramble Jelly, and Sloe Jelly – yum!
Farmers Food at Home advocate eating fresh produce from your immediate area, so here are Anne-Marie’s top tips for successful foraging:
- Only pick from the areas that have abundant supplies of the plant that you’re looking for. If you clear the area of the plant, then it could stop the future growth of that plant, damaging the species. Hedgerows help to fight climate change by absorbing carbon from the air and storing it in plants, so there are environmental consequences to aggressive foraging.
- It’s also useful to remember that other animals such as birds, dormice, and foxes all like to eat nuts, berries and their leaves and grains. For some species, the plentiful feast that’s available in the hedges in autumn sustains them while they hibernate during the winter, so leave some behind for our wildling friends and leave the local ecosystem as well as you found it.
- Speaking of the ecosystem, foraging is not only an excuse for a lovely walk in nature, you might even find some species living right under your noses that you didn’t even know were there! Foraging is a really good opportunity for kids and adults to be more mindful of the ecosystem of which you’re a part.
- It’s helpful to learn to identify plants and their uses so that you can use all of the parts of the plant that are edible. This also allows you to understand which plants or parts of plants could be poisonous, and avoid a cookery mishap.
- When you know what’s good and what’s not, get picking! Take a bag or basket and eat fresh if you can. Foraged foods are far more nutrient-dense than their supermarket equivalents as the freshness locks in both the flavours and the goodness. Saying that, don’t be afraid to freeze berries, but do it straight after picking for the same reasons – get as much goodness out of those delicious morsels as possible!
If you’re in West Wales and you fancy giving foraging a go but you’re not confident to go out by yourself, there are many guided foraging walks on offer, including ones offered by Oriel y Parc in St Davids. If it’s the delicious goodies along the seashore that you’re interested in understanding a little better, why not book yourself on to a course Coastal Foraging with Craig to learn how the sea offers an abundance of food.
And if you like the taste but don’t fancy the effort, then why not just buy the fantastic Hedgerow Jars straight from the online shop? All the goodness of Autumn is captured for you in a gorgeous selection of jars from our kitchen to yours.