‘Wild food man’ Mark Williams will be running one of our workshops at Food Solutions next Saturday (10 November). We interviewed him to give a flavour of what he’s all about ahead of the big event (if you haven’t already go here to book for the conference.)
How long have you been doing wild food foraging? How did you get into it?
About half my life – which is 20 years. I first started foraging for mushrooms between split shifts in a restaurant on Arran. The chef and I went to the woods with a very basic guide book and tried to work it out… We thought every 2nd mushroom was a deathcap (they weren’t!) and didn’t have the confidence to eat anything for the first season. The next year I stumbled on a chanterelle patch and I was hooked! I was only really into foraging fungi for the first 10 years – which makes for a short season. When I moved to Galloway I was bowled over by the huge range of edible plants and shellfish I could gather and applied my fungi ID skills to learning about plants. You never stop learning as a forager…
Wild food knowledge persists where it is relevant and useful. Agricultural land reform from the late 1600’s removed access to many long-standing wild food resources. Urbanisation meant people become more dependant on farmed food from further and further afield. Wild food became obsolete and even sneered at as ‘peasant food’. Across Europe it is not surprising that less industrialised countries have maintained more of their foraging culture. Oddly, mycophobia – fear of mushrooms – seems to be a peculiarly British phenomenon!
The ultimate expression of the local food movement must surely be to grow or forage your own ingredients. Foraged wild food is, by definition, local, free, seasonal and fresh. If gathered carefully and responsibly it is also organic and sustainable. The same wild foods are available to all, regardless of income. Best of all, the investment of time, knowledge and effort required to pick wild food fosters an intimacy with our food, its place in the world – and by extension, ourplace in the world.
If you’d asked me that a few years ago I would definitely have said autumn and cep. But the more I get to know plants – especially some of the succulent coastal species – the more I swing towards spring and sea kale. Some foods are so tied up with a specific time and place that it is impossible to separate the pleasure of finding and gathering from the pleasure of cooking and eating. To be honest, i’m normally madly in love with whatever I am picking at the time! Here are a few Top10 lists that I compiled: http://www.
Carry a field guide; get exploring; invest a little time on a regular basis getting to know your local area; concentrate initially on distinctive common species; and don’t over-obsess about poisoning yourself – you do actually have to ingest things to make yourself ill, so if you don’t eat anything unless you are 100% sure of its identity and edibility, you are perfectly safe! I wrote a more comprehensive list of tips here: http://www.
Thanks so much Mark – we are looking forward to having you at the event on the 10th!