Foraging: The Essential Guide to Free Wild Food
By John Lewis-Stempel
Right Way, £6.99
John Lewis-Stempel once lived for an entire year only on what he could find in what he refers to as the "wild larder".
By his own admission, it was a pretty unpleasant experience - getting his hands "scratched to bloody ribbons" while picking sloes from a blackthorn bush in the driving snow is just one of the dubious highlights he recounts from the experience.
But there are obvious benefits, too, including the fact that the food you find is free, and that there are often tasty ingredients growing throughout the British countryside that your normal restaurant-goer or shopper isn't even aware of.
It is hardly surprising, then, that foraging has taken off in a big way, and several chefs have already earned names for themselves as masters of the art.
Lewis-Stempel's effort to help popularise the movement, Foraging: The Essential Guide To Free Wild Food, is an entertaining and thorough one.
Although there are about 400 or so different "food" plants and mushrooms growing wild in Britain, he concentrates on the 100 that are flavoursome enough to merit the effort.
Rather than focusing on what is available by season, the book explores the town, the hedgerow, the field, the wood, the river and stream, the hill and the heath. It even contains a section on road-kill, with advice on how to make sure that your are collecting your flattened fodder legally.
At the back of the book there is a wild food calendar listing various ingredients and the month during which they grow. Irritatingly, though, there are no page references, and several of the plants and mushrooms mentioned in the calendar are not indexed, which makes finding the entries on them difficult.
But there is a bigger disadvantage to this book - a complete lack of photographs. One of the key ingredients in successful foraging is confidence. As Lewis-Stempel says in his introduction, you have to be careful that you establish beyond doubt the identity of the plant you have collected before consumption. While the descriptions on their own are good, many less-experienced readers may not find them enough to help distinguish between delicious mushrooms and deadly ones.
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By Neil Gerrard
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