Quick Recipes and Easy

Wild Ingredients – The ‘New Black’ of Food

Wild foods such as Marsh Samphire are making their way on to the plates of trendy international restaurants. They join such wild-sourced foods as truffles as culinary oddities and gourmet foods. Are these trail-blazers in a new trend, and is there something more going on here?

In Europe, at least, the Second World War marked a watershed in culinary tastes. Foraging for wild foods became an essential part of survival. Wild-sourced foods often became essential dietary staples for those who could access those foods. It was inevitable, after the shortages of the war cam to an end that people would shie away from such subsistence foods and that commercial agricultural produce and processed foods became the be-all and end-all of daily sustenance. Two generations lost the knowledge of which wild foods were edible and which wern’t (with the notable exception of fruit such as blackberries and certain mushrooms). Consumers became more distant from the land than ever before.

But the wheel is turning. Concern for the planet has led to increased awareness and interest in the possibilities of foraging and the finding of wild food sources. This is partly a matter of curiosity and partly an increased interest in the recipes of the past and their ingredients. There is also an increased interest in growing a larger range of herbs and flowers in the garden to attract insects (and many of these insect-attracting plants happen to be edible).

This has resulted in increased knowledge and curiosity about ancient food sources and how wild and different foodstuffs can be used. This the ancient Elizabethan trade in marsh samphire has been renewed and samphire is now on the menu. But it doesn’t stop there. Those people who would look for blackberries in summer are now collecting elder flowers in May, elderberries in August, wild plums and hazelnuts in September, and sloes in October — and these are just the common fruit.

Once you start down this road of discovery you find that common garden weeds such a bedstraw, stout hen and chickweed are not only edible but make excellent vegetables. Rather than grubbing these up and adding them to your compost heap, you can wash them and add them to your dinner plate! Then there are the wild herbs, the wild greens such as ramsons (wild garlic) in spring and Field Mustard which can be found year round. There are even greens such as coltsfoot, and common wintercress that can be found and consumed even in the depths of Winter.

Part of the attraction of these wild foods is that they bring out the ‘hunter-gatherer’ in all of us. It’s part of our ancestry, our heritage and once you get bitten by the foraging bug you will never quite be the same again. You will find that in spring you serve your dinner guests a hedgerow salad made of wild greens and wild flowers, in summer you will have summer puddings of wild fruit and in autumn you have the harvest of wild nuts and wild mushrooms to draw on. Even in the depths of winter there are stored fruit and wild greens that you can use.

Next time you pass a tangled hedgerow or an overgrown verge why not stop for a moment to look at the range of plant life that exists there. With a simple guide and some patience you will even be able to get yourself a tasty meal from those plants.

Trendy restaurants may be scraping the verges of wild foods to make a statement and make a name for themselves, but you as real cooks can truly appreciate the breadth and depth of the range of wild foodstuffs available to you. They will truly allow you to connect to your ancestors for these are the foods they collected and consumed. Keep the ancient traditions alive and try some wild foods for yourself.

To learn more about wild foods, how to recognize them and cook them take a look at the celtnet.org.uk/recipes/ancient/wild-food-guide.php Wild Food Guide.

Dyfed Lloyd Evans is a cook and Internet author who is passionate about ancient foods and ancient cookery. He shares his knowlege on this subject in his celtnet.org.uk/recipes/ Celtnet Recipes site. His reconstruction of ancient recipes can be found on his celtnet.org.uk/recipes/ancient.html Ancient Recipes pages.

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