When I received my copy of The Forager’s Kitchen by Fiona Bird I asked Twitter where I might find some wild garlic in my local area. I soon realised however, that this goes against everything that foraging is meant to be about, and although I received plenty of informative replies, I was still far from finding the OS co-ordinates of my nearest wild garlic patch.
A couple of days later I was walking my dog where I always do, but with my wild garlic hunt in mind I strayed off the path by about twenty metres. Bingo! There it was: a patch of pungent wild garlic with smooth leaves glistening with what could quite possibly be little droplets of dog urine. I picked a good handful, the size of a supermarket packet of herbs, and I walked home, happy with my find.
I used my wild garlic to season a curry, some baked eggs, and some steamed fish. It tasted good, but not as distinctive as I had hoped. Again, I should have read The Forager’s Kitchen more carefully, since Bird’s advice is that you shouldn’t really cook wild garlic at all, but rather it is best dried and mixed up as a herb ‘salt’, or juiced and mixed with oil. Either of these preparations help to retain the plant’s pungency, and preserve the fragile leaves for a good deal longer than they would otherwise keep.
My haste to gather and cook said ingredient was inspired by The Forager’s Kitchen, but it does a bit of a disservice to the book, which is both well-informed and helpful. I have another book on foraging that I have never used due to its graphic design – a heavy hardback illustrated in a single green Pantone does not make for a reliable guide to wild edible plants. The Forager’s Kitchen, however, does very well in providing a sound, responsible and useful introduction to foraged ingredients.
Bird provides a set of ground rules for sustainable foraging, her two mantras being that ‘small is beautiful’ and ‘if in doubt, leave it out’. She has researched the folklore of wild ingredients on both sides of the Atlantic and provided chapters on edible flowers, fruits and herbs as well as foraging in woodland, hedgerow and on the seashore. As a Masterchef finalist, Fiona’s cookery skills are also proven, and along with her thorough research on the most common wild foods are a good number of uncomplicated but tempting recipes.
The Forager’s Kitchen is designed to give those who are new to foraging encouragement and a familiar starting point, but it can also provide inspiration for more seasoned gatherers. The recipes show how a few wild ingredients can make familiar family staples much more exciting, wild garlic being just one example, which Bird uses as flavouring for oatcakes, bread, soup, salads and dips.
After my initial foray, I couldn’t help but see wild garlic popping up everywhere, in newspapers, on telly, on Twitter and outside. So much so, I started to feel as though I might have hopped on some kind of bandwagon. Clearly The Forager’s Kitchen is a well-timed release but refreshingly, its author isn’t remotely faddish. While her topic is far broader than can be contained in a book this size, Fiona Bird is authoritative and passionate about wild food. Based in the Outer Hebrides where she forages on a regular basis, Bird is certainly not the sort who needs to ask Twitter how to enjoy the fruits of her locality.
The Forager’s Kitchen by Fiona Bird is published by Cico Books at £16.99 and is available from cicobooks.com.
I received a review copy of The Forager’s Kitchen free from the publisher.
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About Chloe King
I'm a freelance writer, designer and webby type. I live with my husband and daughter in the south of England. I like to cook and can throw a good party.
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