It’s a Nordic trend but one that has made its way to Blighty – and there’s no denying that foraging for food is big news in the culinary world.
Some of the UK’s most-respected chefs are foraging for wild food to add to their menus, with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall promoting the ‘virtues of locally sourced, uncultivated ingredients’.
Meanwhile, René Redzepi, the Danish chef behind Copenhagen’s four-time World’s Best Restaurant, Noma, ‘wants the world to learn how to forage’. René – who has brought ants and edible soul to the fine dining scene – has even launched a scheme to educate children and adults about the food that surrounds them, as stated here.
It’s a passion shared by George Norrie at the Lake District’s Hipping Hall. After beginning his catering career as a student at Lancaster and Morecambe College, George has spent time in a number of renowned UK restaurants, including Cartmel’s L’Enclume, and a stint as manager of the Lake District’s Lake Road Kitchen. The latter built its reputation on foraging for the food that would make up its menu, and was rated 10/10 by The Guardian.
Here, George, General Manager at Hipping Hall in Kirkby Lonsdale shares his foraging tips and explains just how important it is to look after our landscape in the process…
‘Berry picking is in my blood’
“Being a Dundonian, berry picking has always been in my blood, but I really got into it about seven or eight years ago. The first plant life I went to pick was sea beet – a plant that is the ancestor to all beetroot and spinach plants; it grows up and down our coasts nationwide.”
George admits they didn’t take any home that day, though. “The plants had become battered by the rough northern weather, so we spent the morning packing them back in, making sure they were secured tight. Although we had plans to take some home that day, the conservation of the plants was of more importance to us than our bellies.”
‘These counties give us everything we need and wish for’
George’s job at Hipping Hall ‘demands a lot’, with every day bringing a new challenge for the team.
Our food follows a sort of climatic locality. For instance, we don’t use chocolate, pineapples or coconuts; these are not available on our landscape and would have to travel numerous miles and days just to reach the kitchen. We are nestled in Lancashire just between Yorkshire and Cumbria, which gives what we call a three-county bounty, and it’s from this we usually take. Farmed or foraged, searched for or purchased, these counties give us everything we need and wish for.”
It’s at this time of year, George and the team start looking for mushrooms. “Although mushrooms are pretty much available year-round, it’s at this time the most sought-after ones start to show. Recently I have been out picking Chanterelles, but I’m keeping my eye out for the boletes – porcini/cep is a forager’s gold and it’s a real happy moment when you find them. It’s one of my favourites.”
Wood sorrel is another great pick for foragers like George. “It’s a really versatile plant,” he says, “if you close your eyes when you eat it, it’s like you’re eating Granny Smith apple skin.”
Avoid Taking Chances
While George has tips in abundance when it comes to foraging, he also has some suggestions for what to avoid. ‘Taking chances’ is one of them.
“Most people know that if you pick the wrong mushroom it could be fatal. However, people don’t give the same respect to plants. The similarities between plants which are deadly and some plants which are used in cuisine is hard for even the trained eye to detect. Essentially, if you’re not certain what something is, just leave it be.”
Never Go Home Empty Handed
Want to get started, too? George offers some advice for would-be foragers. “Never come home empty handed. If what you went hunting for isn’t there, then bring some plastic home – help keep the landscape litter-free. There are days when you can walk ten miles and not find anything; I know I’ve been there, they’re not nice days but clearing a little of the rubbish out with you makes that day a lot better.”
Foraging for anything from burdock to berries and even clover, George advises would-be foragers to find their own spots and look after them. “Care for the plants; they may be wild, but a little helping hand is beneficial for future years. If they’re shoreline plants, for instance, check that they’re not getting too battered by the coast. You don’t want them washing out to sea.”
Will you be giving foraging a go? It can bring variety to your menu and brand-new clientele through your door. Just ask George, who’s been foraging for years and ensuring his diners can sample something different, every time they sit down to eat.