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'Wild Food - a complete guide for foragers' by Roger Phillips - front cover.
'Wild Food - a complete guide for foragers' by Roger Phillips - front cover.
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The gastronomy of wild food

Humphrey Birley

30th April 2014

Eating wild plants and mushrooms is a pleasure we should all indulge in, believes open air gastronomist Humphrey Birley - and this new edition of 'Wild Food : a complete guide for foragers' is just what's needed to get us exploring woods, hedgerows, meadows and salt marshes in search of edible delicacies.

Like all the best cook-books, Wild Food is a feast in itself and a contribution to the basic treasury of the best vegetables.

Amateur naturalists such as myself have, for more than thirty years, relied on the series of Pan Guides created by Roger Phillips and his colleagues (e.g. Mushrooms, British Wild Flowers) as have gardeners ( e.g. Shrubs, Roses).

This second edition of Wild Food encompasses all the qualities that made these guides so valued: comprehensiveness, admirable concision and superb photographs.

Phillips covers the vegetable kingdom exclusively and divides his book into six sections: Mushrooms, Flowers for salads, Seaweed and salt marsh plants, Vegetables, leaves and herbs, Fruits, berries, nuts and fruits , and Teas, beers and wines.

Recipes ... plus etymology, history, folklore

A generous half of the book is given to recipes, ranging from basic to sophisticated, often including historic recipes which complement the fascinating historic information, etymology and folklore which is somehow fitted in.

Readers will be reminded of Richard Mabey's magnificent but much more compendious Flora Brittanica. The resultant dishes are beautifully and tantalisingly photographed - often in old still life style with the raw material alongside them.

All this should encourage the most inexperienced forager who will be greatly helped by the quality of the photographs to identify forage correctly.

But don't mix up your Chanterelles and Clitocybes

But problems persist: the decurrent gills of the incomparable Chanterelle are also found in Clitocybe dealbata, notorious nemesis (almost) of author Nicholas Evans. Indeed, in the photograph, 'white' Chanterelle look suspiciously pale.

Another warning: edible Cow parsley can be confused with poisonous Fool's parsley and hemlock.

The ecologist may be concerned about the environmental effects of all this foraging. Phillips includes Gerard's recipe for Candied Eryngoes (Sea Holly) because of its "historical importance" only and states that this beautiful plant "should not be dug up but protected".

Perhaps Marsh Samphire - a "real delicacy" which "should be tried at the first opportunity" should not be dug up by the roots even if "you only take a little" - especially since only the fleshy stems are actually eaten.

The decline of once common species e.g. the Field Mushroom is remarked - through change in agriculture rather than over-picking.

If it's truffles you're after, best bring a pig ...

Some very rare species are included including some not found in Britain at all e.g. the black and white truffles (fiercely guarded by their owners in France and Italy) and, in any case unrecoverable without a dog or pig trained to their (apparently pheromone-like) scent.

Against this some very common species are included e.g. amongst fungi Shaggy Ink Cap and the politely named 'Jelly Ear'. Such ubiquitous plants as nettle, sorrel, chickweed, dandelion, elder and blackberry are well covered.

Like all the best cook-books, Wild Food is a feast in itself and is (as Jane Grigson is quoted as saying of Sea Kale) a "contribution to the basic treasury of the best vegetables".

 


 

Dr Humphrey Birley is an enthusiastic forager and partaker of wild foods. Birdwatcher, naturalist and aficionado of edible fungi, he lives in South Wales.

The book: Wild Food: A Complete Guide for Foragers (2nd edition) is written by Roger Phillips and published by Macmillan in 2014 in a hardback edition of 240pp @ £20.

 

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