I’ve been thinking about foraging recently. There’s very little quite as special as a lovely – and free! – treat garnered from a hedge. I’m thinking about a wild mushroom risotto, pots of crab apple jelly, a steaming blackberry crumble or a bubbling demijohn of rosehip wine. Foraging is really an autumn sport, though, borne from the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, so why am I writing about it now?
The thing that makes a really good forager isn’t being able to spot a laden crab apple tree at three hundred paces – it’s knowing where that tree is in the first place. Being a successful forager depends on keeping your eyes open all year round – if you notice things now, and remember them, you’re well on target for a bumper summer and autumn foraging season.
So just now, keep your eyes open for these, and make a mental note –
They’re hazel catkins, and where they’re hanging in profusion from the naked branches of hedges and shrubby trees now, there should be some lovely cob nuts in the autumn – they’ll be much harder to see then, when there are leaves on the tree, and hazels growing in mixed planting aren’t especially distinctive looking. Watch like a hawk though, come autumn, and pick them slightly green and sweet – because the mice will want them too!
A little note on the legality of foraging – if the item is being grown as a crop, then it’s not foraging, it’s scrumping (or stealing!). It’s very unlikely that cob nuts or blackberries growing in a field hedge are intended as a food crop, but the nuts and sloes in my garden hedge definitely are! So if it looks like someone’s caring for a tree or a hedge, it’s in an orchard or garden or looks intentionally planted, tread with care! That said, there at lots of edible crops grown incidentally on trees planted ornamentally, on streets and in council amenity spaces, particularly in urban areas – foraging doesn’t have to be just a country pursuit! – look out for apples, plums and cherries, too!
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