With summer well and truly finished, we've hardly been able to walk past a hedgerow without pulling off handfuls of blackberries. everywhere we walk is accompanied by a very purple Imogen shouting 'more bewwies!' and we've started the great cold-season tradition of becoming 85% crumble. And this is totally normal for us, Autumn is prime foraging time where we go hunting for berries and fruit in the hedgerows and fill the freezer, ready for the long winter. But this is the first year we've really done summer foraging, and I'm really quite excited to look back and show you what we found!
My first wild food of the year was actually back in late April when I spent a couple of days at Polzeath with my best friend Rosie. This is one of my favourite places in the world, we've been going there since I was a tiny thing and it's always a joy to come back to. It's also a blue flag beach which makes it a perfect place to collect beautiful fresh mussels from. We had a lovely morning in a tiny secluded cove, collected a bag of mussels before heading back up the cliffs to cook them for lunch. They were almost the best mussels I've ever had - second only to eating them as part of an incredible seafood banquet on a yacht in Greece - and even a very sceptical Rosie was convinced!
If you fancy a forage for mussels the Eden project has a brilliant page all about them - it's important to bear in mind water quality when picking as you don't want to be eating mussels that have grown in dirty water.
Whortleberries grow all over Exmoor, thriving in the acidic moorland soil. They are best described as a tiny wild blueberry and although picking them is a slow and laborious task, the pay off when they're baked into crumbles or scones is definitely worth it.
We headed to a ridge high on the top of Exmoor and in an hour managed 150g between us - suddenly the price of whortleberry jam doesn't seem so high! I made a simple scone mix and folded in a handful of the berries right at the end, gently so not to squish them. Then instead of cutting out rounds, just patted the dough into a 3cm thick round and cut into 8 wedges. I wish I could show you some beautiful photos of the finished items, thickly spread with clotted cream and jam, but they all mysteriously disappeared before I could get my camera out. (We had guests over, it wasn't just me!)
The whortelberries are small enough to be a brilliant alternative to raisins for a delicious fruit scone and definitely something I'll be making much more of (and stocking the freezer with) next year.
Our last wild food discovery happened in mid-August when we were down at the beach on the north coast of Devon. Walking along the dunes at low tide, we came across a salt-marsh that was covered in a thick layer of plants including samphire. Without scissors or a basket we had to improvise (pinching the tips off and putting into Imogen's penguin backpack!) but managed to pick a decent amount in a few minutes. Much like all wild food, we picked just enough for our supper and were careful to leave the plants intact so they could keep growing for everyone else.
We stopped off at the fish counter on the way home for some beautiful fresh scallops and sea bass, and served it all with locally grown potatoes and garden peas (the last before the cabbage white caterpillars decimated that patch - sob!) It was absolutely delicious and there was a little left over too, so we saved it for the next day's lunch - fish finger sandwiches with samphire and homemade tartare sauce, heaven!
For all of these lovely foods, we only got organised to go hunting right at the end of their seasons - but now we know where to look, I've marked the time on next year's calendar and the blue flag beaches near to us (mussel season is any month with an R in it - so now!) and will be ready to go and make the most of these foods when they're in season. We'll hopefully get one or two more samphire harvests done this year, but it's rapidly becoming time to forage for nuts and berries and start on the jams and chutneys!
I'd love to hear what wild food you've been eating this summer and into autumn - leave a comment below and let me know!