Thursday, 2 September 2010

foraging with kids

It is one of the great pleasures of Summer and Autumn to pack up the buggy with drinks and snacks, and plenty of tupperware boxes, and go off on a food hunt. You get exercise, the kids are occupied with spying out food, and you get to teach them a little about how food works: where it comes from, what sustainability is, and what will kill you if you eat it. Always useful to know.

(Right is the common mallow. You've got one in your garden, I bet).

Now we are in the grip of Fenland, I've discovered that many of the species I used to get hold of quite easily (like Sweet Woodruff) are not Fen friendly, they don't like the ground or water. However, some species, like sloes, seem more abundant. And, I am told, if you go further east, there is samphire to be had. When foraging with the kids however, I stick to easy to spot species, and ones that cannot be easily confused with other things. There are a few rules to foraging with kids. Before you even read the rules, you should buy a decent foraging guide. I have this one, "The Forager handbook" but a new River Cottage one is due out now too. It's on my xmas list.

Rules: or how to forage with kids with no-one dying.
1: Explain the difference between poisonous plants, plants that are safe once cooked, but NOT raw, and safe plants. Make them repeat it back to you before you go.
2:Dress them in thick trousers, long sleeves, and sturdy shoes. This helps with stinging nettles and biting things, and stops those annoying goosegogs of the bedstraw family from getting in their socks.
3: Take savlon, antihistamine if needed, and the usual suncream. Make sure you know what a dock leaf looks like!
4: Choose only plants that are abundant at the time of year. No kid wants to walk looking for something for ages and not find anything. Go for plentiful, they are kept occupied, and you know you'll come home with something.
5: Go for obvious: stick to the easy to find, and easily safe species. AVOID THE CARROT FAMILY ALTOGETHER and the NIGHTSHADE, when foraging with kids. These family includes a large amount of poisonous plants that look remarkably like the non poisonous ones. Also, stick to berries, nuts and leaves, leave the roots and seeds for later. they're too fiddly, and again, too easy to mistake. With leaves, berries and fruit/ nuts, you are firmly in season, when the plant is at its' most identifiable. My top kid forage hits are: the blackberry, hazel and beech nuts, rosehips, mallow, fat hen, chickweed, elderflower/berry, borage, yarrow, nettles, everlasting pea tops and leaves, crabapples, damsons, ramsons, and of course, dandelions. There's a lot of them, they're all safe as houses, and they're easy to get to. Most of them can be spotted along any rural roadside or footpath.
6: I'm going to be controversial here and say that your kids won't die if they eat some blackberries without washing them, worst thing is they'll munch a bit of protein in there too. There has been some concern about heavy metals in berries from heavily used roadsides, so avoid picking along motorways, but otherwise I think you're fine! But a general rule of thumb is wash it first and wait if you're worried. Don't pick things where dogs walk and wee, or cattle poo.
7. No fungi except puffballs.
8: Don't pick all of everything. Leave at least 2/3 of every plant and plenty of berries. Once Spetember is here, an old wives tale reminds people to lay off the blackberries, as the Devil enters them. A nice way of saying leave some for the birds, I think.

What do you do with the stuff you've got? Eat it! Mallow is a surprisingly tasty plant and was once used widely. It is still grown commercially in turkey,where it is a staple. In Greece it makes up part of the "horta" of wild greens. Here; it's a weed. It is somewhat akin to okra when cooked for very long, but swiftly cooked in an omelette or added to salad it's yummy. (Left is blackthorn, with sloes just starting to emerge in August. They need to be left till Oct/Nov to really ripen. )


thepoisongarden said...

'Once Spetember is here, an old wives tale reminds people to lay off the blackberries, as the Devil enters them. A nice way of saying leave some for the birds, I think'

It's a creature called the flesh fly which leaves a spittle like substance on the fruit that is supposed to cause an upset tummy if you have enough of it.

The devil landed in the bramble when he was thrown out of heaven and spat on the berries.

Interesting item. I especially like your pragmatism about not getting paranoid about unwashed fruit.

Fenwitters said...

That is interesting! My great gran used to descend on our bushes and pick everything she could the last day of August and now I know why! As for the pragmatism, necessary with one who's 3 and one who's 2, if I were to look at one and tell them to stop it, the other one would be doing it behind my back!

Jan said...

A very interesting post today Sheridan ,so pleased modern Mums are teaching children these lovely old pass times Jn xx

Debbie said...



Roy said...

Hi Sheridan, only problem is when you bring all the stuff back that you have picked, you then have to prepare it all.{:) There certainly is a ton of blackberries around this year.