Learn how to forage for food with The Hedgerow Cookbook

Published: 13 July 2021

Last update: 08 July 2021

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The Hedgerow Cookbook

Foraging for our food connects us with nature, and there are many delectable treasures to be had during these late-summer months – whether in the open countryside or deep in the urban jungle. Branches of spring blossom are turning into jewelled berries, and then, as we move into those first crisp breaths of autumn, into laden boughs of fruit, seeds and nuts.

In our book of the month for August, The Hedgerow Cookbook, Caro Wilson and Ginny Knox show us what to look for and when – and share some delicious recipes for feasts with seriously low food miles. Read on for a preview of what you can find in The Hedgerow Cookbook, plus some recipes to try at home and tips on foraging your own food.

Jewelled delights

Blackberries are the quintessential British late-summer berry and an excellent starting point for those just turning their hand to foraging, as they’re both easily identifiable and readily available. Many of us foraged for blackberries as children, long before we realised that’s what we were doing, and it remains the perfect summer holiday activity for all ages. As delicious as they are straight from the bush, if any blackberries do manage to make it as far as your kitchen, they're equally divine baked into a sweet pudding or muddled into a gin and tonic.

Old Fashioned Bramble Pudding from The Hedgerow Cookbook

Old fashioned bramble pudding 

Whip up this simple steamed pudding for a great Sunday lunch crowd-pleaser. You can use pretty much whatever fruit you come across on a walk – blackberries, elderberries, raspberries or even damsons.

Foraging for foliage

Britain’s hedgerows are a gold mine of fabulous foliage, from sorrel and samphire to the misunderstood dandelion. The humble stinging nettle, far from being just a nuisance that bites at your ankles as you saunter past, is so rich in nutrients that it's been used medicinally for eons. The leaves keep their vibrant green colour even after cooking but fortunately lose their sting.

Wild garlic, a common sight in our woodlands, is also enjoying something of a revival. It has an enduring flavour and is versatile enough to hold its own as the star of a dish, or simply sprinkled over as a supporting act. Most leaves tend to be at their best from spring to early summer, but if you’re quick, you might be able to forage one last handful of tangy sorrel or salty marsh samphire.

Samphire

Pickled samphire 

Pickled samphire may not have a beautiful colour, but it certainly has a beautiful taste – a salty, sharp, sweet flavour all at once. And since the samphire season is relatively short, it's great to have a way of preserving some for use in the winter. Try this pickling recipe for year-round samphire.

Treasures from the orchard

Crab apples come into season around the end of August, and these hardy fruits last quite well. One good haul will keep your kitchen brimming with the opportunity of both sweet and savoury treats well into autumn. They can be fairly tricky to come by, so if you happen to have a friend with an established orchard, now is the time to start buttering them up.

Crab apples also occasionally grow in hedgerows, so keep your eyes peeled. If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, you might even consider planting one. The trees don’t tend to grow very tall and will delight year after year with their fragrant blossom. The fruits are tasty when cooked, but not very appealing while raw, so you shouldn’t have much competition from neighbouring birds.

Herb jellies from The Hedgerow Cookbook

Crab apple jelly 

Make the most of a haul of crab apples with this jelly recipe. Whether kept plain and simple or flavoured with herbs or lavender, a jar of jelly makes a fabulous gift, a delicious topping for your toast or will transform an ordinary roast.

Top tips for successful foraging

1. Common sense foraging

The idea of foraging needn’t worry you, so long as you apply a bit of common sense to your venture. Some things are much more easily identifiable than others, so if you’re unsure whether something is edible, it’s probably best to avoid it. There are a wealth of berries, leaves, flowers and fruit that are easily recognisable, and plenty of reference resources to assist you.

2. Understanding the law

You're entitled to collect fruit, flowers and foliage on common land for personal consumption. However, to avoid trespassing or picking something that has been planted as a crop, you shouldn't forage on privately owned land. Always adhere to any signage, especially when on land owned by the National Trust, Woodland Trust or Forestry Commission, as they could be important habitats or conservation areas. 

3. Leave nothing but footprints

Be a conscientious forager: only pick from places where the produce is abundant. Take only what you need, and ensure you leave behind enough to support the birds and other wildlife that rely on this food source. Be aware that it is illegal to dig up a plant without the landowner’s permission – the careful forager does their best to avoid damaging roots, so the plant can regenerate, and its bounty be enjoyed for years to come.

About the authors

Caro Willson and Ginny Knox have shared many happy, sun-soaked days roaming the nearby fields and hedgerows, collecting crab apples and brambles to make into cakes, jellies and other delicious things. They both feel passionate about wild food, which is local, seasonal, fresh and low in food miles.

The Hedgerow Cookbook

Create a foraged feast with The Hedgerow Cookbook 

Learn how to turn nature’s bounty into delightful gifts or delicious feasts to enjoy at home. From jams, jellies and chutneys to main courses, cakes, and cocktails, The Hedgerow Cookbook has over 100 easy recipes to help you discover the flavours of wild food foraged from hedgerows, meadows and woods near you.

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