It’s a great time of year to raid nature’s larder. Why not try autumn foraging?
What is it?: At its basic level, foraging is the act of searching for and harvesting wild foods. Autumn in Scotland is a particularly good time to hunt for countryside produce.
Tell me more: Look around you as you explore the countryside on foot. On hills, in woodlands and hedgerows and at the beach, you’ll spot a colourful bounty of edible gems.
After the warmer months of summer, autumn brings fat and juicy berries, such as blackberries, sloe berries on blackthorn bushes and elderberries; trees laden with apples and plums; and undergrowth rich with mushrooms.
Other wild produce includes guelder rose berries, nettles, hazelnuts, rose hips, rowan fruits, seaweeds, wood sorrel and pine needles.
How to get started: While many wild foods are safe to eat and can form the basis of delicious recipes, such as jams, jellies, fruit gins and casseroles, there are many others that are poisonous.
It is a good idea to join a wild food foraging session, which is usually part of a walk.
Experts can guide you to the best places to find wild produce and show you what is good to eat and what’s not.
Mark Williams, of Galloway Wild Foods, leads foraging walks year-round. He said: “Foraging is a great activity for all ages, especially in late summer and autumn.
“There are so many amazing foods to find in our Scottish countryside.
“If the weather allows, it’s great to cook with some of the ingredients outdoors, too.”
But Mark warns that beginners must learn the dos and don’ts of foraging.
He said: “Care must be taken over what you forage for so you avoid toxic plants.
“Also, we teach people how to protect our natural environment from over-foraging, particularly plants or areas of the countryside.”
Other tips for success: Use a guidebook to help you to identify tasty wild produce, such as The Thrifty Forager by Alys Fowler or the Collins Gem version of Food for Free by Richard Mabey.
There are plenty of online guides as well, such as one produced by the Woodland Trust. See www.woodlandtrust.org.uk
Also remember to wash your foraged items and check for bugs.
What kit do I need?: A pair of scissors, or a good pocket knife; a collecting container such as a reusable shopping bag; walking boots or shoes, long sleeved top and trousers; gloves in case you are foraging where there are nettles or thorns; a notebook for keeping track of great foraging locations.
Who is it for? All ages. Mark said: “Both children and adults enjoy foraging and it can be a good way to enjoy spending time outdoors together.
“Children rarely notice how far they are walking when they are on the look out for foods.”
When can I do it? All year round, although autumn is a very good time.
Cost? It’s free to forage yourself, while prices vary for foraging courses and walks.
Anything else to do?: Enjoy food foraging on a bushcraft weekend, a canoe adventure, a gourmet day or as part of a wild booze walk.
Walking routes website and app, www.viewranger.com, details a number of foraging walks in Scotland.
Wild food recipes: The choice is vast but here are a few to try.
Fresh mushrooms are delicious in winter salads or use older mushrooms for soup or casseroles.
Cook freshly picked ceps with cooked and sliced potatoes in olive oil with butter and fresh, crushed garlic (wild if possible). Stir in chopped fresh paisley and a squeeze of lemon juice. Serve with grilled meat.
The sorrel is a good source of vitamin C and will brighten up a winter salad or add a citrus zing to a dish.
Wood sorrel also works well as a garnish for fish.
Traditionally picked after the first frosts of autumn and winter, sloe berries make the basis for a delicious gin liqueur. You can pick earlier and freeze the fruit for a similar outcome.
Wrap whole of fillets of fish, chicken, venison or beef as tightly as possible in sheets of fresh seaweed.
Set the oven temperature lower than normal and allow the fish or meat to cook slowly and for longer thanks to the wrapping of seaweed.
The kelp keeps the contents moist and locks in flavour. It also adds seasoning.
Jams and jellies are a great use of brambles, or try pickling the fruits.
For every 1kg of blackberries boil 500g of granulated sugar in 250ml of white wine vinegar. Add the blackberries and simmer until just soft.
Take out the blackberries and put in sterilised jars. Boil the syrup until it’s thick and pour over the fruit. Seal and store for at least a week.
The pickled berries are great with cheese on toast.
For more recipes see www.gallowaywildfoods.com and monicawilde.com
This article appeared in my Sunday Mail outdoors column.