When I was around 10 years old my Dad decided to take us out mushroom hunting. I think he probably had a friend who had taken him and he thought it was a cool thing to do so, off we went. He had absolutely no idea what he was doing but it was an amazing experience. We wandered over the south downs, wellies on and eyes keen, popping one of every type of mushroom we came across into our basket. (Note: this is certainly not how I recommend starting your mushroom hunting journey!) I thought we were going to find the little white button mushrooms you find in the supermarket, because that’s all I knew of mushrooms, but I was so wrong!
There were little pink jelly ones growing from the sides of trees, huge squishy yellow ones the size of dinner plates, ones that looked like sponges, smelly ones, shiny ones and spotty ones. I was amazed.
From there we headed home, our basket full, to learn more about our finds. We tipped our mushrooms over the dining room table and began flicking through huge dusty old mushroom books to try and identify them.
I was hooked! I wanted to know what they all were and I wanted to know their stories. The way we started foraging in our family is definitely not the way I’d recommend to others. It’s not particularly safe, especially if you want to eat any of your fungal finds. We might have had some edible mushrooms in our basket, but we weren’t nearly as cued up enough to be 100% positive on our IDs. Furthermore, if we had a death cap or another deadly mushroom in our basket mixed up with our edible mushrooms, it may have dropped its spores onto it, rendering it inedible.
“I was uploading our finds and our subsequent feasts to social media, and pretty soon lots of people were asking if they could tag along.”
Thankfully, myself and my brother were pretty suspicious about eating any of the mushrooms we’d picked and we managed to put my dad off eating them in those early days too.
We continued to hunt for mushrooms, but for a long time, we were just learning, eating only the very-beginner-friendly mushrooms, like giant puffballs and penny buns. As soon as I was old enough, I started going along to guided walks and workshops, which were so incredibly helpful. There’s nothing like having an expert guide you around the woodland.
As foraging involves all of your senses, it’s very hard learning about new mushrooms solely from books. I picked it up pretty quickly as we’d been doing it for so long anyway, and it soon became my favourite hobby.
I was uploading our finds and our subsequent feasts to social media, and pretty soon lots of people were asking if they could tag along.
At one point, I was out foraging with around three friends’ families, their dogs and their kids, talking about the wild foods we were collecting and what we could do with them, when I realised it could be a business.
“Cooking with foraged ingredients definitely took my love of cooking to another level.”
So around three years ago I started running my own guided foraging walks and it grew from there.
I’ve always been a keen cook. I used to love cooking with my Mum, whether it was throwing big handfuls of cheese into pasta dishes or learning how to make her amazing chilli con carne.
Cooking with foraged ingredients definitely took my love of cooking to another level though.
There are barely any recipes online for quite a lot of wild foods, so you really have to consider their flavours and experiment with how best to make the most of them.
I have continued to develop my cookery and foraging skills through my work.
At my workshops, I cook over a campfire for the group and I have lots of people that come back again and again, so I like to have something new for them to try. Which means I’m constantly coming up with new dishes that feature and showcase the wild foods around us.
“There is a wonderful community of foragers on Facebook and Instagram and I often come across fantastic, novel ways to use ingredients.”
I also read a lot, as wild food was used much more often in times gone by. Old recipe books are very helpful to study. Social media is also an amazing place for learning and inspiration too.
There is a wonderful community of foragers on Facebook and Instagram and I often come across fantastic, novel ways to use ingredients.
I’ve also connected with a real-world community of foragers too, and am always learning through them. Whether it’s a new use for a little herb or how to find truffles!
I don’t think I could choose just one person who inspires me most in the foraging world, although John Wright is a strong contender.
I used to love watching River Cottage and seeing John making elderflower champagne and hunt for mushrooms. He has so many amazing books on foraging too.