The forests are full of fungi and there's something magical about cooking up a feast using produce you've gathered yourself. But if you can't tell “chicken of the woods” from “death cap”, it might be your last supper, so sometimes it's best to go with the experts.
In 2008, Fergus Drennan lived solely on wild food for a year, documenting his diet in a monthly magazine column. He now runs intensive day courses on foraging and cooking with wild ingredients (fergustheforager.co.uk). In October he has some fungi foraging days near Canterbury where, he says, you might find “typically between 20 to 60 species or more”. The day ends with an early dinner, served in the woods, weather permitting. You might dine on spicy rosehip and beetroot soup, risotto with wild fungi, and seabeet and seaweed panna cotta with candied mushrooms. A one-day course costs £110pp, including meals.
Autumn is also a great season for certain fruits. “Sloes and bullace [wild plum] are best picked for infused alcohols after the first frost, which can happen in October,” says Zoe Atterbury, who is leading short foraging walks as part of the Lyme Regis Walking Festival in October (07971 253 722; beyondbushcraft.com). “Hawthorn berries are ready, too: good for a delicious infused brandy. Rowan still has berries, for a pale pink jelly to accompany game.” Zoe's walks take place on 22 October and 23 October; about 1.5 hours; £10 per person.
The Field Studies Council (field-studies-council.org), a registered charity, runs foraging and mushroom identification courses at 13 centres around Britain. There are still spaces on a two-day introductory Wild Food Heaven weekend at Blencathra, in the Lake District (23-25 October; from £210pp including accommodation and meals). Or why not try a Hedgerow Basketry course? Held at Flatford Mill in Suffolk, this weekend will teach you to weave a basket from materials found in hedgerows and gardens. From £227pp including accommodation and meals; takes place from 13-15 November.
Down on the farm
Farm Stay UK (02476 696909; farmstay.co.uk) has just begun offering foraging courses at some of its properties. For example, you can stay at Orroland Holiday Cottages, on the coast in Dumfries & Galloway, and enjoy a day out with local forager Mark Williams (gallowaywildfoods.com). Spend the day discovering various wild treats such as seaweed, wild parsnips and edible flowers before sipping on wild cocktails and dining on your harvest.
The farm has two cosy stone cottages (sleeping six or seven) and a big house for 14, all with real fires. Three nights in October costs from £336 self-catering for six people. Foraging days cost from £85pp and must be booked in advance.
“Search for Dead Man's Fingers, Amethyst Deceivers and Angel's Bonnet,” says the National Trust (nationaltrust.org.uk) about a guided fungal foray on Halloween morning in the woodlands at the foot of Skirrid Fawr in the Sugarloaf and Usk valley, Monmouthshire. The walk is free (donations welcome) and your expert guides will be from the Gwent and Herefordshire Fungus Survey. The emphasis is on identification rather than foraging – but you can take a few of the edible finds home with you. The National Trust has other fungi identification walks at locations including Devil's Dyke, the New Forest, Hardcastle Crags and more.
- More about:
- National Trust
- Farm Stay UK
- Fergus Drennan
- Lyme Regis Walking Festival
- Hedgerow Basketry
- Field Studies Council