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Foraging or Jamie’s Italian – there is such a thing as a free lunch

If you go down to the woods today…be sure to take a container. Because 2013 looks set to be the best wild food harvest for years; ripe for foraging.

Trees are groaning under the weight of apples, bushes are bursting with berries, and mushrooms are… well, mushrooming.

Free food

The late summer harvest yields fruits, berries, nuts, mushrooms, flowers and leaves, all fresher than anything on the supermarket shelves, all bursting with goodness and all FREE. What’s astonishing is that more of us don’t forage. Offering an abundant supply of food, plenty of exercise, fresh air and a connection with the earth, foraging is an all-round lifestyle winner.

If you are staying in one of our locations your larder is just outside the window, and it’s the simplest thing in the world to forage it. First stop: your Forest Ranger. A fount of woodland wisdom, what your Forest Ranger doesn’t know about foraging isn’t worth knowing.  From which mushrooms to pick (and which to avoid), to where the juiciest berries are this year and how to forage safely and responsibly, your Forest Ranger is on hand.

Raoul Van Den Broucke stoops to scoop up some more intriguing fungi(b)

Mushrooms for breakfast

Mushrooms, one of nature’s miracles, appear on the forest floor overnight.  Hunt on a warm morning after a rainy or damp night, the humid conditions being ideal for prolific growth. Most importantly, go with an expert and a guide book; the visible differences between the delicious and the deadly can be almost indiscernible. Mushrooming is one of the most rewarding forms of foraging but it is not really an amateur sport!

Fruitful foraging

Who didn’t go blackberrying as a child? The sweet, dark juices bursting into your mouth, the prize for thorny encounters with roadside hedgerows. This year’s blackberries are the best for years, full, ripe and plentiful, and no instructions for picking them needed. Marry them with wild dessert apples for a Proustian crumble, or serve with sugar-dusted shortbread and ice cream. Look out too for raspberries and winberries – a superfruit cousin of the much-feted cranberry and blueberry. Cherry trees are in fruit now, as are plum trees and apple trees. Again no instructions necessary but follow the Country Code and pick what you need, leaving plenty for others.

Gathering nuts for winter

Nuts follow the fruits and berries and bring with them a scent of the Christmas festivities ahead, as well as providing a rich source of protein, vitamins and essential oils. Hazelnuts are probably the most abundant and once picked should be stored for six weeks before shelling. Sweet chestnuts are another traditional UK favourite. Distinct from their bitter (and somewhat poisonous) relative, the horse chestnut, they have spikier outer shells which, when opened, present you with up to 3 sweet nuts compared to the single conker. Roast them on the barbecue or toast them under a grill for a warming winter treat.

Free lunches all round

No such thing as a free lunch? The forest bounty that has sustained humans for millennia is still there today, and as we have seen, this year’s harvest is spectacular. The dishes you can conjure up would grace the table of any restaurant, including Jamie’s Italian.  From wild boar with mushrooms and wild garlic (we’re not expecting you to catch the boar yourself), to summer fruit compote. From the sweetness of just-picked apples, cherries and berries, to the satisfying depth of jams, chutneys, salads and stews. Fine dining, free of charge.