Fashionable and free
It’s achingly fashionable to go foraging nowadays, but when you think about it, we’re all hunter-gatherers at heart. If you've ever popped a blackberry into your mouth on a country walk, or swiped an apple from a conveniently overhanging branch - go on, admit it - then you’re a forager, too.
It’s always been a part of life in Wales, especially in rural areas. Farmers still chew sorrel leaves to quench their thirst out in the fields, and the nation’s grandmothers (well, some of them) still pluck nettle-tops to add to a traditional Welsh broth. Blackberrying, mushrooming, nut gathering and sloe-picking are common pursuits, but lots of us are taking it a step further, raiding nature’s larder for more exotic flavours.
A guided foraging trip
The most prized mushrooms are porcini (or ‘ceps’ and ‘penny buns’ as they’re also known). For these, we’re off to the forests around Rhayader where Daniel Butler runs a company called Fungi Forays. You can find them within seconds of stepping off the path and into the mossy beds among the conifers. Gorgeously plump porcini, yours for over £30 a kilo in London, but free to foragers. As a bonus, you may also find a scattering of golden chanterelles, distinctively spiny hedgehog fungus, and beautiful amethyst deceivers – which, despite their name, are perfectly edible.
To emphasise the importance of foraging with an expert, you may also stumble upon some death caps, which are every bit as deadly as their name implies. Be warned.
Back at Daniel’s converted cowshed home, with dozens of red kites wheeling overhead, he gives a master class in cooking and preserving mushrooms, followed by a hearty lunch of – yes – mushroom-related foods.
Autumn is the best time for fungi, but on the Welsh coast you can find good things to eat all year round. Trehale Farm in Pembrokeshire specialises in rare-breed pigs and sheep, but they’ve also got a sideline in coastal foraging forays. The aptly named David Hunter leads trips through the woods to the beach at Abermawr, picking wild sorrel and bramble tips. You can explore the shoreline for edible seaweed, and check the crab pots that David has cunningly laid.
Then, the best bit: David lights a fire from driftwood, brews a herbal tea from the meadowsweet we’d gathered, and cooks all the foraged goodies, with the welcome addition of a few pounds of rare-breed sausages.
Note: Wild food foraging should only be undertaken with a guided expert.