Foraging is a tradition as old as time, but for many years it has been a rare activity in our modern lives – more a hobby than anything we might actually do to use in our cooking, says columnist Lee Clarke, head chef at Prevost restaurant in Peterborough.
Between the easy access of our modern supermarkets and not having the knowledge of where to go or what to look for, it has become the reserve of those few who have the knowledge, and often the time, to explore.
But, is that all about to change? Is foraging about to become available to everyone at the touch of a button? Well, chef René Redzepi – world-famous founder of the Noma restaurant – certainly seems to think so. His non-profit organisation MAD, taken from the Danish word for food, has just launched an app that could revolutionise the foraging and wild food world.
VILD MAD is a comprehensive and free app for the public to learn about and sustainably explore wild food. The app encourages adults and children alike to get outdoors, to identify what’s edible, to harvest sustainably, and to cook with recipes that reflect the seasons and the landscapes. So there’s no longer any need to go reading a hundred books and carry them with you when you’re out and about.
The opportunity an app like this presents for learning and discovery, especially for children, is really special. With our young ones now growing up in a world of supermarkets, there can be a big disconnect between them seeing food in the supermarket and knowing where it’s come from. An app like this gives us the chance to show them how even something as simple as the bushes and hedgerows they pass every day can provide ingredients for cooking.
I know what you’re thinking – I live in a city, I can’t be driving out to the countryside all the time, and what if I pick the wrong thing and poison everyone! Well, VILD MAD has thought of that too, with a ‘risk of mistake’ box featuring on any ingredients that might be easily mistaken for others – and all terrain is covered, from cities and towns, to beaches. So now you can take the little ones out around the neighbourhood and still come up with some unique finds – from common sorrel and chicory to wild cherries and even daisies!
A few important things to remember when foraging are never take the roots, don’t break branches and spread out your picking, making sure to not take all of your berries from a single bush. This is key to making sure that plants can thrive and grow back, and it also means you leave something for the next person.
Foraging is really important in the Prévost kitchen, with a host of our dishes since we opened featuring locally foraged ingredients – and it can be the same for you. So try getting out in your local neighbourhood, or take the family to Nene Park, and explore the foods that are right on your doorstep. You may be surprised at what you’ll find!