Foraging with Wicklow Wild Foods

          First day 0f spring. Damn we picked our days well. The weather could not have been better for our little jaunt with Geraldine from Wicklow Wild Foods this week.

Foraging is a skill set that has become increasingly popular over the last few years with the emergence of restaurants like Noma in Copenhagen, the prevalence of back to basics living and the idea that free food from the forest is a pretty lucrative alternative to Tesco. It was with all of these in mind that I was eagerly anticipating learning a bit more about the natural foods that are to be found right on our doorstep. Well, I live on Pearse St, so not quite MY doorstep.

Geraldine talking us through the Do’s and Don’ts of foraging
An overgrown slate wall
Ground Elder
… Slenderman?
Blackberry Bush Flowers
Ferns in the undergrowth
Damn Ireland, you pretty.
Mustard Frill.

After a few hours ambling about in the woodlands we had collected a huge assortment of herbs and weeds, plants and one or two poisons. Here’s a good note on foraging, don’t do it unless you have someone very experienced guiding you. On more than one occasion Geraldine showed us a plant that was lovely to eat and pick and then right next to it, another plant that looked the exact same, and turned out to be quite dangerous. The most famous of which, bane of Shakespeare’s Falstaff, Hemlock is actually a widely growing weed in Irish forests, who knew? So this is definitely not something you want to be messing around with.

Hemlock
An old stone boundary wall, retaken by nature.

         At the end of the day we wrapped up with an incredible picnic, all handmade by Geraldine, using many of the kind of ingredients we had just learned about. A particular highlight for everyone was the wild garlic. So easy to identify and pick, and the flavour from the leaves was out of this world. Just incredible.

We brought a load of it back to the college and tried out a few different types of pesto I can’t tell you the intensity of the eat and the concentration of essence you get from these things. You have got to try them.

          You have got to try all of this. The experience of walking through one of the oldest forests in the country and getting properly in touch with the lands and the produce it gives you. It’s something that I will be reading up on more as the summer months come in. In so many ways this course has taught me about how, as a chef, you need to be in touch with your food. You need to know where it comes from, how it grows, why it grows, what kind of animals eat it? All of these will lead the decisions you make about the ingredient, about the dish. And really, as a chef, or a creator of any kind, the more strong influences you have the better.

~ Mark O’Brien

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