Wild food forager and Nature Place activity leader Paul Tappenden tells us what’s local and wild in and around our area.
Now that winter is upon us, foraged foods are few and far between. So what did our ancestors do at times like this? They couldn’t pop down to the supermarket or eat out in restaurants. In fact, the vast majority had to live off their wits and experience. If they didn’t prepare for the winter months, many of them would die.
Although this prospect doesn’t face most of us today, many still need to preserve foods for use at later times. As a forager, I like to practice these survival skills, and as someone concerned about eating nutrient-rich foods, I like to ensure that I have them on hand to supplement my regular diet year round. For this reason, I preserve the wild foods I gather in a number of different ways.
Probably the easiest method is to dehydrate them, although this doesn’t work for all foods. It also tends to rob them of flavor and texture. However, in most cases, it does preserve the nutrients. It is a particularly effective way to preserve mushrooms and roots.
A popular way of preserving foods is by canning, but this uses high heat, which kills many of the nutrients and requires special equipment, so I don’t go that route. A better approach all around is to ferment food. Not only does this preserve the goodness (taste and nutrients), but it increases the natural enzymes, and often adds a delicious piquant flavor. A similar approach is to use vinegar to pickle food. I’ve found this to be the best approach with bamboo shoots, field garlic bulbs or ramps.
With nuts, seeds and acorns, I’ll often dehydrate them and grind them into flour, although with acorns, I leach the tannins out of them first.
I store a lot of things in the freezer, which, of course, is a modern luxury that has replaced the root cellar. I could exist without one, but until that time comes, I’ll enjoy the convenience.