WHILE GATHERING LEAVES, IT IS WORTH FORAGING FOR INTERESTING WILD FOOD – 2nd wk in Oct 2012

Darina Allen of Ballymaloe Cookery School using senses of smell, taste, touch and sight to check out a horseradish leaf on the recent foraging course there.

Railway passengers around now are familiar with train delays caused by leaf-fall. Technically the compressed leaves on the tracks cause a ‘loss of adhesion’ or a reduced ‘co-efficient of friction’! For the organic kitchen gardener, leaf fall causes a window of opportunity. A few re-useable plastic sacks full of fallen leaves will over a year, preferably over two years, become an excellent weed-free mulch, which looks like an attractive forest floor when spread around fruit bushes, trees and vegetables. Before putting the full sacks in a corner to be transformed in to leaf mould, punch a few holes in each sack with a garden fork to help air to circulate in the otherwise tied sacks.

Normally, there are more than enough leaves to be gathered around my own garden without having to travel to other depositions of leaf-fall. ( See the book ‘Trevor’s Kitchen Garden’, p 311 – 314.) If you are out for a walk  near some woodland and have a shopping bag in your pocket, then there is no harm done if you stuf the bag with a few fallen leaves for your leafmould making at home.

Foraging is also a good way of learning more about the flora in a locality. It would be hard to get fat on foraging, however. Wild cress and other edible leaves and flowers are generally smaller than the cultivated garden veg we tend to grow these days. That being said, almost all wild plants are edible with important exceptions such as deadly nightshade. In the mushroom department, forage with an expert, before venturing out to gather mushrooms on your own – or go on a ‘foraging course’.

There are many such foraging courses available now around Ireland and generally. Sonairte, the Ecology Centre in Laytown, Co Meath, is planning another one in 2013, www.sonairte.ie.  One of the best known foraging courses is to be found at Ballymaloe Cookery School, Co. Cork, www.cookingisfun.ie  Recently, Áine and myself enrolled for the Ballymaloe foraging course given by the irrepressible Darina Allen. The Saturday featured a good foraging walk and demonstrations of how to prepare dishes using foraged ingredients. However, the weather was too dry to find mushrooms this year.Perhaps next autumn will be wetter. Meanwhile foraging features in the book ‘Trevor’s Kitchen Garden’, p254 – 259. Happy foraging!

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