Fern Freud is one of rural England’s social media rising stars. She is helping to revolutionise the ancient craft of foraging and is giving it a mouth-wateringly enticing new look. An ex-marketing girl, she loves the woods, loves to cook with flowers, and wants a TV show. We think she’s just ace. Her work promoting ‘The Slow Life’, reconnecting with nature in this lovely peaceful and meditative way is a magical way forward, full of hope in this time of angst and climate uncertainty. We hope that all of you reading this can take her words forward.
We are very happy to help her on her way.
Hopefully Fern will be running foraging classes in the New Forest sometime in the future.
Fern , tell us about how you got interested in foraging?
There were a few things that turned me on to foraging as I was growing up! Firstly, as a child, my Dad used to take us hunting for mushrooms. It’s not a very traditional activity because we have a bit of a national fear of mushrooms in England. But, my Dad was always wonderfully wild and carefree…
“I’ll meet you by the sugar if you get lost in the supermarket”, and “do you need a push down this massive hill on the bike you learned to ride yesterday?!” That kind of thing.
So, mushroom hunting felt like a real treat. An outdoor activity picking little magical things that grew out of the ground and could kill you if you weren’t careful. We’d fill up huge baskets, take them over and spill them out over the kitchen table. Then we’d spend hours rifling through old books and trying to ID them. We’d draw them, cut them up, smell them and occasionally when we found some edibles, throw them in with some pasta!
It’s not the way I’d suggest anyone else should teach their little ones foraging, but it was a great experience that opened my eyes to how exciting foraging could be!
How do you think foraging fits into the Slow Food movement?
Foraging is the opposite of fast food, it’s a real journey. You start from the very beginning and move slowly to produce something beautiful and real. You can’t just go to the supermarket and pick your ingredients, you need to research, amble along the hedgerows and harvest your produce before you even start cooking.
For me, slow food is about mindfulness and being in the moment. It’s about slowing down so you can really enjoy the experience of food. With foraging, you have to be patient when picking your ingredients. You can’t grab fistfuls of wild herbs because you’re in a hurry to get home. There are poisonous plants that could be tangled up in the edible, so it’s just a dangerous technique. You need to slow down, take your time, pick one leaf at a time and study it carefully before popping it into the basket.
Once you’ve done this a few times, you’ll realise you’re meditating. You’re in what I call ‘the foraging zone’. You’ve cleared your mind and you’re simply picking your food, humming along with the birds and bees, like thousands of your ancestors have done before you.
And then you’ll have a basketful of fresh produce, bursting with nutrients and a mind full of tranquillity. So it’s back to the kitchen to create something special. I promise you your food will taste so much better with all that hard work!
We love that you use flowers so much for foraging, where do you learn your foraging skills?
Thank you! Flowers are a really special wild food for me. They’re so lovely to work with and bring a delicacy and grace to any dish; whether they’re sprinkled on top of a soup or salad or used to make Turkish delight or cordial. They’re such an unusual ingredient for most people but so abundant and simple to use.
Originally I learnt to forage with my family and then went on to attend lots of classes and workshops. I think it’s really important to learn to forage ‘in real life’ at least a few times.
Seeing a plant first hand, touching it, smelling it and connecting it with an experience is important and will help you remember it. Recconect with nature. Deep learning.
Now, I’m constantly topping up my skills and learning from books and social media. Instagram, Facebook and Youtube are such brilliant tools!
What’s your favourite recipe?
At the moment, my favourite recipe is wild violet lemonade. I’ve recently done an online tutorial on how to make it because I was so pleased and knew it would spread some joy during lockdown! It’s a really simple recipe, you just heat one cup of wild violets with one cup of water and one cup of sugar. You’ll have a light violet syrup, bluey-green in colour.
The magic happens when you add the juice of a few lemons. The bluey-green liquid turns into a stunning bright pink lemonade! This happens because of the acidity in the lemon juice and works with other purple edible flowers too. It’s perfect for getting kids excited about making their lemonade!
And your favourite plant to cook with?
Despite regularly harvesting and using some really cool ingredients, like silver birch sap and pine resin, as well as some gourmet mushrooms like ceps and chanterelles, my favourite plant to cook with is nettle!
Nettle is one of the most nutritious plants we have access to, whether you’re in the supermarket or the hedgerow! It’s packed with vitamins and proteins, even more so than spinach or broccoli. It’s also abundant. No need to worry about whether you’re taking too much or disturbing wildlife, as you only ever take the nettle tops.
I use it in the same way that I use spinach (but always cooked of course!) in curries, soups and stews. But I’ve also made beer with it, which is light and refreshing and wonderful! And even dehydrated it and used the powder instead of matcha in lattes and cakes.
I’d like to say that I only cook with flowers that are in season, found locally, and I pick a sustainable amount.
At the moment, my favourite flower to cook with is magnolia. So many people don’t even know it’s edible, but it’s crunchy, vibrant and delicious. It tastes quite similar to ginger, especially when you pickle it! After only a few days pickling it resembles the small packets of ginger you get with sushi. It only ever lasts a day or two at my house.
I’ve also experimented recently with magnolia fritters, which were beautiful and magnolia tea, which is now a firm favourite. The other great thing about magnolia is how much of it there is! I’m sure you know someone with a magnolia tree in their garden. If you ask them to take a few blooms and promise them a jar of pickled petals in return, they’re sure to say yes!
How would you like to see the UK’s food self-sufficiency change?
I don’t pretend to be an expert in this field at all but I personally think that a huge shift towards locality will be important.
I think everyone on some level will have to make ‘sacrifices’. We live in a world where we can have whatever we want, whenever we want. Which is brilliant on some levels, but excessive and not sustainable.
Foraging has really taught me that having to wait a year for your favourite thing (maybe it’s wild garlic or ceps). Because these foods aren’t in production, you can only have them when they’re in season. Far from being a negative, this is a wonderful thing. That ingredient becomes so much more delicious and special after being anticipated for a whole year.
Of course, I would love to see foraged foods being incorporated more into peoples lives. But I believe that individuals or families should learn to forage their own foods, rather than to buy it from suppliers.
The act of foraging brings people closer to the land and our wild spaces, which in turn makes them passionate about protecting it.
Your posts are beautiful, do they take a long time to create?
Thank you so much! They do take some time, yes, but it’s always worth it! I forage each ingredient and make the food from scratch. But I get to eat it afterwards, so I don’t mind at all! It’s also a brilliant way to get creative with how I use the ingredients and gives me an excuse to recipe test. The best recipes always end up being served at my walks and workshops!