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Hedgerow by John Wright – A River Cottage Handbook

Hedgerow – River Cottage Handbook No.7 by John Wright  

How often do we sit in front of the TV watching chefs and survival specialists forage the harvest that abounds in our countryside? It seems a fun activity, but all too often I struggle with finding the time, lack confidence in recognising what is edible and what can be created with this free supply of goodies. Having grown up in a small town surrounded by countryside, I think of myself as better than the average person at recognising some of this stuff; but how does one expand one’s knowledge in this area, and reap the rewards? As a child I was told that crab apples were inedible and should be avoided; but for the last few years I have been making crab apple jelly with chilli, which provides a great kick in the morning with freshly made porridge; a real winter warmer.

 Hedgerow is a good starting point to get to grips with the foraging habit. Setting out with the single ecosystem is a manageable task, even for the uninitiated, and will quickly prove to be rewarding, even if only bestowing the ability to recognise the different plant species. Don’t be fooled into thinking that one has to travel to the countryside either. Hedgerow foraging can take place along town footpaths, around sports fields and towpaths. Indeed, I live in east London and forage no further than 3 miles from the house.

Critically, this book provides a calendar of low and high season, to inform the reader of what is available in any month. This helps one plan the journey into nature’s larder. The conscientious forager will also only take what they can eat or preserve in sensible quantities, so I am certainly not encouraging us all to plunder the harvest and leave a trail of devastation in our wakes! Rather to gain an appreciation of our surroundings and the rediscovery of real choice; the joy of making something with our own hands compared to buying it off of the supermarket shelf. And, in truth, it tastes so much better.

The last 50 pages of this book are dedicated to some simple recipes to get you started and build your confidence in preparing and using the harvest. It’s a great way to spend your time and also provide you with some unique gifts for friends and family. Locally we have had the occasional ‘taste off’ to compare recipes and share some of our secrets in creating some tasty treats. Maybe the home made liquors help?

Dr Mark Fisher is Significant Seams’s Business Development Director, and something of a crafting renaissance man. He tweets over at @Fish_Knits.

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