Stray Kitchen with Stephanie Moon: Free Food
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Last updated Mar 15, 2021

Stray Kitchen is our column all about food written by renowned local produce expert, food writer and chef, Stephanie MoonStephanie is a champion of food produced in the UK and particularly in Yorkshire and the Harrogate district. 

 

 

There is an air of optimism about the Moon household these days, a light at the end of a very long tunnel for us all and of course our beloved hospitality industry.

On my walk today out in the sunshine I was in high spirits, delighted to see the green shoots of wild garlic peeping out and even a few fresh nettle shoots. Free food is all around now, and it is the time to start getting out there to find your own.

I have always been interested in wild food. I can remember bringing in the cows for my Dad at milking time as a young lass, eating the wild strawberries growing in the side of the road. One year the farm had a field mushroom phenomenon, and we ended up filling washing baskets and cardboard boxes to give to relatives and friends. This is a hobby that is healthy and great for mindfulness, as it gets you outside soaking up the sun and breathing the fresh air. What is not to love?!

We are always encouraged to make the most of natures bounty, so here are a few easy tricks to foraging if you are new to the pastime.

  • Start with something easy
  • Nettles or Wild Garlic are great this time of year, with young tender shoots
  • Nettles grow everywhere, but you should avoid picking from roadsides where car pollution may have occurred. Wild garlic likes leafy woods and often with water nearby
  • Wild garlic tends to have long green leaves, white delicate flowers on a tall chive-like stem, and a bulb like a garlic bulb but much scrawnier. The amazing smell of the leaves will hit you before you see it, so if in doubt just rub it: if it is wild garlic, it will give off a garlic aroma. The young tender shoots are the most tasty

A wild garlic leaf

  • If picking nettles, wear plastic gloves to avoid being stung – if you are stung this is very mild with tender shoots and wears off fairly quickly. Someone once told me a nettle sting is good for arthritis, but that could be an old wives tale. Once you have cooked a nettle it looses its sting and the young ones are very tasty- a massive hit with the Victorians apparently, although not so much in food fashion these days unlike its punchy partner wild garlic on every chef’s ingredients list this time of year
  • Be careful not to pick on land where pesticides may have been used
  • You cannot dig for free without permission

This is a very old photo of my dog Honey who is now 8 years old… yes I know, ‘Honey Moon’! As a puppy she started her foraging years early.

  • Watch out for dogs! For fairly obvious reasons, do not forage where dogs are walked
  • Try to pick under the shade of a tree, as the leaves are often juicer having been less baked by the sun
  • Avoid picking right next to the water’s edge. Not only because you might fall in, but who knows what you might pick up
  • Avoid picking lots of one plant in one area. To be respectful of nature, spread out instead so it does not affect next year’s crop
  • Make sure you know what you are picking and avoid picking other plants at the same time. If you rush, you may get more than you bargained for as not all plants are edible!

Happy cooking,
Steph x


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