If you have even the smallest of gardens in Derry, chances are you could forage for some wild food in it.
Local horticulture expert and community gardener, Gareth Austin, is on a mission to share his knowledge on the wild herbs, vegetables and fruits that surround us and perhaps most importantly, cost absolutely nothing.
Gareth and Browns Restaurant chef, Cameron Carter, took 20 minutes on Tuesday afternoon to explore a park near the local eatery and before long they’d found a wide variety of edible goodies and treats.
“Foraging for local wild food is something that anyone can do,” said Gareth.
“It’s an amazing way for a family to spend a day in the countryside together but if you can’t get to the countryside all you have to do is step outside into your own garden or your local park - there is an abundance of edible foods around us,” he added.
Less than 60 seconds after entering the small park, Gareth kneels down and begins to pick small spear shaped leaves from the ground.
“This stuff is called wild sorrel and can be found in gardens, wooded areas and at the side of the road.
“The local chefs all over Derry are going mad for this stuff because it’s absolutely amazing with a bit of fresh fish.
“People from an older generation will probably recall eating ‘rumex’ when they were younger. Sorrel can be eaten raw and that’s why so many people would have tried it when they were younger - not only does sorrel taste amazing with fish but it really livens up a summer salad too,” explained Gareth.
No sooner has Gareth let Cameron taste the wild sorrel and he’s unearthing the next free foraged food.
“I’d hazard a guess and say that there are hundreds of thousands of these wee plants in gardens all over Derry and guess what, at this time of year, they taste amazing in salads.”
Gareth is talking about the White Clover. It’s a small flower that appears on lawns and grassy areas all over Ireland at this time of year.
“If you taste it you’ll see that its flavour is not unlike a garden pea. If you pick a few handfuls of these and add them to your salad they are sure to add a bit of crunch,” he smiled.
Perhaps one of the most popular foraged foods available in and around Derry at this time of year is the petal of the wild rose and in recent weeks the chefs at Browns Restaurant made a wild rose panna cotta using locally sourced ingredients.
“I was actually on holidays when they made the wild rose petal panna cotta but from what I hear, it went down a treat,” said Browns Restaurant chef Cameron.
“It’s great to be able to share some knowledge with passionate chefs like Cameron and in turn it’s exciting to see what they make with the different wild foods,” said Gareth.
“Once you’ve a few items identified - like the wild sorrel, you start to see it more commonly because you’re simply looking for it.
“Foraging is not all about driving for miles away to a forest somewhere, there is stuff to eat right in the centre of the City of Culture, there’s even edible plants that grow on the Walls of Derry,” he added.
“The best part about foraging for food in and around Derry is that everything you find along the way tastes really good and perhaps most importantly - is completely free.”