Join this woman on her journey from dark forests to the tables of top chefs
Entrepreneur Alysia Vasey insists that her work, supplying top chefs with choice and rare ingredients for their culinary triumphs, is anything but glamorous.
Foraging involves long, painstaking hours spent finding the plants and herbs that need to be in exactly the right environment and a perfect state, to be used.
Her knowledge of all things growing and wild is vast - a whole mix of learning and experience gleaned over a lifetime, with roots that lie deep in her family’s past.
Alysia’s new book The Yorkshire Forager is out this month. Between its covers she tells her story, and shares some secrets, with humour and pathos.
She never expected to end up “picking leaves for a living,” she said. But for her, foraging has always been natural. She would walk West Yorkshire moors with her grandad as a child finding edible treats, and believed everyone did the same.
Her Polish grandfather, however, had to forage in the wild, to survive. He and his brother were forced to live in a forest for a year, after Germans shot his engineer father for allowing ‘prisoners’ to escape from the trucks of the train he drove.
This was at the very beginning of the holocaust, said Alysia. People from mental institutions, and Jews, were being taken to an early and ‘experimental’ concentration camp, at the ancient city of Posnan in Poland.
Her grandfather, then a young apprentice on the railways, escaped by chance when a fight broke out between soldiers, and he made it to the forest.
Later he made it to a displacement camp in Italy, and eventually to the UK, where he found work in a Yorkshire carpet factory, and the cotton mills.
He met and married a woman from Barnsley and they had four children. Money was tight for them and foraging always supplemented the larder, said Alysia.
“We had the strangest meals when I was young,” she recalled. “A Sunday dinner could be Yorkshire pudding with sauerkraut, piccalilli, salami and gravy.”
Alysia is a politics and law graduate who served in the Navy as an aircraft engineer for five years. But wherever she lived or was stationed, she foraged.
She found plants, mushrooms and other edibles, all native to particular areas, in what she calls the ‘outdoors supermarket’.
Detailed knowledge of your quarry when foraging is vital, says Alysia.
Delicacies such as Morel mushrooms must be carefully processed. They can actually kill a person if not treated in exactly the right way.
There are thousands of types of mushroom, of which ten per cent are edible, she said. But it’s also essential to check surroundings. A tree with toxic needles may drop on and around mushrooms, which are, essentially, “a bag of chemicals,” she added.
Sweet woodruff, a choice herb, with hints of vanilla, is another favourite with properties that can be dangerous.
Alysia's husband Chris and mum Barbara join her in foraging, along with her nephew and nieces.
As for many others this year, Alysia’s business has suffered due to COVID-19 and the closure of restaurants.
But her new book ‘The Yorkshire Forager, A Wild Survival Journey’ is now released and is available through Amazon and Waterstones.
Alysia has many projects in the planning, and confesses excitement at what her future holds.