I’m never sure whether it’s the idea of something for nothing, or some deep, primal hunter-gathering instinct that attracts me to the idea of foraging. Either way (and it’s probably both), heading out into the wild to find free things to eat is so appealing.
Foraging has become popular even in urban environments these days, and in cities such as New York, London and Sydney you can find foraging tours and groups, as well as numerous websites with information about what’s available to forage, how to identify what you’re foraging, what’s safe and what’s not and how to use it.
In New Zealand, late summer and autumn offer an abundance of fruit ripe (and free) for the picking with wilding apples and other fruit trees grown from throwaway pips and pits gracing roadside verges the length and breadth of the country. There are also many useful wild weeds such as nettles (take care to pick with gloves), which lose their sting on contact with boiling hot water and offer a power pack of great-tasting nutrition to soups, risottos and sauces. The weed fathen (aka lambs quarters), which I have written about in my new book Through the Seasons, tastes like strong spinach and is rich in calcium and other useful minerals.
It was just brilliant to be able to film our walnut-foraging expedition up Lake Wanaka and share the beautiful Central Otago autumn in this episode of my TV series. With its wild offerings of mushrooms, pip fruit, berries and nuts, autumn is one of the most satisfying and productive times to forage. We struck a glassy calm day on the lake and my old orange jetboat just purred along, as happy to be out enjoying the day as I was. My friend Grant shares my love of foraging and knows a few secret spots, and thanks to his memory of the location of a very old walnut tree we were able to fill a couple of sacks of sweet fresh nuts for the winter store – so satisfying.
Keeping walnuts (and all nuts for that matter) in their shells is the best way to store them, especially as they are prone to turn rancid very quickly. If you buy nuts already shelled always check their aroma to ensure there is no off bitter smell before using them and store them in the fridge or freezer to stop them from going rancid. I have a fabulous recipe for a Walnut Pastila I made with some of my harvest – to watch a video of me making it see my YouTube channel.
The crispness of the autumn air seems to trigger all our squirrelling instincts. As the days get shorter I find myself drawn to bottling and preserving, putting up a store ready for the long winter ahead. In order to be able to make pickles and chutneys and other preserves that will make winter food more interesting you need to get planting in the spring. You'll find the recipe for my Pickled Cucumbers on my website.
There are many other crops you can plant in spring for autumn preserving and storage – grow beetroot for pickling, cauliflowers for piccalilli and, of course, tomatoes for sauces and soups. I used to think you had to make a big deal of preserving and turn the kitchen into a massive production line, as that’s what my mother did, but now I make quick, small batches as my produce comes ready. As well as being a great way to personalise your food, it’s so satisfying seeing the gleaming jars lined up in the pantry!
find out more
- Want to find out more about this episode? Check out the TV pages of my website for videos, bonus recipes and behind-the-scenes photos.
- Want to meet me in person? I've added a few new dates to my tour schedule, with book signings in Wanaka and Cromwell and events in Palmerston North and Masterton – for details see my full schedule
- Find out more about Season One of The Free Range Cook
- Find out more about Season Two of The Free Range Cook: Simple Pleasures
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