“They ranged around the local landscape by carriage, stopping off at likely hunting grounds, measuring fairy-rings, and gathering an extraordinary hoard of wild mushrooms: milk-caps, ceps, chanterelles, witch’s butter, hedeghog fungi. The day ended in the Green Dragon in Hereford, with the exhibits strewn out on the pub tables, and a late lunch of the day’s best trophies: shaggy parasol on toast, fried giant puffballs, and fairy-ring champignons in white sauce. The puffballs especially were voted a great success, as was the day itself.”
[Richard Mabey, describing a Victorian mushroom expedition]
A few years back, a debate raged in the pages of a British newspaper on the role of foraging as a human activity. One side posited foraging as a middle class leisure activity, built on a literary mythology of the back-to-the land movement, and possibly a threat to nature if more people adopted the practice. The other side described contemporary foraging as an activity tying us to our prehistoric human roots, when 900,000 years ago all humans spent their days seeking food.
The historians, sociologists, ecologists and literary theorists will likely find some truth on both sides of the debate, but I look to foraging as a time to empty my brain of such concerns. Wandering the woods, seashore, or field edges might seem like a simple activity, but it demands attention and helps to create a quiet mind. Efforts are sometimes rewarded, and sometimes not. But the scratches and scrapes, dirty knees and other minor difficulties are generally rewarded. My only regrets are arriving one week late to a stand of brambles laden with blackberries, to see the bushes drooping under the weight of the now shriveled, and unpickable, fruit. It’s a shock to know I’ll need to wait a full year to be back in this place to, hopefully, reap the bounty.