Over the years most people have picked a wild berry or two.
But the potential for foraging in Northern Ireland is much bigger and Mary and Dermot Hughes know this better than anyone.
They are the owners of ForageIreland.com and although they live in Belfast they often head out and about throughout the country “foraging” for ingredients to use in their home cooking.
Mary explained: “Dermot is a geologist and environmental consultant and has always used jam, chutney and wine recipes handed down from his mother. I have been baking, sewing and flower arranging for many years.
“Making jams and our own bread was a constant fixture within our family life through the years and it essentially came from a need to save money, a wish to provide our family with healthier alternatives and we wanted to make use of the valuable, free, natural resources on our doorstep as well as the traditional techniques and recipes that are linked to our rich cultural history.”
Now Dermot and Mary run their informative website giving top tips and information about foraging as well as recipes. They run regular workshops and events passing on their knowledge to others.
But despite the fact that foraging is steeped well within Northern Ireland culture Mary believes there are many common misconceptions.
She said: “Unfortunately the shift in consumer habits over the last 30 years has led to a total detachment from the origin of produce whether that be a shiny red tomato or a woollen jumper. And this means that foraging which was previously natural, common sense and economical, is sometimes seen as hippyish, childish or even unhygienic.”
And for the Hughes family foraging is not just about finding food ingredients. It’s a way of life.
“Hopefully everyone will be confident enough to always pick a tempting raspberry or blackberry from a roadside” said Mary, adding: “But many people also forage the beaches for pretty things to become household ornaments, or forage around for old furniture or old clothes to rejuvenate, or forage for wood for the fire.
“Many people even source valuable manure from local stables for their gardens.”
When it comes to food three of Mary’s favourite wild ingredients are Wild Garlic which she says can be found on woodland floors and roadsides and she is confident it can’t be mistaken.
She said: “you can smell it before you see it, it makes a wonderful pesto.”
Of course Blackberries are the most obvious and can normally be found within a short drive along back roads and hederows.
Lastly Mary recommends Elderflower.
She said: “This is abundant early summer time. In gardens, graveyards, parks and hedges. In fact our nearest elder supply is in the local graveyard.”
For more information log onto www.forageireland.com.
1. Collect a shopping bag half-full of elderflower heads, trying to avoid the leaves. Snip the florets off the thicker stalks, and place in a plastic bucket.
2. Boil up a syrup of sugar and water – the proportions aren’t vital – about 500g sugar in three litres of water would be fine. You could vary the proportions depending on how sweet you like it, but that will take a few goes to work out.
3. Pour the boiled syrup over the flowers, and mash them up well.
4. Leave to stand for 24 hours with a cloth over the top, and then strain the liquid, bring to boiling point and then leave to cool before bottling.
5. Your Elderflower cordial will be ready in three weeks, but will be best after six months, stored in a cool, dark place.