The Forager's Kitchen: Book Review

Quail eggs pickled in violet vinegar

Quail eggs pickled in violet vinegar
from The Forager's Kitchen, photo by Stuart West

I remember when a lot of wild food recipes were more about subsistence than enjoyment. They didn't do much to win over anyone but die-hard foragers. More and more these days we're getting to see the foodie side of wild food. I do love knowing my entire meal was growing wild only hours ago. There's something really visceral about the experience and it's good to know I can find food if I have to. But it's not always that practical. I also like the everyday accessibility of incorporating wild edibles in my domesticated meals. And I like it all to taste good. That's what The Forager's Kitchen is about (there's also extensive info on foraging each featured wild edible). It's wild food that anyone--urban or rural--can appreciate and enjoy.

I like the approach Fiona Bird has taken here. From the "Ground Rules" section:

A little foraging excitement goes a long way, and foragers need to learn to be happiest when their basket is half-full rather than half-empty.

the Forager's KitchenI like her emphasis on the importance of conservation and I like the structure of the book. There are five chapters: Flowers and Blossom, Woodland and Hedgerow, Fruits and Berries, Herbs, Sea and Shore. The recipes--there are over 100--are grouped by their wild components. And each grouping is preceded by an info page that gives instruction on where to find, how to forage, how to use and, in some cases, the folklore of the particular wild ingredient. A lot of foraging books keep recipes and field info separate so you find yourself constantly thumbing back and forth for reference. I tend to focus on one wild edible at a time and having recipes close at hand helps give me perspective on the best ways to use it.

The photos in The Forager's Kitchen made my mouth water. Still, that doesn't mean the food is good, so I really couldn't wait to try something. Since my stinging nettle was just coming up I went for the Poached Eggs and Nettle Purée recipe--the sauce is a nettle bechamel. It's unbelievably delicious and took all of ten minutes to make. In fact, all of the recipes look easy enough for an amateur like myself to tackle but they're certainly not ordinary. Here are a few that caught my eye immediately:

  • Honeysuckle and Sorrel Sorbet
  • Violet Vinegar
  • Wild Cherry Blossom Panna Cotta
  • Poached Wild Mushroom Mini Quiches
  • Chanterelle and Chickweed Puffs
Wild watercress sauce
Wild watercress sauce, photo by Stuart West

The food in The Forager's Kitchen is also beautiful. Making food taste good is an art. Making it look good is an entire level of art unto itself. It introduces another dimension into the sensory experience. Garnishing with flowers is a fun way to bring that dimension into the wild plate and Ms. Bird seems to make perfect use of it. The entire first chapter is dedicated to edible flowers.

One minor caveat about The Forager's Kitchen; Fiona Bird lives in the U.K. and of course she's written about wild edibles close to her home. Not everything in the book occurs in my southeastern U.S. region. But there are really only a few things we don't have here and there's enough overlap to make it useful to us.

Actually, "useful" doesn't adequately describe The Forager's Kitchen. It's downright inspiring. It's a beautiful book and you can almost smell the food in those stunning photos. It's the first book in a while that has motivated me, as a seasoned forager, to explore my backyard. It's the first book in a while that has motivated Cindy, as a seasoned forager and slightly burned-out chef, to experiment with some new wild food recipes. Thank you, Ms. Bird for this wonderful artwork.

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