Few things compare in this world. It’s hard to describe the feeling of gathering your food in the wild (or in your urban wilderness) and nourishing your body with it. But it just feels right.
And yet most people know so little about what is and isn’t edible these days. We wait for supermarkets to tell us that something is fit for consumption by wiping off the soil, glossing it with wax and packaging it in plastic.
I grew up in the Soviet Union, where even the most urbane urban dweller went on regular fishing trips and mushroom forays. Our grandparents taught us which berries to pick, which greens to gather and use for soup, and which trees nurtured the choicest mushrooms. As a pre-teen growing up in New York, I saw nothing unusual about plucking mulberries off of low branches by my school grounds. Surely all kids did the same, no? Once, I’d found a rogue peach tree in the park and brought the juicy, fuzzy August fruits for my best friend to sample. It confused me when she proceeded to inspect the fruit suspiciously, and waited for me to take the first bite to check that they were not poisonous. But a peach is a peach!
At university in Los Angeles, I realised that very few people pulled fruit from a branch and popped it in their mouths. It was the eco-green-gardener types, the Hispanic grounds-keepers, and me. It just not something people did. And it drove me nuts. Why would anyone in their right mind pass up something so tasty, and so free, as a red pomegranate on a bush.
Perhaps we’re living in some anti-Eden, perhaps this is the story of our antigenesis, where people must be liberated from the confinement of their supermarket ignorance and taste the fruits of bliss. As a student, I decided I should be the anti-Eve, teaching people about their edible surroundings, through photos, performances, fruit maps, and plastic bags filled with tasty berries at lectures. Just like my school-yard friend, they had to wait and watch as I ate a fruit, and return the following week alive, but after that, most friends were surely converted.
I loved the manicured would-be Eden of Los Angeles, my exotic fruit tree playground – “for display purposes only,” of course – but yearned for the woods and pastures of my childhood. And when my partner and I moved to Brighton, UK, we realised that mushrooms and sorrel were close at hand. But after moving here, we also realised that there was much yet to learn about the natural rhythms of the climate, the seasons and all the living things here, about the particulars of the South Downs and their chalky slopes. I had to know where to look, and even what to look for. Foragers keep their knowledge sacred and secret, and wild food courses were (and are) out of my financial reach. What I needed was an Almanac of Foraging!
Well, more than a year later, we’ve learned a bit about the what, where and when of picking food here in East Sussex. And since there’s no Brighton-specific online foraging guide, perhaps this can be a Foraging Almanac for Brighton & Hove, and the surrounding areas. I won’t tell you where to find it, but I’ll tell you how to find it, and what to do with it. And I’m learning as I go along, so I welcome your input too.
Please enjoy and share. The best things in life are free, and they often grow on trees.