It takes a lot to change people’s eating habits. When I was in charge of Waitrose I commissioned research that concluded that the average number of products eaten by customers was 250, in spite of the fact that we sold around 20,000 food lines, and launched thousands of new ones each year.
One of our most primal instincts is to eat food that we know to be safe. It’s why we tend to put the same items in our shopping basket at the supermarket, use the same pubs and restaurants and pick the same things on the menu. It’s also why recommendations, like those given here in The Good Pub Guide , are so important to us. I therefore suspect you either have to be naturally courageous or need a good shove to try the new trend to ear foraged food. Globally, the year 2000 marked the point when more people lived in cities than in the countryside. Of course, it happened much sooner than that in the UK. With that move comes a disconnection for many people with where their food comes from and how it’s produced.
I remember as a child in 1960s foraging on family picnics for berries, fruits, flowers, nettles and mushrooms to take home to brew or cook with. I remember back then, and I still believe it now, that things seem to taste better if you pick them yourself, or consume locally.
When I moved to Dorset a number of years ago, I decided to reawaken my inner forager. I went on a seashore forage in Studland Bay run by Force Adventure and another with the River Cottage cookery school hunting for mushrooms. You can find details for both online, and many more similar courses are shooting up across the country. For me, one of the greatest dishes is wild mushrooms on toast- especially if you’ve picked the mushrooms yourself.
If you’d like to save the time and money involved in taking a course, foraging and then cooking for yourself, there are many local talented chefs who are working to give you a taste of your local forest, countryside and seashore. There are also a few pubs that encourage you to explore something new, which is, of course, actually very old.
The Verulam Arms in St Albans, Herts, has an excellent reputation. The team based there organise foraging walking where you learn about what to pick, and afterwards they cook what you’ve gathered. Alternatively, you can opt for the A La Carte menu, which changes constantly with the seasons depending on what can be foraged. I’d recommend the local hunted game and also do try the beers brewed on-site. Near the pub is the fine Norman cathedral, and before that was built the town was an important Roman centre- called Verulamium. The food eaten back then would probably have been remarkably similar to the ‘fayre’ served in the pub today, although I suspect it was not as well or as lovingly prepared or presented.
If you want to try a taste of what’s been naturally harvested from the seashore, there the Anchor Inn in Chideock, near Seatown in Dorset. The head chef is a foraging and wild food fan and it shows with both land and sea covered on the menu. Nestling by the sea, it’s the nicest place to enjoy local cask beers and food on a lovely sunny day. I’m lucky enough to it’s close enough to home that I can pop there for lunch. Bliss.
By Mark Price
This extract is from The Good Pub Guide 2019. Get your copy here