Embracing the season (and my inner domestic Goddess, usually buried deep), I busied myself making a blackberry and apple crumble for tea on Sunday night.
How pleasing – to create a meal made with apples from our garden and berries picked along the Leeds-Liverpool canal.
Studiously avoiding, of course, all branches less than three feet off the ground to avoid a flavour even Heston Blumenthal would turn his nose up at – eau de chien pissoir.
I’d had a lovely afternoon picking blackberries in the autumn sun with a friend whose commitment to foraging wild foods was set a few notches higher than mine.
In addition to the glossy mound of plump produce in our pots, my friend was also gathering nettles to cook up in a broth, and forking her way through the rest of the foliage in search of seeds to nibble on.
Inspired by a recent ‘foraging walk’, she saw new possibilities for gustatory delight in every patch of undergrowth.
Then, fortuitously, an extravagantly-dreadlocked man cycled towards us. My friend recognised him straight away as the leader of the foraging walk she’d been on – Craig Worrall, specialist in mushroom hunting and wild food walks.
What a job description. Essential criteria: the ability to spot really poisonous stuff that might actually kill you.
Craig runs Edible Leeds, a forum for fungal forays and other wild walks. Having talked to him for a while, I can say he brings more than just toxin-avoidance skills to the job. He is also super-knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the abundance of free food sprouting on our doorsteps.
Back in May, Craig led a wild food forage in Bramley Falls woods, just a skip and a jump from where I live, which culminated in a meal of raw wild garlic and nettle sushi with dandelion root coffee.
Later on in the season, Craig rooted up elder, hogweed, wood sorrel and oyster mushrooms, serving his intrepid walking group elderflower and lemon cake at the end of their forage.
Some might balk at the prospect of digging through bushes for their dinner. I admit it’s a lot easier to shop for your fruit and veg at the supermarket; easier still to do it online.
But even sceptics would have to admit there’s something a bit odd about buying a £2 punnet of blackberries at Kirkstall Morrisons when 200 yards away there’s bushes of the things lustily yielding themselves up to all-comers.
With green beans from Kenya, strawberries from Spain and tomatoes from Chile, we have definitely lost touch with the provenance of our food.
Whether you’re up for a spot of wild garlic and nettle sushi or not (and – hands up here – I’m not sure I’d be too keen myself), we should all think a bit more about where our food comes from, and make an effort to source things locally whenever we can.
Another brilliant local initiative is Leeds Urban Harvest, a volunteer-run project that collects and distributes the soft fruits that grow unharvested across the city. The team often provide fruit for charity events, as well as juicing apples and pears for general sale. They even visit schools with their juicing kit to teach kids how to make the most of the fruit that grows all around them.
So if you have a fruit tree in your garden and you can’t pick the produce fast enough before the wasps get to it, who do you call?
Leeds Urban Harvest. (Don’t call me, that’s for sure. I’ll be eating crumble every week till the spring as it is.)