With the explosion of spring tantalisingly close we are once again dusting off our foraging bag and getting ready to get back out into the wild. And we are not alone.
It is heartening to see the continued growth and popularity of wild ingredients, with numerous experts, businesses and producers now championing this fantastic pastime. We also firmly believe that far from damaging the environment we love, done correctly foraging will help sustain and protect it.
So this year we are teaming up with a host of inspiring, forward thinking experts in the field to bring you a selection of ideas, recipes and products to shine a light on all that is amazing about our landscape. Through discussion, exploration and experimentation we will look at how we can harvest and use lots of the ingredients that go largely ignored but can provide so much more than our supermarket favourites.
First to the wilderness party, the amazing Foraged by Fern.
After using our products at her foraging events in Sussex we decided to take it one step further and create a range of drinks that shared our joint passion for wild flavoured alcoholic drinks. To get the creative ball rolling we asked Fern a few questions about her relationship to foraging and here are her answers:
What is your earliest wild food memory?
My earliest wild food memory was one of terror. My very enthusiastic but not overly sensible Dad had taken us out of mushroom hunting when I was about 10 years old and I was sensible enough to know that his dish of wild mushroom risotto had 'danger' written all over it! I think it was probably out of a desire to make sure my little brother wasn't about to be poisoned that I started learning about wild foods so quickly and avidly!
Of course, I had many wonderful wild food memories after that first one! We started learning as a family and trusting each other that we had picked very beginner-friendly, safe mushrooms and other wild foods!
Who inspired/ inspires you to do what you do?
I don’t think I could choose just one person! Meeting people who are truly connected to nature, living immersed in its cycles always inspired me to do the same. I also used to love watching River Cottage and seeing John Wright and Hew Fearnley-Whittingstall making elderflower champagne and hunt for mushrooms! He has so many amazing books on foraging too.
What is your signature wild creation?
My nettle beer and my foragers rarebit are both favourites with my friends and family, so I'm going to go with them - together they make a perfect lunch after a forage! My rarebit is wild herbs blended with oil and spread over fresh bread, then topped with a mustardy, cheese sauce and grilled. Nettle beer is a light, refreshing beverage made from nettles and brewers yeast and it's seriously the perfect accompaniment with almost any lunch!
Which wild ingredient do you think deserves to be more popular?
Nettles! As much as I forage for the more exciting things like tree saps and wild mushrooms, they are my favourite thing to forage for. They are so incredibly versatile and so abundant. We consider them weeds and walk past them everyday but throughout history, people have relied on them as a source of nutritious food, medicine and even clothing (as their stalks can be made into twine) and useful tools like fishing nets and ropes.
Because nettles have been so important to us throughout history, there's lots of wonderful folklore surrounding them too! In Celtic folklore specifically, a thick clump of nettles is a sure sign there are mischievous fairies living close. Stinging yourself with the nettle, however, was said to bring protection from the fairies mischief and any other dark magic!
With excited anticipation for the world to once again burst into bloom we decided to concentrate on making a range of cocktails celebrating the scents and tastes of wild blossoms and flowers. We wanted to craft a collection that was vibrant, light and fresh so delved into our trusted wild flavour archive to see what delights we could find. And it didn’t disappoint.
The Flowering Currant Cosmo
Inspired by the heady aroma and sharpness of the flowering currant we developed a twist on the classic Cosmopolitan. Woodruff vodka, sweetened with currant blossom syrup and balanced with the acidity of red currant come together beautifully and seasoned with yarrow bitters is more complex and less sweet than its namesake.
The Blossom Sour
Next we turned to the Sakura (Cherry) blossom. A favourite for both The Buck & Birch and Fern this ephemeral precursor to summer is not only beautiful but also rather tasty. With notes of bitter almond it made sense to create an ode to that favourite of almond drinks; the Amaretto Sour. Using our Amarosa rum liqueur as a base we boosted the almond flavour with a healthy dose cherry blossom syrup, adding crab apple juice for that all important zing. Vodka adds body and mouthfeel whilst the tansy bitters brings a herbiness that melds everything together.
The Burdock Coffee Martini
Wanting to add something a little earthier to the collection and inspired by our favourite of all cocktails - The mighty Espresso Martini, we developed our Burdock Coffee creation. We Infuse coffee with the roots of the aforementioned plants before blending with our Ana birch syrup liqueur, our own Birch spirit (more on this coming soon!) and woodruff vodka. The resulting Martini has the usual caffeine kick associated with this cocktail but with added spice from the roots and a sweet smoothness form the birch caramel liqueur.