Will's Wild Food Diary

 Wild food diary

Fresh, organic and free! Of all things bushcrafty, nothing gets me more excited than a foraging adventure.

From time to time, I update this page with a different wild food that is in season- gradually building up an online reference on some of the foraging delights available to us.

In addition, I write a 'Wild in the kitchen' blog for the UK's leading site for professional chefs. 

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Disclaimer: There's loads of good stuff to eat out there and much of it is very easy to identify. Unfortunatly, there are also some plants and fungi that can make you seriously ill or worse. This diary is a brief overview intended to inspire and not a substitute for a good field guide and teacher. I will endeavour to point out any obvious poisionous look alikes but ultimately foraging is the individual's responsibility. Unless you are 100 percent confident you know what something is then leave it alone! Please also be aware that, as with any food, different people can have different reactions so it is good practice to always try just a small amount first.

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Category: Hazel

  1. In a nut shell...

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    One of the things I love about Bushcraft is the glimpses it can offer of the ancient people who once roamed this land.hazel nut

    I was vividly reminded of this on a recent visit to the British Museum. As I entered the long corridor of British prehistory, something caught my eye that made me stop dead in my tracks. Sitting nonchalantly alongside some early hand axes was a case full of broken and charred hazelnut shells- remnants of a meal eaten around 10 thousand years ago by some of the earliest people to return after the great ice receded and the forests reclaimed the land.

    I stood looking at that case of discarded shells for quite a while. And in those mesmerising minutes, as the modern city manically whirled around me, I felt a visceral connection to those ancient people. A realisation that in the moment when I reach out to a hazel tree (Corylus avellana), and pluck a nut from its branches, a little portal opens up between this world and a world long forgotten. For in that brief moment we share an experience that crosses the millenia and brings us together. 

    hazel leafAnd now, as another summer comes to completion, it's time again. It's always a gamble between waiting for the nut to fully ripen, and risking the squirrels taking them all, or picking them when they are still quite young. Sadly, I cannot emulate the foraging skills of a creature that lives full time in the woods, so I hedge my bets- picking them while they are fresh now but making a mental note to keep an eye open over the next couple of months for any trees overlooked by the squirrels.

    In their early stages, they lack the richness of the ripened versions but have an appeal of their own, offering a fresh fruity crunchiness .The first two pictures are from a tree nestled in an old hedgerow near Wimborne last week. Unfortunatly, they will not ripen after picking but this means I can justify eating them on the spot- at this time of year the shell is often soft enough to break in your hands. Otherwise, continuing the way of the ancients, a couple of rocks does the job. If I can find a few ripe ones, come late September or October, I’ll save them and roast them up on the embers of a winter fire- there are all sorts of recipes online but, as with a lot of wild food, I like to savour things as simply as possible.

    Foraging considerations: This is an easy one to identify, the hazel nuts resemble the shape of the shelled ones you would typically see in the shops- although usually a bit smaller (most of the commercially sold ones are from cultivated varieties). At the moment they are a pale green colour but they will get browner as the season progresses.

    The hazel tree is one of our most common trees. It grows to 5 or 6 metres tall with a smoothish grey brown bark and a rounded leaf with pointed tip. It grows in old hedgerows and often as a neglected coppiced understorey in the woods. In this habitat it can appear more like a shrub than what most people consider to be a tree. 

    Those deep in the woods are unlikely to produce nuts though and, even in a tree that is producing a good harvest, it’s common to get a few blanks where the shell is hollow- Mother Natures way of preventing complacency perhaps.

    Incidentally, in Celtic mythology there is much legend behind the Hazel. The nut was esteemed by the druids as it was considered to bestow great powers of wisdom. The old saying ‘in a nutshell,’ meaning to condense some important information into its essence is thought to stem from this.