Wild food that’s available this season, in France
By Gemma Driver
Reminders and advice for those who enjoy the excitement of foraging for food that is free, very fresh and organic. The French national pastime of mushroom collecting remains popular, because the space and lack of pollution in France means that mushrooms and other wild food can provide massive bounties of goodies for free. You also really see the seasons changing and enjoy your surroundings, when looking so carefully at the local flora and fauna.
This time of year is the meanest for foraging, but delicious dandelion leaves are in season. These little clumps of delicate leaves are superb spinkled with crispy lardons and toasted walnuts for a winter salad. The French call them pisenlit (‘piss in the bed’), due to their diuretic effect. The leaves grown in abundance, so look out for dendelion patches, as the foraging is very rewarding.
There’s anopther superb salad herb growing at the moment, probably on you vegetable patch! Check any clear soil areas that have been left for a few weeks, and you may find ‘hairy bitter cress’, which is a very worthwhile and delicious cross between watercress and normal cress; peppery, and tasty, with bite.
Morel mushrooms will be appearing soon, in composting material, under trees, in wood chips and sawdust. They’re quite unpredicatble, growing in all sorts of unlikely places, but I’ve only ever found a single one at once, and the next year there’s no sign of them in the same place. Bon courage finding them. They’re very flavoursome in creamy sauces.
Finally, of course, there are truffles! (Fungal not chocolate.) These can be found between October and February at the base of hazel, oak and beech trees, using a trained dog or pig… Alternatively, hover a long stick over the ground in ‘likely’ places, and if you disturb some white flies, there may well be a truffle in the ground beneath them! I have yet to succeed with this method. Good luck!
Remember: ALWAYS get a trusted local to approve your gatheredfood species as edible, until you know them without ANY doubt!
Tip: Clean your mushrooms with a brush, as soon as you find them, before you put them in your bag. It gets more difficult the longer you leave it, and grit gets into every nook an cranny if put dirty mushrooms together. Also, the French use baskets for mushroom collecting, so that debris falls through the gaps, rather than becoming ingrained in their finds.