This is by far my most useful and favourite book, which i originally bought when i first became stunned by my uncles knowledge of wild food, and after many episodes of ray mears i persuaded myself to by a book on foraging.
I had absolutly no idea of what you could eat from the wild, except that mushrooms were dangerous to pick, and blackberries are very yummy!
I found Food for Free on amazons website and was suprised to see that it was only £3 brand new with free delivery. A few days later my book arrived and i began to read the book, absolutly stunned by the amount of food that you can eat. Most of this stuff grows in the woods just up the road! I immediatly went for a walk and started looking for berries, and found things i had never heard of before and imagined would have been poisenous if eaten. Hawthorn berries, Elderberries, even dodgy looking fungus growing on trees was edible!! On this occasion i didnt collect anything, but after a year of owning the book and following guidelines given in the book, i can now walk with some friends and eat something off of a bush, causing them to watch in shock, believing that what i was doing was dangerous and i was crazy for eating something that 'isnt edible'.
The book doesnt just limit itself to food you find in the countryside though, it gives you types of seaweed and shellfish, some mushrooms and funguses and also gives you a calender to tell you what can be harvested and when.
Perhaps best of all Richard Mabey gives you some basic recipes which are long lost and rarely used, such as stinging nettle soup and rosehip syrup. Delightful!
For the price i payed for this book and the fact that so much information fits in my pocket means that this is a book that needs to be bought if you live by any woods or countryside and/or an interest in food. You wont be dissapointed!
Food for Free was never far from my side when I was on the dole, with no money but lots of time on my hands for hunting out wild edibles to pad out my diet.
The book isn't meant as a survival guide but more as a handbook for people who forage as a hobby, but as such it's thorough and really practical, and a real eye-opener to just how much of our wildlife can be eaten and formed a staple part of our diet in days gone by.
The book is divided into: Edible Plants (trees, then flowering plants), Seaweeds, Fungi and Shellfish - the latter, I think, on the grounds that they can be harvested and cooked like a plant.
Each entry gets anywhere from a paragraph to a couple of pages devoted to it with a decent colour illustration and a description of where it can be found.
There's oftena mention of the plant's history and folklore (fat-hen or melde has been found in Neolithic settlements and gave its name to villages like Melbourn and Milden; scurvey-grass was once famous as a major source of vitamin C up until the nineteenth century).
Then for each one Richard Mabey - with his enormously readable, down to earth enthusiasm - describes its uses. Some plants are eaten raw, some shoots boiled and eaten with butter like asparagus, others add good flavours to dishes or provide body to soups and casseroles. There are recipes for raspberry vinegar, an ancient Egyptian soup called melokhia, comfrey fritters and rose petal jam.
The fungus section is pretty good although I used it alongside a regular fungi-spotter's guide for extra thoroughness so as not to poison myself - no mishaps so far!
There's so much information packed in that it's a lovely, fascinating book just to hunt through and read what takes your fancy and to leapfrog around in as one description prompts a memory of another plant and so on, and as a handy forager's guide it can't be beaten.
If you like the historical and traditional aspects of this book then I strongly recommend the mighty Flora Britannica, also by Richard Mabey.
I used to love going Blackberry picking as a kid, and I grew up in a grotty town in Essex - even urban areas have pockets of wild growing vegetation. I love that there is this abundance of beautiful, sweet fruit there for whoever can be bothered to find it. For me it isn't a tough choice between a nice walk with my boyfriend on a sunny day, coming home with fresh berries or eating gigantic blackberries from a tiny plastic tub priced £3.99. You can get this whole book for £4.99. (or £2.93 on good ol' Amazon)
Richard Mabey's 'Food For Free' is a little Collins gem pocket book guide to edible stuff growing wild in the British Isles. It was originally published in 1972 and has sold a gazillion copies. There is a big glossy indepth version for not carting around with you on foraging expeditions.
This teeny book contains a ton of information, which is organised quite nicely into the following chapters;
Plants and Trees
Further Reading and Sources
List of Recipes
There is a helpful quick reference guide to what you can expect to find growing by calendar Month, and sub headings within each chapter. The different species are listed alphabetically within their categories, so it's very user-friendly. A page or two is dedicated to each plant describing how to identify, when to harvest, and uses, including some short recipes but often just a suggestion of how to use. Most items have both a drawn picture and a photograph. For so much information rammed into a small space the pages are attractively presented and clear.
Ethically approached, a thread of responsibility runs through Food For Free. Richard pre-empts any objections to depletion of the countryside's resources by suggesting that getting involved with nature is the best way to encourage respect for it: 'One of the major problems in conservation today is not how to keep people insulated from nature but how to help them engage more closely with it, so that they can appreciate its value and vulnerability, and the way its need can be reconciled with those of humans.' With this in mind he sets out some rules of picking and gathering, such as never removing a whole plant.
I find the content of the book really interesting, and that's without even stepping outside and using it in a practical way. I like learning that North American Indians used to make sweets from the gum in water reed, but maybe that's not for everyone.
The guide is intended to be used with a light hearted enjoyment of connecting with the outdoors and finding new treats in our countryside, rather than a survival manual. It also points out that there is a lot more information to be had, and won't replace a detailed field guide for anyone that really wants to know their stuff. As a basic guide that you can carry in your pocket though, I think it does a really good job.
The big drawback to this is the amount of time it takes to find, pick and prepare much of the food it describes. But I can't really blame that on the book, I just feel you wouldn't use it for a cheap alternative to a meal that you could buy instead. You could spend a day picking acorns and chopping them, then roasting them, grinding them and roasting them again to use as a free alternative to coffee, or you could just fork out the three quid or whatever for a jar of Kenco. If you're inspired by the idea of tramping round the outdoors and excited by making something unusual then it might be worth it.
I haven't utilised this book as much as I would have liked in the year that I've had it, I've got good intentions for the coming year though. I like playing at alchemy, and with Autumn's arrival I've been eyeing up the Sloe berries for that delicious Sloe Gin I'll be enjoying at Christmas. Chin chin.
If Felicity Kendall and Ray Mears had a child I would be it. For years I have been a dedicated nature lover, always wonderfully content being outside in the country or out on the water. Without going all hippy-ish and spiritual on you, I would like to think that I am connected with nature. Not in a druid dance around naked kind of way, making sacrifices to the Harvest Gods, as I do love meat, free range and organic of course, and enjoy fishing but would never kill an animal if wasn't going to eat it. One of the many skills that mankind is losing at a worrying rate is the ability to understand and utilise nature certainly sustainably and I think I was lucky growing up that I had grandparents with a massive vegetable garden and who would take me berry picking and foraging in woodlands for chestnuts to roast and make puree from. I learnt to appreciate and use nature's larder and on my many camping, hiking and sailing trips I try and forage for as much as I can and what has proved to be an essential aid to this has been the Richard Mabey Collins gem book Food For Free.
To those not initiated in the whole food foraging world Richard Mabey is a bit of a guru. He first published Food For Free in 1972 and there have been subsequent republications and updates since. The Collins gem is the pocket sized version, first published in 2004 it provides a guide to over 100 edible plants, berries, mushrooms, seaweed and shellfish all with illustrations or photographs telling you what to pick, how and when to pick and how to eat. At the back of the book is list of easy recipes for you to try yourself.
The start of the book has a few page introduction that explains the necessity and rules of food for free, and also explains what has been omitted and why. It is then chaptered in four sections - Plants and Trees, Fungi, Shellfish, and Seaweed. Each entry starts with its English name in bold and its Latin name underneath. There is an illustration and most times a photo and a section on Harvest/Pick which tells you when and how to harvest and a section on Uses which tells you what it can be used for and how to prepare it. An example of the content of the book is, picked completely at random, a summary of the page for : Beech
Beech (fagus sylvatica)
'Widespread and common throughout the British Isles, especially on chalky soils. A stately deciduous tree, with smooth, grey bark, to 40m (130ft). Leaves: bright green, alternate, oval. Flowers: male drooping, stalked heads; female in pairs. Fruit: four inside a prickly brown husk, Sept-Oct.
When ripe this opens into four lobes, this liberating the brown, three-sided nuts.'
The illustration depicts a leaf, spring twig with unopened buds, an opening husk revealing nut inside and bare nut.
Harvest/Picks - The young leaves of the beech tree can be picked in April when they are almost translucent
The entry then continues with Uses including, Beech Nut, Beech Nut Oil, and Beech Leaf Noyau
The photo at the end of the entry is a good close-up of a twig with a cluster of husks making it easily identifiable
This book is an absolute Godsend. Perfect for putting in backpacks and comprehensive enough for a Collins Gem publication, this book has been a firm favourite and companion of mine for as long as I have owned it. Because of this book and its brilliantly useful calendar of what to pick and when I have tried foods I would never have eaten.. I have made jams from crabapples and gooseberries... teas from elderflowers, and my own personal favourite Sweet Rosehip Syrup.
Nothing is perfect, and this book is nearly but no exception. Some of the illustrations are too small and do not really aid in identification. Despite the drawings and photographs I am still not confident on mushrooms as knowing my luck the mushrooms I would pick would either kill me or send me tripping to the point where I would want to kill myself....with that in mind, I stay away from fungi. The book also omits information on wildfowl, fish and meat, but the larger non-collins gem publication covers these but they are not in the gem version.
This really is a pocket sized masterpiece. A fantastic feast of plants and folklore, it is the most comprehensive guide of wild food in the British Isles. This is a great way of introducing children to nature and trying a few wild foods yourself......... all for free! Priced at 4.99, it is on amazon.com at the moment for 2.99.It is without doubt The best three pounds you will ever spend.. Pignut stew anyone?
Thanks for reading