Go for a wander through a mixed broadleaf and pine forest as autumn turns to winter, sit down in contemplation for a few minutes and you can almost sense the crazy dichotomy of flora and fauna slowing down for hibernation. And yet, there is also a final flourish of intense production, and wild animals spend the majority of their waking moments searching for food to see them through the winter. It’s in this period that the wild woods and hedgerows of Ireland provide the greatest scope for foraging, coming providently at the same time that game birds, and venison come into season.
Hedgerows are a veritable fruit larder for the keen-eyed forager, with sloes, damsons, blackberries, raspberries, hawthorn, rose hip waiting to be turned into jellies, jams, syrups, chutneys, pickles, gourmet vinegars, wines and sloe gin.
For many there are the fond memories of carrying a bucket or basket into the country with your parents on a blackberry hunt and the sense of accomplishment afterwards, replete with a belly full of sharp yet sweet berries eaten just off the bush, a half full bucket, bramble cuts and your face, hands and probably forearms stained purple.
Picking wild berries requires patience, serviceable yet sturdy clothes and footwear – you’ll inevitably spot a bumper crop of berries just beyond reach that might necessitate a fight with some brambles, and an understanding of foraging ethics – remember that wild animals need the same food to survive, so never pick more than 1/3 from any one plant, never pick anything that you can’t positively identify (using expert advice and/or multiple reference points) and never pick within 50 metres of a road.
Heading off the grass striped side roads into a broadleaf forest, you’ll soon begin to realise that there’s an abundance of wild edibles in our fields, along the seashores, lakesides,riverbanks and in our forests. The forests at this time can provide us with edibles such as hazelnuts, cobnuts, sweet chestnuts, acorns (quite bitter raw, but when processed into meal makes great cakes) and crab apples. They also provide sweet smelling woods with which we can use to smoke and grill wild game.
Imagine now sitting in a winter forest, with a small, contained fire crackling, slowly cooking slices of venison that will soon be served alongside toasted chestnuts, blackberry and damson sauce and potato cakes cooked on hot stones
In addition to fifteen years work as an international mountain leader and trekking guide on five continents, @kierancreevy has nearly two decades of experience catering for some of the most demanding customers – fellow instructors who want nutritious food with a bit flair, lots of it, now, and don’t care that it’s minus 10 degrees and snowing!
Photographer Claire Burge is the author of Spin: Taking Your Creativity To the Nth Degree as well as a productivity expert and owner of Get Organised . She’s also a downhill mountain biker, volleyball player… she simply can’t get enough of life.