You know the old phrase, “monkey see monkey do”, well its pretty applicable in all walks of life, but it is shocking just what people will do/buy, should our culinary deities beamed out to the masses give the nod.
St. Delia had everyone buying “must have” pots and pans throughout the nineties, Jamie could seemingly sell chicken eyes if he sticks his name on it, while Heston sent the nation pestering their butchers for all manner of animal cheeks, trotters and gizzards!
This got me thinking, how many keen devotees of the culinary arts has Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall sent to an early grave? I can see it now, all too morbidly clear, “just popping out to do a bit of scavenging my love, will be back soon!”…Next thing you know, Wham! That collection of wild Chanterelles and Ceps (Mushrooms), turns out to be a big poisonous basket full of Webcaps or something else hideous and toxic, next thing you know is Hubby lying in the toxicology wing of hospital with rapidly deteriorating kidneys.
An Isle of Wight women, Amphon Tuckey, died after eating the renowned “death cap mushroom” in 2008, the coroner summing up that if you are thinking of eating wild foods… don’t.
Of course, not all wild harvesting and gathering leads to the icy touch of death’s cold, lifeless hand. At a recent lunch held for the launch of a new magazine in Leeds, I was lucky enough to sample some wild plants collected from the banks of the River Aire. Ok, so the thought that these leaves and stalks had grown up amongst the more traditional riverbank crops of syringes, used prophylactics and dog dirt put me off a bit, but when I had my first taste of wood sorrel, all my fears dissipated into taste over drive. My good friend and star of SCTV, Mufadal Jiwaji, has assured me of the edible riches that lurk amongst our hedgerows, miles of sandy coasts and riverbanks, and to be honest I have become more curious. On a recent trip to Scotland I spent a good three hours trawling the beach, with a bucket and a bag of Tesco value table salt, trying to coax razor clams out of their subterranean kingdoms without any luck (though I must say, they are cheap enough to buy and make a great ‘poor mans’ alternative to scallop or squid meat)
Eating wild foods is like driving or casual sex, very fun, not too expensive but there are risks to one’s health and trust me, having your insides destroyed by Orellanine (nasty little poison found in Webcaps which causes kidney failure) is less preferable than a dose of the clap! There are plenty of great books and websites offering advice on wild scavenging and you can save your self a bit of money collecting wild foods. Think about it like this, when Mr. Fearnley-Whittingstall goes out collecting mushrooms and herbs in the wild, he probably has teams of botanists, ex special forces men and doctors protecting his precious curly headed self, you on the other hand do not, so be careful!