TV Cook and food writer Valentine Warner has made his mark by being passionate about catching and picking local food in season. He invited me to join him for a mornings fishing on the Usk river a few weeks ago and explained, “I don’t actually have a garden of my own in London so apart as well as often foraging in a few of my friends gardens, I am always on the lookout for good food when I go fishing or for walks in the countryside.”
“I have always been interested in food; as a kid I always helped Dad grow his own veg; I thought I helped anyway, I was interested and remember getting muddy knees but was probably very ineffective with a garden fork,” he laughs, “Though I did used to get quite a lot of pocket money for digging over patches of ground. Both my parents were great cooks and I was happy as long as I was either in the kitchen or outside.”
In his BBC programmes and books, What to Eat Now and What to Eat Now – More Please, Val promotes the benefits of eating local food seasonally. “Food as changed hugely in 70 years. When we were living ‘local’, people didn’t even go to their nearest big town to shop and it was essential to know what grew around you. We recognised our native food; sadly we seem to have fallen out of contact with Nature. The Polish and Italians for example are excellent at foraging, it’s still a way of life for them. The Italian truffles are delicious. We have some good ones in England but they don’t have half the punch of the Italian or French ones. Last month we saw ‘mushroom mania’,” he continues passionately. “The perfect climatic conditions meant they grew in abundance. Last year mushrooms had bad press for poisoning people but the secret is if you’re not sure if it’s edible, don’t wing it. If you want to learn, then pick it with newspaper or a bag over your fingers and keep it separate from everything else. I always reference something I don’t recognise from more than one source as some photos or illustrations can be dodgy, especially in old books and if you’re still not sure there’s only ever one rule – leave it. Lots of the little brown mushrooms can be risky so stay with the classics; the chanterelles and hedgehog mushrooms are good.”
Also good at this time of year are the sea buckthorn berries which provide a great acidic hit in a salad, the gentle leaves like mallow and my favourite, sorrel, are also good in salads.”
“There are lots of sloes around now. Try making Sloe Gin without the sugar, it is an acquired taste and a more grown up drink. Rosehips and elderberries make fabulous syrup and I love cooking with elderberries as they go really well with pigeon and other game.
As a former art student, Val has also used his artistic talent to illustrate both his books and his website; these and some fabulous recipes can be viewed at www.valentinewarner.com.
The laidback food lover concludes, “I don’t expect everyone to want to go foraging for their food after a hard day’s work but it is an option for us; just picking a few cobnuts on a walk on a Sunday afternoon for example.”