We are very excited to begin our ÒR journal with a feature on wild foods, our beautiful Island has an abundance of edible delicacies and due to a growing awareness around eating local seasonal foods there has been a steady renaissance in foraging. Every season has its own yield of interesting fodder but spring is a particuarly great time for a novice forager, so with a little help we set out to discover what Skye has to offer.
It’s a beautiful April day on the island and the perfect day for foraging. Calum Munro, owner and chef at Scorrybreac Restaurant has very kindly agreed to guide us through the whole process and on our arrival has the grace not to call us out on our inappropriate foraging footwear.
Before you set out make sure you have a basket or bucket to collect your spoils, wearing wellies or boots is apparently a good idea too. Gloves and secateurs are not essential but are handy if you are going in deep, as we plan to gather some gorse (which can be a tricky customer) we are suitably armed with both
By far the most important aspect of foraging is ensuring that you are correctly identifying, many delicious and edible plants look unnervingly similar to not so delicious and very poisonous plants, we have enlisted the help of Calum to ensure we are kept right. There are a plethora of foraging guides and apps that can help you with this but little else beats being shown by an expert. Unless you’re Julia Roberts in Steel Magnolias there’s nothing cute about organ failure so tread careful and ensure you are properly educated before you go gathering.
Clod & Pebble colander, Rosie Brewer wooden board, The Forager’s Calendar.
We begin our hunt in Portree in an area of shaded woodland close to the shoreline. We don't need to venture much further afield as it’s incredible how much of the flora and fauna here is edible and easy to access.
Our first port of call is wild garlic, April is when it reaches its peak in terms of growth, although it can be found as early as February right through until June. It is a versatile green leafy vegetable that tastes and smells, well like… garlic. There is a robustness to the plant that makes it a delicious addition to soup and pesto. We find the wild garlic in a damp wooded area beside a picturesque waterfall, the plant loves this kind of habitat and the whole hillside is swathed with it’s lovely broad green leaves, the smell is unmistakable - we pull the plant out from the root and pile the basket high, we give the leaves a rinse in the river to get rid of excess dirt and will give it a proper wash later in the kitchen.
Next up is gorse, ubiquitous across the British countryside and known for it’s yellow blossoms and delicate aroma of coconut. Finding a gorse bush is easy but foraging comes at a price - the thorns on the gorse bush are prickly, mean and down right nasty. No matter how hard we try there are frequent yelps as we are stabbed whilst picking the petals off the bush, a glove is an absolute necessity. The pain is absolutely worth it though as the petals can be dried and made in to tea, syrups and desserts.
Our final forage of the day is for the prettiest of weeds the humble yet sassy dandelion, we pick these from the side of the road, it’s not glamorous but if that’s where the dandelion wants to propagate then good for her for being so secure in herself. Dandelions must be picked in the morning and ideally in sunlight. Once picked they need dealt with quickly as they like a little down time in the afternoon and close up, we snip the heads off the stems and layer them with sugar in a jar, they are oh so bitter - one little nibble of the leaf has us reeling, Calum will leave these in the jar for four days then add some boiling water to make a syrup that can be used to make a fresh and bitter cordial.
It takes us around half an hour to find all these edible treats and they are all within walking distance of one another, Calum points out a myriad of other forgeable plants such as watercress , scurvy grass and the beginning of elderflower. Now we head back to the kitchen with Calum to rustle up a wild garlic veloutè.
Once we are safely ensconced in the Scorrybreac kitchen we properly wash the wild garlic, chop off the roots (these are similar to a spring onion, the leafy bits are similar to spinach so can be added last) and dice up some fennel, celery and potato. Calum sweats them off then adds stock, wild garlic a dash of cream and then whizzes up and serves with a crowdie, oatmeal and pea shoot garnish - et voila, delicious!
Silvia K dish, Myer Halliday shot cup.