Nature's Secret Larder - Food For Free Review - by Sally


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Food For Free Review - by Sally
22nd April 2010

food for free

I find it hard to imagine how this book was received in 1972 when it was first published as 'bigger', 'brighter' and 'instant' were the bywords for popular food. Banana 'flavour' Instant Whip in nuclear yellow, t-bone steaks with frozen peas and chips and 'red' Corona were firm favourites.

I never did work out what the flavour of red corona was supposed to be but the stain of the dye made you look as if you had borrowed your gran’s lipstick. There must have been stirrings of interest  at this time in a more organic life style as ‘The Good Life’ self sufficiency efforts of Tom and Barbara was one of the most popular sitcom of the late 70s.

The book has never been out of print and there have been 11 different editions with some updating to cover modern eco awareness and various formats including photographs to complement the original drawings and a rucksack sized portable version. The copy I have is the 2007 new edition.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. There is a homely feel to the writing and the author is obviously fascinated by his subject. It is as if the writer and reader are learning together.

I would not necessarily recommend it as an introduction to wild food as I was not always able to recognise plants I know well from the drawings. The illustration of ground elder shows only the flower when it is the leaves which are most often used and the flower is to be seen for  only a couple of months. The descriptions focus on where the plants are to be found and the flowering times. Only a few of the plants are mentioned have recipes and while it is important to know if a plant is edible if you are a novice some more ideas of how to eat it are helpful too.

However, as further reading for the forager with some knowledge there are some exiting new ways of eating familiar plants. I was particularly impressed with the recipe for Beech nut oil as it used the whole nut including the shell. Beech nuts are often mentioned as a wild food but in five years of searching I have yet to find one worth peeling, they are always tiny with just a sliver of actual nut inside. 

There are quite a few plants mentioned which I have never seen growing in the wild such as the Medlar ,although I do know of one in a garden which fruits successfully, and Maidenhair fern, the familiar houseplant. There is no mention of bracken the most common of ferns whose young shoots, often known as fiddleheads, can be eaten.

In keeping with other early wild food books I have read the recipes rely too heavily on ingredients which are never found in the wild in the UK such as the Wild Spinach tart which requires raisons and cinnamon. There is an expectation, now, that wild food should be able to be eaten in the wild and therefore a recipe needing a pastry case and cooking in an oven seems rather at odds with the ideology.

But, how can you criticise a book written nearly forty years ago, which was groundbreaking for its time and has encouraged so many to look at food in a totally different way?  Everyone with an interest in wild food should read it.

Looking over my shoulder while I am writing my husband informs me that ‘red’ corona was cherry flavour, well that’s a revelation, you learn something new every day!

Sally - England

Food For Free - Large

Food For Free - Pocket edition


Sally Heffer on 24/05/10

I'm sorry I haven't replied to your comment earlier but my job as a gardener has been very busy these past few weeks after such a late spring. I am always interested in new information as to whether previously eaten foods do infact contain elements which are toxic so I have done some further studying and have found that eating fiddleheads has been linked to stomach cancer in Japan where they are extensively eaten all year round very lightly cooked. However, it seems that evidence is inconclusive according to the Cancer UK website. As another source pointed out BBQ burgers also have carcinogenic properties but as with many things occasional consumption is probably alright. Having looked at a number of different sources
it appears that thorough cooking is advisable and considering the length of the season, about three weeks, having a few fresh heads a couple of times should not be anything to worry about. Like a lot of things, smoking tobacco, drinking alcohol and eating high fat and sugar foods it is very much a matter of personal choice and up to the individual to assess the risk. Thanks for your comment, views are changing all the time and it is important to keep up to date with the latest information. In the 17th century the famous herbist Nicholas Culpepper apparently thought 'The green leaves eaten, purge the belly of choleric and waterish humours that trouble the stomach'. This is a classic example of why, although it is interesting to study early books about the use of plants in medicine and food it is vital to look to modern science to assess whether they are infact safe to eat.

peter on 05/05/10

the non mentioning of fiddle heads could be for the reason of their non edibility due the fact of the possiblity of cancer causing agents

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