Alysia Vasey runs Yorkshire Foragers, which supplies one and two Michelin star restaurants and is the go-to person for many of the UK’s leading chefs.
Savour welcomes Alysia as a columnist, who shares some of her foraging secrets…
What I love about July is the anticipation of what is to come. It’s a month that changes rapidly from the beginning to the end. This year the rain has compensated for last year’s long dry hot summer and everything has been rejuvenated.
At the end of June, green walnuts were beginning to swell and there is nothing like good rainfall to help make them plumper.
They are two weeks early this year and there’s only a very short window in which to pick them and use them in a pickle or turn them into a delicious wine or ketchup.
If you are going to pick green walnuts, then you need a secret weapon – a skewer! The south side of the tree will ripen quicker than the north so when your picking, push your skewer through walnuts from both sides of the tree.
If you can push through easily then the shell hasn’t formed in the middle and you can pick a couple of kilos in no time.
This time of years is also one when we pick Elderflower capers, but once again it’s a bit of a race against time.
The time between the flowers and the ripening berry is around three weeks. The green young berry makes it a wonderful pickled caper for cutting through smoked fish and adding to greens later on in the year. A good, delicate pickle will allow the floral nature of these capers to shine through and a Kilner jar full will last you a good couple of years.
Towards the end of July we will also start to see wild cherries ripen on the trees. The red sour cherries make the most amazing Maraschino cocktail cherries, and are the best for preserving in syrup, the tartness really comes through.
When picking them, use your fingers like a gentle comb and slot between the stalks and pull gently down if you want stalk free cherries, you soon get a good rhythm going and it doesn’t damage the tree. Black cherries are different in every way. For starters, nearly every black cherry tree has a different flavour ranging from downright bitter and awful to heavenly sweetness – unfortunately you will have to try every black cherry tree to find out.
The problem lies when you have cherry trees with overlapping branches. You could have a bitter cherry tree next to a sweet cherry tree so make a careful note of tasting the trees that overlap because you could end up wasting your time playing cherry roulette when you get home.
And finally, wild strawberries – which have a delightful combination of bubble gum and intense alpine strawberry flavour. They are mostly found around the edges of paths, banks and clear areas of scrub. As with all low-level plants, keep an eye out for what’s done its business where!
On the mushroom front, if the weather remains mild, you’re likely to see chicken of the woods. Really easy to identify, the mushroom is ridiculously bright orange on top, bright yellow below, fan shaped and will be growing out of a tree. You need to pick when young and the edges are not thin. When you cut it off the tree, never pull, and it must be juicy when you do it. These need blanching in milk to draw out toxins before cooking. Only pick from beech and oak trees and never yew, which they are quite fond of. It doesn’t make the mushroom toxic but what it does do is when it grows, it grows like an omelette and the yew needles get folded in, which, if ingested, are going to make you poorly.
GET IN TOUCH
Get in touch with Alysia by visiting yorkshireforagers.co.uk