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New mushroom ideas, strange vegetables, foraging in the garden and beyond

Wild Cooking will cover my latest research and food discoveries. It will include an extensive section of new mushroom recipes from around Europe, as well as exploring the history, and illustrating foods that hunter-gatherer groups, like Native Americans, forage for and cook. I have been growing very unusual vegetables, such as the tuberous nasturtium, one of many strange tuberous plants of South America, and as I worked on this group I discovered that dahlias first came to Europe as edible tubers. There will also be a range of salads which have been made more colourful and tasty by my finds in the garden, including camellia petals, which taste of chicory. In drying nature's bountiful harvests to extend their seasons and provide prime snacking morsels throughout the year, my kitchen is now always adorned by trays of dried apple rings, with intensified flavours that gradually revive when chewed. I have extended my knowledge and passion for outdoor eating by demonstrating how deliciously flavourful food can be when cooked over a natural wood fire or excavated from the depths of an earth oven.

I am not a trained botanist; I studied painting and design at Chelsea School of Art and came to botanical books after a career in advertising and photography, so essentially I am self-taught.

When taking my five-year-old son Sam and his friends out to the country every weekend, as I did for about five years in his youth, one of the things I tried to do was teach them about all the wild plants we saw. I struggled to use the identification books available at the time, as they were aimed at people with botanical knowledge, so I set about doing the book I wanted: a photographically illustrated book on British wild plants. The plants were photographed like botanical drawings, laid out on a plain background so that the distinguishing parts could all be seen, and the order of the book was based on the time of year when I found each plant.

This resulted in my first book Wild Flowers of Britain, which was followed by Trees in Britain, then Grasses, Ferns and Mosses. In 1981, I launched my major illustrated guide to Mushrooms and other Fungi, (still in print), closely followed by my foraging volume Wild Food, also still in print.

In partnership with Kew botanist, Martyn Rix, I also produced a series of books on a garden plants, which ran to in excess of 20 books, covering shrubs, roses, bulbs, perennials and annuals.

Hollyhocks (Alcea rosea)

The origin of hollyhocks is a mystery. Many botanists claim that they originated in China, but no one really seems to know. Many slightly different forms can be found in the wild in southern Europe and Turkey. They belong to the Malvaceae group which includes: Lavatera, Althea, Abutilon and Hibiscus. Many hollyhocks are edible and well known, especially for use in making drinks. They can easily be grown from seed and very often will naturalise on their own without help. They are biannual, normally flowering over a very long season in their second year.

The flower petals have a delicate flavour and are varied in hue, which allows you to add touches of colour to salads. As they flower from late spring to winter you can make use of them for a great part of the year, using the colour you choose to supplement and make your salads more appetising.

Hollyhock Salad

A sharp tasty salad topped with gorgeous hollyhock petals from your garden.

Seeds of a large pomegranate (I squeeze the half portion and the seeds pop out freely)

12 physalis (I call them Chinese Gooseberries, which dates me!) cut in half or quarters, with the remains of the stem removed

1 kohlrabi grated

Mix the ingredients together well to evenly distribute the pomegranate seeds and then decorate lavishly with hollyhock petals. Drizzle with your favourite dressing. I go for olive oil and the juice of a red grapefruit.


Summer Chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius)

This mushroom is rightly the toast of foragers all over the northern hemisphere. However, take care when collecting. The most important and key, distinctive feature of these mushrooms is the way the rather primitive gills run right down the stem (decurrent). Horrible mistakes have been made in the past by ignoring this distinguishing characteristic. Failure to do so and eating mushrooms with normal gills can fatally block the kidneys.

Winter Chanterelles Yellow Legs (Cantharellus tubeformis)

These smaller, but very distinctive mushrooms, have only partially decurrent gills, but very remarkable long yellow stems. They can often be found as late as December in wet places.

Chanterelles and bacon

This is the perfect combination, for breakfast for four.

16 large chanterelles cut in four, or triple that number of winter chanterelles

8 bacon rashers cut in strips of a similar size to the mushrooms

2 small onions finely chopped

Fry the onions in a little oil until they start to go transparent, then add the bacon, and cook for a further 2 or 3 minutes. Then add in the mushrooms, flavour with pepper and salt and sprinkle in some fresh thyme if you have it.

Serve on sourdough bread toast, and be generous with the juices, as they will soak into the bread.

Lee Leatham
Lee Leatham asked:

As a lapsed artist, I am highly inspired to see botanical illustrations in pastel as opposed to the usual watercolour that I have not got to grips with. Any particular brand of pastel used? I love Unison, made in UK.

Roger Phillips
Roger Phillips replied:

I have been using Stabilo pencils, but I am now mad about the very soft large pastels, Unison but they are too clumsy for the botanical sketches.

Den Lyon
Den Lyon asked:

Supported and shared to Mushroom Foraging United Kingdom. hope you make your target soon. All the Best, Den Lyon

Roger Phillips
Roger Phillips replied:

Time we had a bumper autumn for mushrooms.

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