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