Come along to a talk and display on “Wild Food” by local forager Henry Ashby at Monmouthshire Food Festival on Saturday 8th October at 1:30 in the Look and Learn Theatre.
Henry’s first forage was aged eight when his maternal Grandfather fed him hawthorn buds which he called ”Bread and Cheese”. At that time he spent time with both his granddads during his holidays and they both took him foraging. At the age of ten, Henry moved to the Isles of Scilly where he met Vernon Thompson who was to change his life. He took him shrimping, cockling, picking sea spinach and wild watercress. There were also several mushrooms on the island including giant puffballs, field mushrooms and bay boletus.
Henry has continued foraging throughout his life as well as spending twenty-four years in the Royal Navy. When Henry moved to Monmouthshire he realised what a fantastic place it was. He decided to use his skills as a forager to earn some money. He was worried that what had been a huge part of his life for such a long time and something that he thoroughly enjoys, would lose its magic. He shouldn’t have worried the magic was still there. The county of Monmouthshire is great for foraging. Between the shores, meadows and forests there isn’t much wild food that cannot be found. A big surprise for Henry was that wild vegetables salad leaves and herbs were the biggest part of his business with mushrooms second and nuts and berries third.
He started supplying the Hardwick, Crown at Whitebrook and The Llansantffraed Court Hotel, some of the finest hotels and restaurants in Monmouthshire. Sadly about three years ago Henry’s health deteriorated and he had to slow down. Henry now forages daily for Chris Harrod, Chef/Patron of the Whitebrook , Michelin starred Restaurant with Rooms in the Wye Valley. Henry says that foraging is like gardening, it is something deeply satisfying for the human condition.” When you get home with goodies and share a meal with family and friends it doesn’t get any better”.
Early in June 2006 Henry found Penny bun mushrooms in a wood not far from Chepstow, which was unusually early. At that time of year he would normally be harvesting salt marsh salad herbs and leaves. Marsh samphire usually grows in the same area as sea asters and sea plantains which are similar to their land cousins. One of Henry’s favourites is arrow grass which is sometimes called coriander grass. Sea blights are very popular with restaurants and in late summer they turn a lovely deep red. Not far from the muddy shore line sea spinach can be found sometimes called sea beet. Orache is another wild vegetable that changes colour and can be deep orange or lemon yellow.
Henry offers a warning “If you want to forage it is best to learn from a professional as you don’t want to eat hemlock or ragwort which are both common in Monmouthshire and very poisonous.
For more information about Monmouthshire Food Festival visit: monmouthshirefoodfestival.co.uk