There are many ways to reduce food waste; for example freezing your bread and milk, and coming up with new, creative ways to use your vegetables before they become inedible, but what about completely changing the way you source your food altogether?
George Fredenham and Richard Osmond are The Foragers: pioneering pub-owners from St Albans who use only wild produce in all their food and beverages. Sweet woodruff vodka anyone?
Launched from humble beginnings, Fredenham reveals his love for self-sourced food began as a child growing up in the countryside: “An apple and blackberry pie was a common thing in my mother and grandmother’s kitchen in autumn,” he told ELL. But it was the bustle of city life that pushed him to pursue his interest as a business. Foraging became his solace after a dull, busy corporate week.
“I found the calm that I needed in foraging, and I decided that my fascination with food needed to be demonstrated. That’s when the pub was set up.”
And so the foragers debuted their wild feasts at The Verulam Arms in 2010. Their project was a culmination of expertise and a love for flavour. The menu is packed with dishes that feature herbs, plants and meat that have all been locally sourced within a few miles of the pub. They also have their own microbrewery that features beers and ales made from brewing herbs used in the UK before hops, including mugwort, yarrow and bark from cherry and birch trees.
“For us it’s far more interesting to find plants that aren’t so common,”Fredenham continues, “there’s plants and things growing in the UK that people don’t use anymore. We really like the herb Alexander, it has an aniseed flavour in the stem and when it grows and flowers the seeds are black like peppercorns and have a really fiery flavour that you wouldn’t expect in the UK.”
At the heart of everything they do, however, is a deep sense of responsibility. They operate a zero food waste policy, and their regular foraging hunts means that the menus depend on what is available and in season. You use what is there, and no more.
“The whole concept is based around making use of what you have around you and being resourceful and responsible. We wanted to start something where we could give people really interesting, flavoursome food and be able to tell them where the food had come from. It’s about the traceability.”
So are there edible plants growing in London? You bet. Fredenham is adamant that you can forage anywhere: “Most of the food plants are everywhere. We often say that we could blow people’s minds just walking through the company carpark.”
“Wide open spaces are good, like the Hackney marshes for example. Right now I could point out a big patch of wild garlic. I’ve found porcini mushrooms there. In the summer you can find a plant called meadowsweet which is delicious, a real vanilla fruity flavour especially once it flowers.”
However, Fredenham and Osmond are the experts and have only been able to sculpt The Verulam Arms into the waste free and sustainable establishment that it is today because of their combined experience and expertise. Unfortunately, because of over-picking in areas such as New Forest – where illegal foragers have taken huge amounts of mushrooms for profit- there has been an outcry to preserve and maintain the urban woodland. Millions of people live in London, and if every person were to take to foraging for personal use, these few spaces of green could quickly diminish.
There are other dangers when foraging also that Fredenham makes a point of mentioning:
“Always find the fun in identification before you start. Otherwise, that’s when you hear stories of people poisoning whole families.”
It’s best left up to the professionals, where customers can be assured that their produce and food has been sourced with consideration to the environment and the future of food production.