Foraging for free food in the city is not about rummaging in bins but something much more rewarding, as Sarah Probert discovers.
The last time I met celebrity gardener Alys Fowler she was extolling the virtues of being a thrifty gardener, scouring skips for bits of wood or old drawers to make plant containers.
Now the former BBC TV’s Gardeners’ World presenter has gone one step further and is keen to share her passion for foraging, where weeds, seeds and berries can be transformed into supper.
The idea of foraging for food in a city conjures up images of sifting through large bins to find the discards of supermarkets – a pastime known as freeganism.
“There is a difference between freeganism and foraging – although both can be seen as political gestures,” explains Alys.
She has a much more appealing approach – wandering around local parks to pluck ripened fruit off branches, clambering over brambles for the tastiest raspberries and blackberries or shinning up trees for nuts.
When I arrive at Alys’s Kings Heath home, she is surrounded by fruit and several jam pans and is busy pouring a sweet blackberry preserve into jars.
Piles of damsons are lined up for the next batch and she is excited by the results of her recent experimental roasted plum jam recipe.
At this time of year Alys is either whipping up chutneys, jams, juices and dressings in her kitchen or out foraging in Birmingham’s many parks and green spaces.
“Foraging is more about making the most of the natural environment and exploring what is in your local park,” says Alys, grabbing a handful of plastic bags for our bounty in as we head off to Kings Heath Park.
August and September are boon times for pickers and Alys has found the most hearty of fare in the most unlikely places.
“There are some wonderful walnut trees in the city centre, just off Hurst Street,” she explains.
“At this time of year I spend half my time foraging and half my time in the kitchen. My supermarket is the park.”
We are only in the park for five minutes, when Alys quickens her pace towards a fruit tree.
“These are cherry plums,” she explains as she strains to reach one of the branches. Giving it a little shake, a few of the yellow fruits fall onto the ground.
“You have to be careful of the windfalls,” she says, avoiding the fruit that is already lying on the ground.
“Because you can never know if a dog has weed on them.”