I remember my earliest days of foraging. I was six or seven and living in the northernmost area of KwaZulu-Natal. I used to set out with the other youngsters on the farm, roaming around and foraging for Umfino (spinach, or any other greens that looked and tasted like spinach) for the evening meal. Sometimes it would be the tips and tendrils of the pumpkin vine. At other times it would be the spinach in the kitchen garden. And when neither of these were available then it would be the blackjack leaves out in the veld.
We would hurry back with our harvest, which would then be boiled up with some potatoes and later drained and mashed. It was (and still is) one of the most delicious and satisfying vegetable meals you could ever eat under an African sky.
After the heavy summer rains, we would go out into the fields searching for the Ikhowe mushroom. These mushrooms grow to the size of dinner plates and provide a meaty texture with a great flavour that can easily stand alone as a complete meal on its own.
forage: /ˈfɒrɪdʒ/ (verb) search widely for food or provisions
So if this was the natural way of life a few decades ago, why are people now returning to this age old method of becoming a gatherer in our fields and forests? Perhaps this a retrospective look at where we started and a way to reconnect with our past? Could it be that these foods have some really valuable minerals and nutrients that we’re not getting in our supermarket food? Or is it just that it’s a more affordable way to eat?
Doesn’t it take up a lot of time that people don’t have anymore? Or is the adventure of getting out into the wild and finding food you never even knew existed a reward that makes the effort worthwhile? We don’t have the exact answer but what we do know for sure is that many South Africans are reigniting their hunter-gatherer instincts.
Some of the leading chefs and restaurants in Cape Town are foraging for mushrooms, herbs and seaweed that they use on a daily basis in their menus. A couple of them have even gone so far as to introduce some of their more exotic foraged favourites into their kitchen gardens, bringing the outside in so to speak. What a wonderful way to bridge the gap between nature and modern living. Some of the active foragers out there include:
Foraging classes are springing up all over South Africa and they all offer a great package of walking out in the wild, gathering the foods and then going back and cooking with your newly found treasures. Some of the classes available include:
If you have any other foraging contacts, events or secret spots you think other foodies could benefit from, please share them in the comments below.