Sunday, 11 December 2011

Fantastic Foraging Book - The Thrifty Forager by Alys Fowler

Hello, how are you all? I'm utterly giddy and happy - a whole day yesterday with NO wind (or relatively little wind), its Orkney lets not get carried away! What a beautiful day does for the spirits. Anyways - having been mulling this all week - I'm popping a wee recommend on here, for a book I'd heard about and a lovely pal put in the post for me (thank you, you know who you are!), I'll point out right now, I've no arm up my back nor am I being paid for this peedie recommend - honest injun, its just a darn fine book for foodies, gardeners or those starting out or obsessed by food or flower and all you potential/experienced or would be 'food foragers'.

You'll be surprised to hear (or maybe you won't be) that I'm new to foraging - like many I've 'brambled' and scrumped for apples with muddy knees. But, its only been lately I've been more inspired to have a go myself and do a bit of 'Orkney foraging' - my elderflower cordial was my first foray into foraging here - what a success that was which lead to the 'Joy of Jam' - which had local Orkney foraged fruit in it. I'm a convert.
Alys Fowler - now I've read her for a while, having no TV signal here anymore I can't say that I've watched many of her programmes. Those that I've seen I've liked, well done her - she also writes for the Guardian - which I do enjoy. However, for years my dyslexic brain changed her name from Fowler to Flowers and I was thoroughly jealous of her surname. I still very fondly laugh at my own mistake and for years have talked about Ms Flowers in context of her work. Whoops! And, am I of course utterly jealous of a woman who's extremely talented, gorgeously red haired and gardens in my own type of style and have done for years and is very successful - of course I am, I'm a botanical fiend, I'm bound to be jealous (in a nice way)!  But I do admire her work greatly - anyone wanting a Scottish, auburn-ish haired, older, plumper version of her I'm happy to buy a frock or two and get out there with my wellies on! If you need ME get in touch - I'll happily write for any of you, I'm canny to bide my time and I already have rather fine wellies who are very photogenic I'll await your email (!) - and I'm stubborn and happy to wait a peedie while for you to give me my fabulous break, until you do I'll keep a-foraging! I'll pop back into my elder tree now..........
Anyway - back to the book, I looked at it with a purely Scottish and my very pragmatic 'Orkney' botanical head on, lets be fair a lot of the UK written books on plants are written in the context of the more southern climes of the UK - their relevance to Scotland, never mind Orkney, has to be taken with a large pinch of salt, but that's a whole other discussion. This book, is a great read, its entertaining - its funny and its informative. The start of the book contains a great 'confession' to her husband about the looseness of the term 'spinach' in their household - green leafy vegetables in Alys homestead appear to be a very 'wild, green and foraged' - which is brilliance. Who's not told the tiniest of fibs to their family like that? In this household pasta sauces contain a variety of wonderful ingredients from your regular vegetables (tomato, onion etc), to rhubarb (!), courgettes and mushrooms (which my family tell me they hate) and even a few dandelions too (sorry guys). We've all got a trick or two like that up our sleeve haven't we? 
Home made pasta sauce, made with love and a bit of artistic licence and rhubarb!
Back to Alys, her 'how to forage' handy hint page is also fun, with sensible tips - and a good kit list, where to go, where to avoid, what to take and how to collect in a thoughtful manner - anyone who describes foraging as a 'mission', is fabulous in my book. Page 24 is a great set of her own 'rules' for a good sustainable forage, (ask permission, only eat what you know, be respectful and not greedy, or hoard your knowledge of good and be productive). Know your own patch is another good one, if like us you're in a region where some of the more common UK species are rare, be sensible and don't gobble them up and think of others, and that means our wildlife too - they can't pop to the shop for another apple if we pick them all can they? (As Linnew would say, act like your mother would expect you to!)

There's also a few case studies which are very informative too, all very diverse from Norway to America. I love the one about Todmorden 'Incredible, Edible, Todmorden' - what a fab idea - I may even propose something here - there's a new 'community garden' society getting going in my local town and if we had a 'scrumptious stromness' with walks and areas to forage in, how utterly brilliant would that be? They are thinking along those lines anyway - I think I'll show them this book and maybe we'll achieve it?

Digressing again, back to the book - I like the way she writes very much and the second section of the book is the 'Plant Directory' - being a 'planty' person - I went here first of course - 'show me the plants' is my first call looking at any book. I wasn't sure what to expect or how relevant it would be here in Orkney, never mind Scotland - but its brilliant. she uses the simplest of methods to explain what to pick and when, a lovely seasonal calender. I like very much the way she describes the differences in leaf type, having learnt myself from various botanical boffins - I think they could take a 'leaf' (oh dear direly bad botanical joke, I do apologise) out of her book to explain the simple differences between leaves and how to recognise leaves and therefore the plants she describes.  Its incredibly visual - the language is NOT too bogged down in botanical language - its a great aid to those learning or refreshing their leaf lingo. This is followed by a few good pages for the inner chef inside of us all, preserving (jams, jellies, fruit cheeses, leathers and chutneys), wilting greens like our very lovely dandelion (excellent in pasta sauce...!) and a grand wee look at a chums recipe for 'stone soup' - BRILLIANT. 
Onwards to the plants - I was a bit apprehensive - but given Alys's pragmatic approach to gardening and food - and her ethical attitude and sensible head - its just absolutely grand (Orcadian speak for a great big tick and a few gold stars!). It contains 80 very useful, quite easy to find species (to us gardeners and botanists), or if you like 'ingredients' to you foodies/frugaleers out there. The range of plants she recommends is really good - I went through the book with both my Scottish and my 'Orcadian' head on. Its a book that would be pretty useful here - which means in short - its a great book for most folk in the UK, which is probably quite unusual, well done Alys! I have to be honest - there are a handful of species, here in Orkney that quite simply don't exist nor would they survive if in a garden. For example I've a Maiden hair tree (Gingo biloba) in my bathroom - its peedie, in a pot and I'm not expecting nuts from it anytime soon, nor do I expect to see any outdoors here, or a few other species, sorry Alys, but there are Hazels here (albeit a borderline type of plant here) so I'll go a foraging for them instead. Scotland will of course have most of these species, if not all of them. wild, go look if you can! 

The good lady explains the plants really well, its simple but not dumbed down, easy to read and proper language - I wasn't bored - which is a pretty good compliment - a few books like this tend to go one way or the other - they either make it too hard to understand or they make those of us inspired by plants bored by the lack of information. This book does what it says on the tin - it teaches you 'how to live off your local landscape. There is a great guide for 'where to expect to find it', a simple 'how to recognise' and a great explaination of 'what to eat' and if its relevant 'how to sow' (you see you can send a food loving gal 'a-foraging' but you can't take the inner gardener out of the girl!).

Finally the last two pages has a 'resources' section - which is quite informative. I like the way she's up to date and its informative and unbiased. I also love that shes recommending a book by Miles Iriving 'The Foragers Handbook' - its a great book, a really extensive guide Miles was after a very different look for that book, an innovative way to photograph the plants - which is fantastic - but she's right, you'd need another ID guide with it if you're not a botanist. Our department helped with this book, so I'm very fond of it and really chuffed he acknowledged us (at least I can claim, once in my life to have my name in print, if only on the acknowledgement page!), unfortuantely too far to get to the launch of it in London - but thoroughly lovely to be invited!
If you (or your loved one) are not really a 'gardener' and are a cook who wants to be more experimental with 'foraging' or local produce - the books very worth it from that perspective. Basically if you love to cook and eat you'll love this book. If you garden and want to explore more or diversify your skills, (or get your revenge by eating your weeds!) or if you're a foodie who likes a good amble around walking, it can be a really productive walk with these skills. As a bonus you'll get fit and feed your inner foodie for free - or simply if you're living frugally and want another 'frugal skill' to lower the food spends and up your resources - this book really is for you - of all of the great other foraging books out there - this is the ONE, I think, to have on your shelf or in your bag when you're out and about until you find your foragers feet. 
Well, to be fair, that's only my opinion, I'm short, red haired and known to wear an adundance of opinions as well as wellingtons. I have to tell you, I'm actually getting into 'frocks and skirts' inspired by a few folk, including Alys - instead of my rumpled haystack scarecrow look, I may embrace a bit of her style too, so when you meet me in a skirt - don't be too surprised, or fall over, or laugh - but don't despair - the wellies will definitely not be far away, if they're not on my feet.

If you've a food lover in the family, gardener or not - this is the book for them - or if you're a inspired to have a go - its worth borrowing it, before you buy it (priced at £16.99, but it can be found around and about for lower than that, about £10 - get snooping for a bargain!). Once you read it - I think you'll want to buy it. And if you want a chance to have one to drop into your stocking - I've a spare one to giveaway, you're NOT having my copy! But, drop me a wee comment and you'll all get put in a the plant pot and drawn out in a week (18th December)  - but its probably more relevant to you all in the UK, however I'm happy to mail it anywhere - waiting for you here on the trusty, 'vintage' scruffy Orkney chair which I utterly love, as much as this rather fine book!


  1. Fay, what a lovely give away. I dont want to be entered into the draw because I was lucky enough to receive a copy of the very same book for my birthday recently. I pour over the pages, devour the pictures and really enjoy recognising things that I have spied where I live and wondered about. Hopefully my new found knowledge will save you from receiving picture messages asking if I can pick something and eat it. If I was the editor of a home magazine or a newspaper I would employ you.

  2. not commenting for the sake of being in the draw as have just won a book from Gardens Eye view. Just to say we your readers would not swap you for Alys even without the Flower. Love your vibrant, humourous posts

  3. Hiya! Wow, I didn't realise it was *this* good - I got her Edible Garden book out of the library recently, and that was brilliant (I confess, I scanned quite a few pages, which I can send you if you want, so you can get a "flavour" of those (see, I can do bad botanical jokes too!) ...

    Anyway, yes, lovely, and the givewaway is a brill idea, really nice.

  4. Oh, I meant to add that it was you that put me right on Alys's surname. I too read it as Flowers and thought what a fantastic name for a gardener.

  5. Cheri I am always available for random picture messages of plants when you're out and about - it cheers me up no end to see plants by phone or on facebook! Aunty Claire often texts me with 'is that a weed, can Grandad pull it up or not' - its lovely to receive texts and emails with what on earth is this plant! Having learnt to garden from my mum and my grandad - was nice when my mother didn't know a plant and she asked me - full circle! The book is fabulous I'm glad you've got it Cheri - but keep sending those texts I'll enjoy your foraging too!

  6. Patio patch you're such a sweetie! How lovely of you to say that. I'm happy not to be swapped! Glad you got a lovely giveaway too from Gardens Eye view - I love that blog! You're all so talented!

    Jan - thank you for the lovely offer - I've got her other books too and jolly good they are. They are a few which have survived my online book cull. Its worth it - and if you can get near 'The Peir' I think there's a bargain to be had there...........but you're in the hat - who knows what fortune might fall.

    Cheri - I think I've always talked about her as Alys of the Flowers - you might have got that from me! But, having had myself corrected I have to try really hard to read it properly - dyslexia or otherwise - its often hard to not see it the way you think you did.

    And, anyway - I'm glad as when I talk Mr F into changing both our names to Mr and Mrs Flowers - we won't be copying Alys......:)

  7. This sounds like a useful, informative and charming book. I'll have to check it on the dreaded Amazon. Don't know if it would translate well to our current circumstances in Andalucia, though!

  8. I went straight to my Miles Irving book to find your name, Fay. You're famous!
    I have looked at Alys Book (I have all the others and heard her talk in Edinburgh earlier this year which I did a post about...) and I would have bought this had I not had The River cottage book (handy size) and the Miles Irving (more of an encyclopedia).
    Lovely post.I see Cheri agrees with me that you should be writing for a newspaper. Maybe if the Orcadian doesn't offer the Guardian will...

  9. PS Glad to see the camper van photo has made a return.

  10. Iain, um dunno how useful it would be for you! But, it's informative is right enough......

    Janet, you heard alys talk, how did I miss that post, must go look see. You never know your name may pop out of the plant pot here! I like the river cottage book too and I do have Miles's one, bought it when it came out as I was plant collecting (work) in Shetland, I nearly hollered in the Peerie gift shop when I saw it! He's utterly charming.

    As for newspapers, magazines and book contracts, what can I tell you, inbox very dusty and empty! X janet I think 'infamous' might describe me better!

    Off to find that blog of yours how can I have missed it. The cellist (young version) and Darwin look quite splendid in that photo don't they, and Hoy of course! Thank you for reminding me of it, darwins been a bit pesky of late and therefore I'd taken the photo off for a while as I was sulking.

  11. what on earth...? does this mean that you've secretely really been feeding me dandelions??? i hope you never fed them to my mother?
    dont even get me started on the mushrooms! - i cant even think about that or i'll be traumatized!
    whats all this about name changes? is my name not already Mr Flowers?
    do i get my name in the hat too?

    Mr F

  12. Mr F - darling, I've never intentionally fed you or your lovely mum mushrooms.

    I'm glad you're committed to the flowery surname, I'll remind you of that after the wedding.

    You don't get your name in the hat dearest, last week you were asking me if the Elder was December, after a hurricane......., I don't mean to be rude, but you've already admitted you're as botanically minded as a brick.

    I think we'd best let others have it, and you can borrow mine.

  13. I got one of her books last Christmas and still love to read it. Will keep a look out for this one thanks.

  14. Oh greenthumb they are great aren't they, I love the way that gal write? I've put your name in the pot - you never know!

  15. Hmm - I thought she was a Gaelic singer. Still, you sound very enthused by it. I do get tired of southern gardening folks who harvest their broad beans and courgettes to make a Spring omlette. xx

  16. Dear Orkney Flowers an interesting long post - I have skim read and will return. BUT what I want to say to you is that I met an aquiantance of old in a busy shop in London on Saturday. She lives in Orkney and is publishing a book on the wild flowers thereof. I will email her your wwwww.... details.

  17. What a great review - I agree with every word! Reckon some of those Norwegian plants would be Orkney-hardy? (and I'm not entering as I've already got a copy but what a fab giveaway too :-))

  18. Great review. I'm a big fan of Alys and hope she comes back to TV soon. I'm not much of a forager. I'd like to be but I don't trust myself. I'm convinced I'll poison myself. Maybe I should read this.
    The 'Incredible Edible Todmorden' made me smile. Wellyman is from there and although it does seem popular with a lot of the locals. I know a few people are not so keen on the idea of picking their food that is at car exhaust level or drunk coming back from pub peeing level!!

  19. Thanks for the review. It was on my list of 'would be nice but at that price I need to know it is worth it' list. It's now on my AZ wishlist.

    Edible Todmorden is only a few miles from me. We made a foray into the idea here in our village but couldn't get enough support. Never mind, a seed has been sown and may come to fruit later!

  20. Really enjoyed your review. Definitely reach for the Edible Garden both for info and inspiration as it's so easy to read - sounds like this is another good'un (so fingers crossed and toes too)- great give-away; thanks for the chance!

  21. It sounds and looks, (I do fall for a good cover) like a wonderful book.

    I've just found your lovely Blog, I'll be back for another read after I've finished catching my 'flying past the window chickens' (it's windy here too!!).

    Sue xx

  22. sue15cat lovely to see you - I hope you caught those chickens!

    Happy just doing - Thank you for the kind comment - I've all her books to date - they are very readable for the novice or the more experienced gardener too - fingers crossed!

    Pat it was on my list like that too - now its on my shelf - its brilliant!

    Welly Woman - I'm not much of a forager either - but I'm learning, is there anyone local you might be a be able to go out with, to give you a bit of confidence?? The nice thing about foraging is that as its seasonal - you begin to learn new plants as the season develops.......and aye - growing or picking things away from 'dog leg level' or exhaust fumes Alys also highlights in her book.

  23. WWCan I thought you might.........a most excellent book! Can never thank you enough with the elderflower cordial recipe - I'd never had got a foraging without your help!

    Catherine I know the book you mean - how lovely you two are friends! A long post - I'm guilt of that - but when spending £10-£16 on a book - you need to know its worth it and why - I hope you get time to digest the wittering about it another time!

    Barefoot - no not a gaelic singer - and yup the 'seasonal difference' in the UK is hard for us islanders. However, like the elderflower cordial - it just means we can keep an eye on what folk 'sooth' are upto and plan it into our following months.........xx (that way I might be able to actually do some!)

  24. I love Alys Fowler and i have just bought this book from Amazon for £9,57p.
    Well worth it.
    Its a bit cold for the dress and the wellies at the moment but roll on summer!!!
    Love your blog have visited orkney on Hols a special place.
    Happy Xmas and a Happy New Year to you your family and all your readers.

  25. I have Alys previous book, I haven't had a chance to flick through this one, but as an amateur forager I know I would love it on my bookshelf. So here's hoping that my name gets picked out of the flower pot.

    PS I ActuAlly still have some Elderflower Champagne in the garden shed - TOO EXPLOSIVE to bring indoors. I made it in 2009 - guess i can call it vintage :)

  26. Really enjoyed reading your book review.
    I'd love to win a copy of The Thrifty Forager ~ Thank you ♥

  27. I have q lucky winner and I'll be in touch! Thank you all for posting, when the winner accepts I'll pop their name on here.

    Have a great Xmas everyone......

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