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That food is so … wild

What a treat to take a foraging course with Darina Allen. A group of us tried to keep up with her as she dashed from one garden to the next picking up a leaf, biting into it and telling us all the types of ways she uses it.

Here’s elderberry, hazelnuts, rosehips (reddish-pink), chestnuts (with green outer covering), sloes (looks like blueberries)… I think the last one is japonica (a fruit related to quince), but I’m not sure.


And here is some fresh fennel (think seed, not the shaved kind). You would just cut a bunch, hang it upside down with a bag underneath it and the dry seeds would eventually drop down.

There are two types of crabapples at Ballymaloe, yellow hornet or red sentinel. These are the red sentinel, which Darina says turn, “absolutely red.”


Crabapples are great for jelly, or to add to another kind of jelly or jam. Blackberries, for instance, are low in pectin (what you need to make jam set), so work better in jam when mixed with something higher in pectin, like crabapples. Another great combination (which I sampled!) are elderberries (low in pectin) with apples (higher in pectin). Another combo: strawberries (low in pectin) with red currants (high in pectin).

Speaking of jams, during the foraging course, Darina made damson jam. Damsons are small wild plums.

These are not to be confused with sloes, which she used to make sloe gin. Sloes are the small ones and damsons, larger.


I befriended two Irish women on the foraging course, who told me all the pranks they used to play with these fruit. They would pretend to eat sloes and say things like, “My how lovely these taste,” and then when others came and bit into a handful of sloes, they would get a shock because raw sloes are incredibly bitter. They also suck the life out of your mouth — that’s the best I can describe it, because it’s more than drying out your mouth. (I know all this because I was tempted into biting into a wild sloe the other day when going for a walk on a country road.)

The women said they would also drop rosehips (first photo above) down their friends’ backs, which apparently are very itchy. Speaking of kids and wild fruit, Darina also mentioned some lore around elderberries. She said that when she was a kid, there was a saying that if you got hit by an elderberry branch, you wouldn’t grow any taller. So, of course, all the kids ran around hitting each other with elderberry branches.

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