Tuesday, 4 August 2009

food for free...

Not many self respecting eco foodies are without the bible of hedgerow tasties, Food for Free by Richard Mabey.

As I have an obsession with books, I have two copies (different editions and different covers) which move their way around the house, into the car, out and about and back again.

If you have not come across this book before, please seek it out - it really is a classic - full not only of the descriptions and pictures to correctly identify your dinner, but the history of uses and a smattering of other wonderful, mastermind type gems of information.

But, despite the title of this post, I am not going to talk about the book of the same name.

I am going to talk about other food for free.

It is quite right to say that the current recession has left a great deal of people at odds with the super technological, remote and automated world. People are now wary of invisible investments and appear to be reawakening the sense of self responsibility.

Because of this there has been a boom in the crafts trades - knitting, making, mending, thrift. Eco cleaning - scrubbing your taps with a lemon and some bicarb instead of a luminous pink spray bottle with a name fitting a cartoon punch up sketch. Staying in is the new going out, and good clean (and cheap) fun is being made - flying kites, walking, foraging.

And of course, growing your own.

From free seeds given out with magazines, to television programmes and the lifetime wait for an allotment - the grow your own bug has bitten and most of us have been nibbled in one way or another.

Maybe I have never noticed before, but as I was walking the dog the other day I spotted a lone tomato plant in someones porch. One. But the care and attention given to this sole specimen was incredible. It was smothered with tasty looking fruits.

And as I wandered along the road, other edibles sprang up - runner beans up a side wall, lettuces in the front garden, strawberries in hanging baskets, artichokes to die for - all grown on a small patch.

We are all growing our own, and we love it.

But what happens when we grow too much? Well, this is where the title of the post kicks in.

Go into the country and you readily see little roadside stands with produce on and an honesty box. Do you ever see this is in the city? Probably not. So imagine my delight when, on walking the dog once more, we came across a box at the front of a house labelled:

'lettuces. grown organically. free - please help yourself'

The box was full of freshly pulled, wet and tasty little gems. A few slug holes, but hey - free and succulent.

When things are offered for free you do not have to ask me twice, so we picked up two of the little gems to have with some mackerel for tea. Perfect.

This got me thinking - if we are all growing a bit too much, how fantastically we could minimise our food miles by going back to our old swapping, bartering, or, as displayed by a resident in Wish Road, Hove, giving away for free?

Community spirit would be reintroduced - people would talk to one another once more and share not only stuff but conversations. Imagine that.

To waste any food is criminal (apparently we throw away a third of all the food we buy?) but to waste food that you have grown yourself seems to be the worst type of food crime.

So - give it away - have a chat, and just think - you could gain a new chum as well as a free feed.


  1. Hedgerow harvesting seems to bring out the best in people too. I've a new friend who's going to help me get started with quilting simply because we stopped for a chat when I was harvesting some elderflowers to make cordial.

    And a couple of evenings ago, having spotted some hedgerow plum trees by the football ground, loads of people stopped by to have a chat and to talk about the plums. I wonder if any will be left when I go back there...

  2. Have you seen The Forager Handbook by Miles Irving? It's fab. kind of 'Food for Free' for the 21st century.

  3. yet to read 'The Forager Handbook properly, gardeningboots - keep snatching looks when I spend far too much time in bookshops. but, birthday in a few weeks, and it is already on the wish list...the bits I have seen are indeed great, and provide a useful and informative update to the classic. Can't wait to digest it (haha) soon.

    VP - I had a good smattering of wild plum action as well (that sounds worse than intended) crumbles and cobblers were made and a lovely plum jam...