Picture yourself wandering down a frosty winter street in a rural, picturesque Irish village in Wicklow, your breath hanging foggily in the air, and your hands warmed by blazing wood-burning fire-pits and a cup of spiced mulled wine. Imagine the smell of freshly-roasted chestnuts and the animated buzz of children’s laughter. Now visualise rows of quaint and quirky stalls with hundreds of homemade foods on display. This will be the culmination of Wild & Slow 2011, an exciting event designed to showcase and celebrate the best of wild foods that the Garden of Ireland and beyond has to offer.
A year or two ago I went with gang of fellow Slow Food members to the International Cheese Festival at Bra in Italy. The festival was held in a tiny town and the entire population seemed to be involved. The traffic-free streets and plazas were packed with stalls; in all the public buildings from town hall to churches there were workshops, talks and tastings; the whole place was buzzing with visitors.
There wasn’t a bed to be had for miles around and we stayed four to a room over a restaurant. This exhilarating experience was the origin of our plan to hold a Wild and Slow Festival in Ireland. The (voluntary) committee and members of South Wicklow Slow Food Convivium (we all call it the Sugar Loaf Club) have been working on our plan for over a year.
Nowhere else in Europe will you find a food festival devoted to wild food.
The lead-up to this wild food festival has already begun with education for both children and adults as we teach them about the ancient skills used by their forefathers in gathering and preserving wild foods. Skills like pickling, drying, curing, smoking, and preserving in oils, sugars and salts will be passed on in detail, as will information about the spectacular array of wild foods available from the land and seashore. Starting in the Spring we have been holding field walks and workshops for Slowie families. As each wild food comes into season we have provided detailed information on our website on what to look for – where, when and how to find, gather and preserve wild foods. We’ll be doing that right up to early November.
All this activity is based on the central concept of Wild & Slow 2011: cultivating enthusiasm for fresh, local, home-prepared wild foods.
We have invited Slow Food groups from all over the country and artisan food producers who gather and prepare their own wild food products to come and take a stall and present them for sale. Wild and Slow will be a lot more than a market as we plan to hold workshops, demonstrations and field walks to show people how to gather wild food responsibly.
With such abundance, gathering and using wild foods is sustainable because so much is currently wasted. This wasn’t always the case.
There is a long tradition of using wild foods and we want to play our part in reviving it.
I’ve been foraging for food since I was a small child and have gathered a degree of knowhow along with the wild foods. Over the coming year I plan to gather and preserve a few dozen of the most widely available edible wild foods. This month I’ll continue gathering: rock samphire, dillisk, carrageen, sea lettuce, sea spinach, sea beet, wild herbs such as mint, thyme, wild strawberries, and wild raspberries and wood sorrel. Sugar Loaf members agreed that we can’t cover every edible wild food on our website so we choose a generous Wild and Slow Baker’s Dozen:
Wild Garlic (March and April)
Wild Elderflower (May and June)
Wild Sorrel (April-September)
Seaweeds – Dillisk and Carrageen (June- September)
Wild billberries (Fraughans) (July/August)
Wild Chanterelle (July-August)
Wild field Mushrooms (August/September)
Wild Ceps (September/October)
Wild Elderberry (August/September)
Wild Crab Apple (September/October)
Wild Sloeberries (October/November)
Wild Rosehips (September/October)
Wild Chestnuts (October/ November)
Wild Hazelnuts (October/November)
For further information and updates go to: www.wildandslow.com