Foraging for food is an incredibly fun holiday activity. It can be a relaxing way to spend a few hours, whether you are ambling round a forest or shoreline, as well as being educational for children. It also seems to satisfy some primitive hunter gatherer urge as well as tapping into the latest trend for wholesome, fresh and organic produce. What could be better than staying in a self-catering house where you can gather the freshest ingredients just a short walk from the front door?
The Outdoor Access Code in Scotland gives everyone wide ranging access to the countryside and it is legal to forage for your personal use anywhere that you have the right to roam. Be considerate and only take what you need, commercial foraging in Scotland requires special permission.
Foraging for mushrooms has long been popular in Scotland and there are a huge number of extremely tasty edible fungi to be found if you know what to look for. It is, however, crucially important that you are able to identify correctly any mushrooms that you plan to eat so a guide or an app for your phone is essential. Some mushrooms are poisonous and if consumed can make you quite ill so if you are in any doubt then leave them in the ground. Having said that, mushroom hunting is an extremely enjoyable activity and the rewards can be spectacular. Chanterelles for example have a fantastic aroma when cooked and have a beautiful distinctive almost woody taste. If you are staying at Skylarks you could go for an early morning forage followed by cooking up your wild harvest in an omelette for breakfast for an amazing way to start your day. Or you could make a wild mushroom risotto for supper and sit outside and catch the sunset as you enjoy it with a fine wine. It tastes so much better when you have earned it.
Perhaps the most divisive of all foraged bounty to be found on Scotland’s shoreline is the humble limpet. Beloved by enthusiasts these are simple to harvest and can be found in abundance along rocky shorelines. A quick tap with a small rock is usually enough to dislodge the limpet and collecting enough for a meal usually takes no time at all. It’s the consistency of these that can be off-putting for some, if cooked incorrectly they can be rubbery and chewy but prepared with some care and attention they make a delicious treat. For a barbecue on the beach then some wire mesh is perfect to hold them in place, roast them in their shells with some garlic butter till they are juicy and tender and serve with some Skye Ale to complement their strong salty flavour. If there was ever a perfect spot for a holiday beach barbecue then it is at Beach House on Skye, as an alternative to foraging you could also go fishing just out the front door.
Cairgein is an unassuming looking seaweed that has for centuries been used to make delicious deserts in the Outer Hebrides. It is available all year round but has to be collected at low tide so traditionally it would be collected by each community in July and August when the very low spring tides made it easier to find. Dried, then boiled in milk it sets and resembles something akin to a plain yoghurt. Islanders swear by having it au natural but it can be a bit bland for some tastes so some freshly foraged berries would complement it nicely. Clachan Sands Cottage overlooks the beach on North Uist where if you are lucky you may find some. It’s a great spot for walking but even better for relaxing at the end of the day.
There are about 10 different edible types of berries that are found in Scotland’s woods including wild cherries, blaeberries, sloes, rowan and juniper berries. They can be found all over the country but are in abundance in the fertile Strathmore valley in Perthshire. With the aid of a berry harvester (akin to a miniature rake) you can easily gather enough for a fruit crumble and put aside some for a slow gin to remind you of your holidays. Strathlyon Cottage is right in the heart of Perthshire and has a modern and brilliantly equipped kitchen for preparing whatever you might find, and some outdoor seating where you can take in the views as you enjoy it.