When I tell people that among other things I am a forager and collect wild, edible plants for myself and for a few restaurants, the reaction I am often met with is a softening glaze in their eyes, them seeing me in a strawhat, basket in hand, skipping out in the greenery and sunshine and hang out with the plants, birds and butterflies all day… The own longings for nature reflected in my story. Yes, I have those days when the world is green, the sun is out and I have oceans of time to forage til I’m done but that is not norm…remember I live in Sweden. A great country in many ways but the climate is not always inviting or allowing for skipping around in a straw hat. I love what I do, I love connecting with nature on an everyday basis and gather from its bounty. I feel privileged to work with the inspiring, creative, ambitious and non compromising chefs that I do. But just to adjust your view of a foragers workday I want to tell you about a regular Tuesday in March: I wake up, praying for a little sun. It snows. The world is grey. It’s windy and +1 degree celsius. March in Stockholm .
An there is no escape, as much as I’d love to just get ready for the day, pack my computer and take off to my warm, snug beautiful office to start brainstorming a new book I have promised wild weeds to two restaurants before tomorrow. And there is no way on earth I would let them down.
So I eat a warm breakfast, put on long johns, warm pants, socks, boots, sweaters, jacket, hat, scarf, mittens. I look like an Easter Witch all wrapped up except my nose and eyes.
Walking around in this weather is not so bad, the movement keeps you warm. I move fast on my bike, swearing over the cold winds. But try sitting still for hours picking tiny tiny plants – that’s when you’re being tried.
I find my “nettle spot”, put on my fingerless gloves, bring out my little herb scissors and start to rummage around last years nettles…I see them only when I sit down, they’re tiny, dark reddish green and barely distinguishable from the soil. But Oh! I begin to get excited. They are here! In spite of cold, in spite of lack of sun, the are here, they strive and they are Oh so tasty and full of sting.
I pick out a bag, start cutting the little buggers, one by one, slowly slowly filling the bag. My fingers numb with cold. Asking myself what I’m doing out here freezing the living daylight out of me. But then – I hear a bird, then one more, a whole orchestra. I inhale the cold but fresh fragrant air and feel so full of energy and life.
It takes over an hour to fill a small bag. Later in the season, in just a few weeks, i’ll pick over a kilo (a BIG bag) in the same amount of time. Happy with my findings I slowly stand up (legs stiff from sitting in the cold) and get up on my bike. Again swearing over the wind and snow in my face, ride through the colorless city and reach the restaurant where the staff is eagerly waiting for my findings. I open the door, five people greet me with a warm welcome, I am seated by the stove with a cup a chamomile tea in my frozen hands, cold to the bone but slowly warming up. The staff excited over the tender greens, chatting, gossiping, planning. I am so lucky to have this and suddenly it is worth ever second out there in the cold. And I know they will cook the most wonderful, tasty food for their lucky guests tonight. I’m happy to be able to contribute, their happy and hopefully so will the guests be. And I had the fortune of yet again connect with nature, feel life stir in me and happy to have mastered myself enough to spite the cold.
I guess foraging is a reflection of life itself: you have to accept the circumstances, focus on what you want to get done and what it is you want to give to the world, take the obstacles for what they are and remember when life feels hard “this too shall pass”. From cold in to the warmth. From work to rest. From lonely to together. All is transient. So forget about waiting till you can go out in a summerhat, just take the weather as it is, pack a bag and scissors, dress warm and enjoy all that is given to you!