Wednesday 1 February 2012

Foraging with Children

I'm excited to have Helen as a guest blogger on here today, she is a contributor to my eBook Canal Activities for Kids. (I am still accepting submissions if you are a writer/blogger.)

Helen was a reluctant convert to boating but, having married a fanatic, finally embraced the inevitable and now delights in holidaying aboard their 42½ foot narrowboat. A serious accident in 2010 left her incapacitated for much of the following year giving her time to admire the hedgerows and develop something of an obsession in foraging and preserve making. Her watery and foraging adventures can be found at:

Foraging with Children

Children are natural foragers. They enjoy collecting, gathering, sorting and, given the opportunity, will often while away endless hours outdoors. Watch any toddler and you will see them pick up objects and explore them; usually with their mouths. Naturally this is a source of much consternation to their parents but teaching a child how to forage safely has the potential to be an enjoyable family activity that helps us to re-connect with our surroundings.

The towpath is quite possibly the best place to learn about foraging. It is teeming with possibilities, all largely accessible and freely available. But before going much further, it is important to establish a few basic rules. To forage safely:

1. Never eat from a plant you cannot identify without absolute certainty. Teach your children to always check a plant with you BEFORE eating it in ALL circumstances. If in doubt, leave it out.

2. Take a good field guide with you. My favourites are listed on my blog.

3. Do not pick from land that belongs to someone without their permission. It is illegal to dig up any roots and some plants are protected so check before picking.

4. Do not strip a plant bare. Leave some fruit for other foragers, some for other wildlife and some for propagation. Only take what you can use.

These are useful principles to always bear in mind when foraging.

My experience of foraging with children is that short trips, picking with a definite, preferably delicious, purpose in mind are the ideal. This may, of course, be because my children have short attention spans, but then again, the same can be said of my husband! For a first venture I would suggest picking something that everyone can recognise like elderflower, blackberries or apples. Elderflower are found from late May to early July and line the towpaths in numerous places. Blackberries are plentiful in the autumn but the wild variety can be very prickly so little fingers may get hurt. Hunting apples is lots of fun. Again, during the late summer and autumn months many trees can be found up and down the cut. If you are lucky enough to be on a stretch of canal with abandoned lockkeepers cottages then fruit trees may abound as cottage gardens run to seed. Children enjoy gathering windfalls, climbing trees, shaking branches and then cooking with their harvest. The following recipe is an excellent one for all types of children, be they 2 or 92!

Toffee Apple Muffins

Makes 12

100g soft margarine

225g caster sugar

2 large eggs

150mls natural yogurt

5 tbsp milk

275g plain flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

3 large apples

12 pieces of fudge (1 for each muffin)

Preheat oven to 190c/375f/Gas 5

Line 12 muffin tins with paper cases.

Place the margarine and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, yogurt and milk until combined.

Peel, core and chop the apple into small pieces.

Sift the flour and bicarbonate of soda together and fold in to the egg mixture with apple until just blended.

Spoon the mixture into the paper cases.

Chop each piece of fudge into 4 and poke into muffin mix ensuring it does not touch the sides and is completely covered.

Bake for 25 mins or until a fine skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool in tin for 5 mins, then turn onto wire rack to cool completely.

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