My sister and I spent much of our 1950s childhood in Tasmania as foragers. It wasn’t that we weren’t well fed…. quite the opposite in fact. We lived on a dairy farm and our mother was a wonderful cook. But well, there is something special for children about finding food for themselves.
WEEDS AND WILDFLOWERS
There was one plant we chewed the stems of for its tangy, acidic flavour. It was wood sorrel, which I believe is a form of oxalis.
Another was the sweetish hearts of flowers from a roadside weed called Quaking Grass.
On the way home from school we would pick and eat blackberries growing wild beside our unsealed lane They were so dusty that we must have eaten a yard or two of road surface by the time we were teenagers. We also loved to put the berries in empty fish paste pots, and mash them up with sugar and cream.
We ate almost anything green growing in our creeks between slices of bread, telling ourselves it was watercress (we’d read about cress in English storybooks, but had never actually seen it). As long as it wasn’t slimy we thought it would be OK.
Autumn brought a special treat. There was a chestnut tree down the road, where an old school once stood. Our friends Michael and Cheryl occasionally tried to claim ownership as the school had been on what became their land. However, the tree was outside the fence and we knew the law!
We boiled the nuts or roasted them on the open fire in the lounge, Sometimes they burst, and flying pieces of shell burnt holes in the mats. We also cooked them on top of the fuel stove in the kitchen, burning off the black lead. This was one of many annoyances for our long suffering mother, although much of our foraging knowledge was passed on by her.
I still love chestnuts. To discover marrons glaces in France years late was amazing.
When I first went to England I was devastated to find that all the beautiful chestnut trees there were the inedible, horse chestnut variety. 😨
Closer to home we loved to eat wheat from Dad’s storage drums in the shed. The wheat made gluten chewing gum if you chewed the grains long enough. I dread to think what else was in those open drums.
Maize we grew for livestock was more delicious to us than sweetcorn. which I’d only ever tasted from a tin. The cobs were creamy white, rather than yellow.
I’m expecting to see maize on the menu of exclusive restaurants any day labelled as ‘authentic, artisan fare’ and costing as much as caviar. Even raw swedes were OK to chew on.
Of course kids crave sugar, and like the birds we sipped nectar from all manner of flowers, especially heath from the bush and clover from the cow paddocks.
Ice from muddy puddles was a novelty on the way to school in freezing weather. Good grief, it’s a wonder it didn’t make us sick. Another winter treat was a gift from passing pea trucks, which dropped vines on the way to the canning factory in Ulverstone. Oh joy! Once I accidentally left some in the pocket of my raincoat, where they fermented in the wardrobe until my mother found them. Not so much joy then. 😨
I know lots of kids lit fires to roast spuds and cook eggs etc, but I don’t remember my siblings and I ever doing that. However, when my father was boiling up old potatoes for the animals we offered to keep the fire going under the copper. Remember that taste of smoke, charcoal and starchy, half cooked potato? The most alarming thing we did at the fire was to smoke cigarettes made from eucalyptus bark and newspaper. Surprisingly, we all have healthy lungs. 😎
I’m sure country kids still enjoy foraging as much as we did, at least I hope so.