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The Forager Chef’s Book of Flora – Book Review

Forager-chef Alan Bergo’s ‘root-to-seed’ approach to plants looks at edibles in a completely new way and opens up a whole new world of flavours. Reviewer Aaron Bertlesen is Great Dixter’s gardener-cook.

The Forager Chef’s Book of Flora
by Alan Bergo
Chelsea Green Publishing Co, £27
ISBN 978-1603589482

As a gardener, I have spent a lot of my life on all fours weeding. Thanks to this fascinating book, I am looking forward to spending a little less time wielding trowel and hoe, and a little more enjoying the intriguing flavours of what the French call plantes spontanées. So much more appealing – and more accurate – than referring to them as ‘weeds’.

Alan Bergo weaves together botany, cultural history and gastronomy in this guide to making the most not only of neglected plants but of the parts of everyday vegetables that would normally be consigned to the compost bin, such as broccoli stems. He also explores the potential for using plants at different stages of their lives – unripe pumpkins, say, or milkweed – from the first shoots of spring to the seedpods, encouraging us to develop what he calls a ‘hunter’s eye’. At the same time he is careful to point out the potential risks of foraging and to urge readers to consult a proper guide before heading for the hedgerows. He also stresses the need to leave plenty behind, for pollinators and to ensure the sustainability of the plant.

Above all, though, Bergo is concerned with flavour, and with making the most of plants in the kitchen. The book includes useful, short guides to techniques such as fermentation, steaming, dehydrating and maceration, as well as a great range of imaginative and inspiring recipes, from sunflower ‘artichokes’ to hosta kimchi.
I was particularly drawn to dishes such as the wild green cakes – a blueprint that can be adapted throughout the year, as different plants come into season. And I would pay good money for a bowl of Bergo’s hickory-nut ice-cream.

This is a genuinely thought- provoking and original book, and one I look forward to using both in my kitchen and my garden. From now on I will think more carefully about what I am ‘weeding’ out and how I can make best use of the garden’s neglected treasures.