Eat & Drink

3 Things To Forage For This Autumn And What To Do With Them

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3 Things To Forage For This Autumn And What To Do With Them

Eat & Drink

Foragers and wild food cooks love autumn. We speak to expert forager and chef Marie Viljoen to find out what she's foraging for this season.

Georgina Wilson-Powell

Wed 10 Oct 2018

Autumn is no reason to call it quits on the foraging year.

Cooler weather brings hidden delights and new flavours (and often a brief resurgence of spring treats, like re-sprouted cut-back nettles and hopeful dandelions greens).

It is the season for fruit, of course, and also roots.

Marie Viljoen, author of Forage, Harvest, Feast: A Wild-Inspired Cuisine shares three of her favourite autumn forages and recipes.

3 Things To Forage For This Autumn And What To Do With Them

1. Aronia

Aronia melanocarpa is the black fruit that hangs on bare-branched shrubs well into winter.

I collect these intensely flavoured pomes well into autumn: a nice cold bletting seems to soften the fruits’ inherently tannic flavour (although I think the common name is chokeberry is underserved). By winter they have dried out and can be a good snack on a brisk walk.

Native to North America, Aronia is now cultivated in the UK and has also escaped – as plants tend to do - for lucky foragers to find.

Aronia plays a supplemental but important role in the pages of my wild cookbook, Forage, Harvest, Feast – I find the syrup very useful in wild drinks and cold-weather sauces.

Its complex flavour and sombre colour pair especially well with dishes that I associate with nippy weather: duck braises, slow-cooked pork, roasted apples.

‘Black Ice’ is a cocktail I shake up around Christmas time, made with fragrant, fir-infused vodka and a dash of aronia syrup. I also use it in all kinds of bakes from ricotta cakes to breakfast bread.

​Aronia Syrup

Aronia syrup is easy to make - you just need patience

How to make Aronia syrup

Use any quantity of fruit for the syrup — just use the same weight of sugar. The leftover fruit is a fantastic bonus. Use them like dried cranberries.

  • 453g ripe black chokeberries (Aronia melanocarpa)
  • 453g sugar
  1. Crush the chokeberries lightly, just enough to break the skin.
  2. Place them in a clean jar and add the sugar. Cover with a lid.
  3. Shake well to distribute the sugar.
  4. The syrup will form in the jar slowly, over weeks, but it is concentrated in flavour. Allow it to steep for three months before straining and bottling.
  5. It will ferment a little, which adds a nice buzz to the flavour.
  6. If fermentation is very active, open the jar to allow some gas to escape every couple of days. Deploy the syrup in drinks and in savoury or dessert sauces.


“But what about the burs?!” asked an alarmed audience member at a recent talk I gave about edible weeds.

I could see the wheels in her head clogging up as she imagined chomping her way through a bristly mouthful.

No. We don’t eat the burs.

They may have been the real-life inspiration for the invention of Velcro, but the two succulent and edible parts of burdock are the immature flowering stem in late springtime (before it branches out into flowers), and the substantial, starchy taproot.

How to find burdock taproot

The latter is best dug in late autumn and through winter, as long as the ground can be dug; this is when the plant has stored all its energy – and best flavour - for a long winter sleep.

In mild winter climates burdock’s furry foliage may persist above ground, making the taproot beneath easy to find.

Otherwise, mark the spot where you saw them in summer and come back with a spade when they have died back. (It really has to be a spade. Unless you are a martyr to your trowel and don’t mind blisters).

Dig straight down all around the crown of the plant, as deeply as you can.

Then start negotiating a big heave, to lift the long root intact from the soil.

Whack off as much earth from the root as you can and begin again with the next one.

To prepare burdock to eat scrub them well but peeling is unnecessary – the skin has a good flavour.

What I've learned, through trial and error, is that burdock root contains indigestible inulin.

That is what gives Jerusalem artichokes their disgraceful American name of fartichokes.

The way to disarm both starchy vegetables is to par boil them in ample water before proceeding with your recipe.

How to use burdock root

I love adding burdock root to hotpots and earthy stews and find it pairs beautifully with miso and soy.

The Japanese call the root gobo, and many of my early cooking experiments took their cues from East Asia, where the vegetables are cultivated and sold commercially.

If you do find burdock in a shop, it may be immensely long (I have seen them as long as three feet) and fat – a sign that it has been cultivated. Wild-harvested roots are significantly smaller (but delicious).

​Braised Artichokes Stuffed with Burdock recipe

Have you ever foraged for burdock?

Braised Artichokes Stuffed with Burdock recipe

Serves 2 as a starter, 4 as a main

A couple of times a season I torture myself with globe artichokes (and then remember, with massive nostalgia, the streets of Istanbul where vendors clean them right in front of you, handing you a bag of peeled, naked artichoke hearts—a gesture of exquisite civility).

Stuffing a plucked artichoke heart with peeled burdock is something of a culinary pun, since their textures, flavours, and preparation have a few things in common.

Peas and garlic scapes (curling tops of garlic plants) are added for sweetness, and it is all finished with carroty ground elderflowers.

  • 3 tbsps extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 4 cloves garlic, cut into matchsticks
  • 4 large artichokes, leaves broken off, cut above the heart, hairs scraped out
  • 1/4 tsps salt
  • 2 tsps sugar
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 250–500 ml water or chicken broth
  • 170g burdock stem, peeled and cut into 2.5 cm pieces
  • 150g green peas
  • Black pepper
  • 8 garlic scapes
  • 2 tbsps ground elder flowers
  1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.
  2. Add the garlic and then the artichoke hearts, bottoms down, and season them with salt and sugar.
  3. Pour the lemon juice over them.
  4. Allow the pan to sizzle for a few seconds and then add the water or broth.
  5. Pack the burdock pieces lightly into the hearts. Drizzle the rest of the oil over them.
  6. Add the peas to the skillet. Bring the liquid to a boil, then cover and reduce the heat to keep it at a simmer.
  7. Cook gently for 35 minutes, then add the garlic scapes and ground elderflowers.
  8. Spoon some of the hot cooking liquid into the artichoke hearts.
  9. After another 40 minutes remove the lid and increase the heat to high.
  10. Boil the liquid until it has reduced to a syrupy consistency, constantly basting the hearts with it.
  11. Taste for seasoning and add black pepper to taste. Serve hot or at room temperature with toasted sourdough.

Can you eat juniper?

Edible juniper berries (they are in fact not berries, nor even fruit, but cones, but let’s just look the other way for the purposes of this discussion) are sweet and ripe from early autumn pretty until they drop from their branches sometime in spring. I have collected them from October until March.

Eastern red cedar is Juniperus virginiana, and arrived in the U.K. in the eighteenth century, courtesy of seed collector John Bartram. Another common edible juniper is J. communis.

There is a species to avoid, but fortunately it looks rather different: J. sabina is a sprawling, rather than an upright juniper, and its berries taste helpfully horrible. In large doses they would be toxic.

Edible fresh juniper is plump and powdery blue, tastes sweet and resinous and a lot like, well, juniper.

How to eat juniper

I love to grind up fresh juniper in a coffee grinder until it is a rough green paste.

The aroma is intoxicating.

Scraped out and mixed well with sugar it makes a wonderful rim for a cocktail glass, or an addition to cakes and sweet biscuits.

It also creates an unforgettably good winter gravlax for cured duck breasts, for a winter duck prosciutto (the recipe is in Forage, Harvest, Feast of course).

Short Ribs Braised with Juniper, Bayberry and Elderberry

Make this winter warmer of a dish a Sunday special

Short Ribs Braised with Juniper, Bayberry and Elderberry recipe

Serves 4

This is succulent comfort food, and very good surrounded by a pale green moat of Nettle Grits or a side of Juniper Red Cabbage. In early winter I use frozen elderberry juice and the last of the tenacious bayberry leaves.

  • 3 boneless short ribs (about 450g each), each cut into 3 pieces
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Black pepper
  • 500ml red wine, divided
  • 125ml elderberry juice (from 2 cups elderberries)
  • 20 bayberry leaves
  • 16 juniper berries
  • 8 large shallots, halved
  • 3 large carrots, unpeeled, cut into thick batons
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Season the meat with salt and pepper.
  2. Place it in a Dutch oven (lidded casserole dish).
  3. Add 1 cup of the red wine along with the elderberry Juice, bayberry and juniper.
  4. Transfer the covered pot to the oven. After an hour turn the ribs and add the shallots and carrots.
  5. Continue cooking for another hour, then remove the lid.
  6. Cook for a third hour, until the ribs have browned and the liquid has reduced.
  7. During this hour check to make sure that the wine is not reducing completely and add some water to the pan if the level drops to a sizzle. After 3 hours of cooking, the ribs will be fork-tender.
  8. Remove the pot from the oven. Transfer the ribs, shallots, and carrots to a serving bowl and cover.
  9. Pour off any fat floating on the delicious cooking juices.
  10. Skim off the juniper berries and remove the bay leaves.
  11. Add the cup of wine you have kept in reserve and cook off over high heat until the sauce has reduced to about a quarter of the quantity you started with.
  12. Taste for seasoning and salt and pepper if necessary.
  13. Serve from a big, warmed dish at the table, drizzling a spoonful of sauce over each portion as it is plated.

Forage, Harvest, Feast: A Wild-Inspired Cuisine by Marie Viljoen (£27, Chelsea Green Publishing) is available now.

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