‘Nobody ever called it foraging, it was just scratting around in the dirt’

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 13th July 2020

 

She may hate the word foraging but Alysia Vasey admits there is no alternative and as a result, the professional ‘countryside gardener’, has titled her first book – The Yorkshire Forager.

The Staff Canteen spoke to the ‘supplier to the stars’ about her new book, why she wanted to write it and her relationship with some of the best chefs and restaurants in the UK and Europe.

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“All I have in my head is in that book… so, that’s it, all I have in my head is 90,000 words!” laughed Alysia.

Raised in Yorkshire, she’s owner of one of the UK's most successful foraging businesses so those 90,000 words are guaranteed to be full of knowledge, tips and secrets and anyone looking for wild ingredients would be foolish not to take what they can.

Creating the book was a year long process and Alysia jokes she did it ‘because they paid me a lot of money and I got made to do it!’.

She learned her craft from her Grandad, he is Polish and spent time living in the woods while hiding from the Nazis in World War II.

“They just had to live off the land but eastern Europeans they have a massive tradition of foraging,” she explained. “It was so much more common in those days because you had to preserve for winter and you didn’t have fridges or freezers, everything had to be dried, cured, preserved – we’ve all got grannies who can make jams and are absolutely fantastic at chutneys. You just don’t get that anymore.”

It’s a craft which Alysia has grown up with, she said: “Nobody ever called it foraging, it was just scratting around in the dirt or going out and getting stuff. We always did it, I’ve got pictures of me eight years old picking mushrooms and things.”

Despite her love for it, foraging hasn’t always been Alysia’s main source of income, as she says when you go for career’s advice at 16 you don’t expect to be picking weeds for living.

She went into the navy as a helicopter engineer for five years, serving in Bosnia. She also went to university and studied law and politics.

Her ‘lightbulb moment’ when she realised there was a market for it, she says, came while on a ‘nerdy mushroom website years ago’.

“A chap called mushroom martin got in touch when I posted a load of puff balls and started asking for more of them and wild garlic in large quantities.”

The rest is history as she has since become a dedicated to supplier to restaurants and chefs up and down the country and abroad including Noma, Restaurant Moor Hall and Tom Aikens.

“It’s one thing picking for yourself,” she said. “It’s another picking for restaurants.

“You need to know what you are doing, what to look out for in terms of anything poisonous and this all has to be done to a high standard.

“There’s no qualification in foraging, you have to solely rely on the trust of the chef that you are supplying, and they have to absolutely trust you.

“You have to be one hundred percent safe.”

She added: “I love chefs, it’s a bit like herding cats! They are wonderful people; you’ll send them a text message and three days later they’ll send you one back and that’s like instantaneous to half of them because they are so busy!

“This country has got such a phenomenal breadth of talent when it comes to chefs, I supply all over the country to very different people – I’am bit more choosy now about who I supply because I can’t be all things to everybody. It has to be sustainable; we have to be able to go back to it year after year.

“We think about it as gardening the countryside.”

The book she says is a ‘collection of adventures’ full of all the little bits of information in her head – but she says you don’t need to know everything to have a go.

“Why don’t you just learn ten percent of your mushrooms? You don’t need to learn 4,500 mushrooms you just need to learn the ones which are poisonous and the ones which are really good.”

Alysia still gets a real thrill from foraging but says ‘it’s such hard work’ and you often get ‘nettles in your unmentionables’.

“It’s a dying art, there’s only a few people in the country who really know how to do it and have real in-depth knowledge. This book captures all the thoughts in my mind of how I’m foraging, what ‘m foraging – it’s a book you can pass down and it will be relevant in a hundred or two hundred years’ time. It’s information which will last an eternity.

“I’m all for encouraging people to forage as long as they do it safely and this book will give you that guide along with lots of hints and tips.”

You can get your copy at bookshops or Amazon now

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 13th July 2020

‘Nobody ever called it foraging, it was just scratting around in the dirt’