Mother Nature’s larder is an endless source of delicious ingredients that are hard to find on shop shelves. Whether plucking blackberries from hedgerows or snipping mushrooms from tree stumps, gathering items from the great outdoors is rewarding and a great way to enliven your home cooking. Ashford Castle’s sprawling Irish estate is full of foods that Executive Head Chef, Philippe Farineau and Executive Pastry Chef, Paula Stakelum regularly forage, incorporating them in a range of dishes at George V Dining Room. Here, Philippe discloses the delights of reconnecting with the bounty of the landscape surrounding Ashford Castle.
What ingredients do you forage around Ashford Castle?
“We find everything from mushrooms, flowers and wild plants like elderflower, wood sorrel and pine, to fruit like raspberries and strawberries.”
Do you have a favourite wild food or plant?
“I like wild garlic (which is in season in spring), gorse, pine, cuckoo flower, wood sorrel, morel (an edible fungi) and elf cup mushrooms.”
Whereabouts do you find foraged ingredients around Ashford Castle?
“We tend to source most of our items near the lake, in the woods and on un-walked pathways.”
What dishes do you prepare at Ashford Castle using ingredients you have foraged?
“We create seasonal dishes using what we’ve forged. For instance, our Velvet Cloud Sheep Yoghurt Panna Cotta features wild garlic and Ashford Estate Hawthorn & Elderberry Syrup. Our Wild Hake & Clam uses morels and wild garlic.”
What are the best times of the year to forage?
“From February to November is when you’ll find edible foods growing in season.”
What are the best ingredients to forage for in Ireland?
“Seaweed, sea vegetables and wood sorrel. Edible varieties of seaweed like kelp and gutweed are easy to identify. Snip a small piece and wash three times a day in a bowl of cool water before cooking. You can find sorrel in shady areas along trails and pathways and identify it by its three clover-like leaves. Wild garlic grows in abundance all over Ireland; the subtle garlic scent will alert you to its presence.
Is there anything unique about the Irish climate or soil that makes it great for the growth of wild foods?
“Ireland has a temperate climate and plenty of rain, which makes the soil very fertile. Every country’s climate or soil is different and will therefore yield different types of plants and foods. What we find in Ireland, you won’t find in the French Alps.”
What advice would you give to those who would like to forage food?
“Respect Mother Nature and only take what you need. Also, take great care to learn what you’re foraging for. If you don’t know if it’s edible or not, don’t eat it.”
Do you need any special tools to forage?
“Not really, all you need is a small knife and scissors to remove your items and a basket and bag to transport them in.”
Do you have a philosophy on foraging?
“We can buy the finest or most expensive ingredients in the world, but it’s the moments when we create a wonderful dish from something we foraged that make what we do special.”
While staying at the luxurious Ashford Castle, why not explore the estate’s grounds and try foraging for yourself?