We are very glad to have Mark Williams, Scotland’s only full-time foraging tutor, with us regularly on Islay, sharing some of his knowledge of native plants with our associate chefs and bartenders from around the world.
Well-known for his level of experience with mushrooms, and for his central role in starting the Association of Foragers, Mark’s own website is a valuable and extensive resource about foraged finds and what to do with them – “I guess my blog is like my diary,” he says.
It was originally funghi on the Isle of Arran where he grew up that gave him “the foraging bug” supported by Antonio Carluccio’s A Passion for Mushrooms, which, Mark says, “Gave it a bit of pazzazz rather than just these dry textbooks that sometimes people look at.” Applying himself to learning about wild edibles prior to the advent of the internet, and before what Mark calls “the resurgence of foraging” whereby wild ingredients have become popular in culinary circles, “in a way was good. You need to look at books and spend that time with the books I think.”
He well remembers how daunting it is trying to work out what’s what in the wild, and his own feelings of ‘Just complete fear!” when he started out, but says, “Teaching yourself stuff is easy if you’re into it, you know?”
The process continues for him to this day, “You have things on your radar, when you see something in a book that sounds really delicious and you spend a few years trying to work out where it is in the wild. So I’ve still got things on a hit list, like ‘Oh God, it’d be nice to find some of that.’
“I get lots of inspiration from lots of different foragers. There’s a guy called Fergus Drennan down in England who does some pretty crazy stuff, and he’s always quite cutting edge and doing stuff that nobody else is doing with wild plants, so he’s a lot of fun to read and follow.”
Some people keep sketchbooks of their discoveries in the field, though Mark says, “I don’t think you need to be an artist. Just do little stick drawings of plants, like a line where the leaves are along the stem, or something like that, or the shape of a leaf – it’s not really hard.”