Food Drinks

A guide to foraging with Nadia Lim

NADIA magazine features editor Fiona Ralph goes foraging with Nadia Lim and learns how fruitful it can be.

By: Fiona Ralph

NADIA magazine features editor Fiona Ralph invites Nadia on a foraging expedition. After a shaky start, the pair decide gathering free food is the way of the future.

When I first heard about foraging, it sounded like fun but also a lot of work. I envisioned a full day's excursion, an out-of-town drive, some fence and tree climbing, and the risk of being caught trespassing. Fun perhaps but a little freaky. I categorised it alongside dumpster diving and, while admiring the commitment to sourcing free food that would otherwise be wasted, was happy to leave the task to others.

Then I spoke to Christchurch baker Anna Worthington. Anna forages for fruit and flowers to use in the delicious cakes she makes for her business, Cakes by Anna. After hearing her talk of snipping lavender from the footpath, collecting rhubarb from her neighbours and 'shopping' for apples in the city's uninhabited red zone, I wanted in.

Photography Vanessa Lewis

But Auckland, where I'm based, doesn't have access to anything like the red zone, which is full of abandoned fruit and nut trees which have been catalogued by the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority for ease of foraging. Luckily, a quick Google search showed me that there are foraging maps available for most of the country and you can even download them to your phone via the Google Maps app. In fact, I did this accidentally and now don't know how to remove it.

But, magically, I can now see what fruit trees are in the vicinity wherever I go. It's perfect for an inner-city forager who might just keep secateurs, a basket and watering can in her car for such a purpose. Seeing fruit trees pop up each time I search for an address makes foraging more accessible – something I can do while out and about. It's a bit hard to properly see my route with all the pins representing fruit trees in the way, but the minor inconvenience is worth it.

The New Zealand Fruit and Food Share Map is user-populated, so people can add trees that are on public land as well as those on their property that they are happy for foragers to take fruit from. Nut trees, herbs, shellfish and some vegetables are also included, as are community gardens. Fungi are listed, too, but I'm steering clear of this category since I don't have the expertise to ensure safe consumption.

On my first foraging mission in the suburbs of West Auckland, almost half the trees I try to track down either aren't where the map says they are (or am I just terrible at reading maps and identifying trees?) or the fruit isn't yet ripe. Apparently, it's worth looking into the seasonality of produce before hunting down fruit. But this isn't a bad way to spend an afternoon – wandering through parks and down undiscovered pathways. And it's all worth it when I traipse across Tawa Esplanade to find a swathe of blackberries and a ripe-for-the-picking apple tree positioned exactly as marked on the map.

Armed with more knowledge, I invite Nadia out for a foraging expedition later in the week. She puts me to shame with her knowledge of wild herbs and seasonal produce, and her willingness to sample all the food we discover.

We start our day at the amazing Glen Eden Community Garden, which is on its way to becoming a perennial food forest. Food forests seem to be the way of the future for foragers, community gardeners and the food chain in general. They are developed using permaculture principles of working with, rather than against, nature by encouraging wild flowers and so-called weeds to grow, letting the birds and bees do their job, and generally allowing nature to do much of the work for you.

Helen Bakker, manager of the garden, shows us around the impressive site, which was established after two houses were demolished, leaving a number of fruit trees on a reserve which backs onto a stream. There are orange and fig trees, pineapple plants and grapevines, rows of vegetables and herbs, nut trees and more.

We find out that many of the 'weeds' and wild flowers in the garden are actually therapeutic herbs such as anise hyssop, which is just begging to be infused into a tea. Volunteers are welcome and, for your hard work, you will be rewarded with fresh produce – surely a cheaper and more enjoyable way of stocking the fridge than braving the supermarket. We fill our baskets with cucumbers, macadamias, sorrel, rhubarb, rosemary and more.

Next we head to a property where the owners have listed feijoa and persimmon trees on the foraging map. We find more than anyone could eat and fill our baskets. It's a little odd helping ourselves from a stranger's yard, but detailed notes state we are welcome to take what we need.

In the afternoon we scramble over a few fences and gorge ourselves on blackberries and apples from Tawa Esplanade, and Nadia is inspired to make a fruit crumble from our day's pickings. Not only do we enjoy the satisfaction of cooking with free feijoas, rhubarb, apples, blackberries, rosemary and macadamias, it tastes even better after a hard day's foraging.

Foraging tips: