Wild about foraging
Aughrim man Barry Reid tells how his passion for wild food will soon become a career
It has been many years since Aughrim man Barry Reid picked blackberries with his grandmother Margie Kavanagh but the childhood memories are as strong as ever and foraging has become a way of life for him in recent years.
While the tradition of raiding the hedgerows and woodlands for nature's bounty has largely died out, Barry says that he never takes it for granted and his passion for foraging is growing stronger with each passing year.
'My earliest experience of foraging was really just going out picking blackberries or sloes with my grandmother. All my grandparents had their own veggie patches, as did most households back then, and they grew gooseberries, apples, and all sorts,' he says.
His love of the outdoors was greatly encouraged by Arklow Youth Club, which facilitated camping and fishing excursions.
'We did lots of camping and the group had a huge influence on me. As children, then, my brother and I would go off for the whole day fishing or up to Glenart Wood to explore. There was always something to discover.'
While he left school early, when Barry returned to education to sit his Leaving Certificate through Arklow Youthreach, food, once again was central as the students took turns cooking meals for the group which they enjoyed together.
'We learned how to cook in Youthreach and there was an allotment on the Wexford Road that we used. This gave me a real appreciation for home grown and seasonal produce.' It was attending a workshop in Greenane in recent years however that Barry says really got him 'hooked' on wild food.
'My sister Pauline got me a present of a voucher for a workshop and we learned all about wild herbs and their nutritional and medicinal benefits and it was just fascinating.
When he moved to Annacurra six years ago with his partner Chloe, Barry couldn't believe his luck when their house looked out into woodland.
'I would spend hours out there looking for mushrooms and I was longing to know more and more. I started to do lots of research into it and found that there were some amazing mushrooms growing wild and nobody was bothering with them. I've foraged chanterelles, chicken of the woods and porcini in different locations. I live in Aughrim now but I travel around to forage.'
Aside from mushrooms, Barry has also been a regular gatherer of nettles, wild leek, sorrel, wild garlic, dock, dandelion and many other goodies.
To his dismay however, last year his favourite blackberry patch near Aughrim became off limits when contractors sprayed it with pesticides.
'I was devastated as there were so many beautiful blackberries ruined. I went back this year and the brambles were as wild as ever so the spray didn't even work and the warning sign is still up so it's really disappointing that it's still off limits.'
On that note, proper signage and awareness regarding the spraying of pesticides and week killers is a particular issue of concern to Barry as a forager and indeed as father of two young children Brehon (5) and newborn Luán.
'I just think people could be using much more natural products to do the very same job. If they do want to use toxic chemicals then the least they could do is to put up signs to warn people. I saw a person spraying Round Up outside a shop in Arklow recently and when I asked the manager about it, they were really nice and had a sign put up very quickly.' A natural progression on Barry's food journey has brought him from the woodlands and into the kitchen and of late, he has been entertaining his social media following with recipes, project updates and videos, often featuring his sidekick Brehon.
'I love mastering something, for example sourdough bread. We were buying it in the shop and there were more than 10 ingredients in it. It only needs a few of those so I got working on my own version. They were into pitta bread at home for ages too, but once I mastered that they moved on to tortilla wraps so now I'm trying to get the hang of them!,' Barry says.
Gaining knowledge on the subject of wild food has given Barry the confidence to host a number of charity events in aid of his local community garden, where shared tips and recipes.
This month, he embarks on another challenge as he starts a professional cookery course in Bray which he hopes will prepare him well for a career in the food industry.
As Barry looks ahead to the future, he credits the beautiful Wicklow countryside as his inspiration and says 'I have so much appreciation for nature. It really has the power to change your life.'