Top positive review
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Excellent pocket sized guide
on 5 February 2006
This is a 2004 version and worthy addition to the very popular and pocket-sized Collins Gem series. ISBN 0-00-718303-8. Food For Free - A Fantastic Feast of Plants and Folklore.
The book starts with an introduction by the author Richard Mabey. It then has short sections titled 'Roots', 'Green Vegetables', 'Herbs', 'Spices', 'Flowers', 'Fruits', 'Making Jellies and Jams' and 'Nuts'. They include general advice, observations and uses. The main section of the book is given over to identification, with at least two pages per entry. An interesting section follows titled ’Picking Rules’ which gives advice on how to pick correctly how to stay safe. The last section before the main body of the book is a summary calendar which groups the picking times for entries into a colour-coded calendar - very useful as a quick reference.
Every entry is accompanied with a drawing. Most of the drawings are excellent, but one or two are a little small and thus less detailed. Fortunately, almost every entry also has a photograph. The combination of colour drawings and colour photographs is what makes this little pocket book a true 'gem'. If the drawing is a little weak, the photo will be excellent and vice-versa. Almost fool proof.
Each entry starts with the common English name (Latin is in small type at the top of the page)a colour illustration and description. Taking Beech (at random), it says: 'Widespread and common throughout the British Isles, especially on chalky soils. A stately deciduous tree, with smooth, grey bark, to 40m (130ft). Leaves: bright green, alternate, oval. Flowers: male drooping, stalked heads; female in pairs. Fruit: four inside a prickly brown husk, Sept-Oct. When ripe this opens into four lobes, this liberating the brown, three-sided nuts.' The illustration depicts a leaf, spring twig with unopened buds, an opening husk revealing nut inside and bare nut. The article continues with headings; Harvest/Pick, Uses, Beech Nut, Beech Nut Oil, Beech Leaf Noyau. The photo at the end of the entry is a good close-up of a twig with a cluster of husks. (I didn’t know, for example, that ‘fresh from the tree Beech leaves are a fine salad vegetable, as sweet as a mild cabbage though much softer in texture’.)
The book, in line with its title, covers Plants and Trees, Fungi, Seaweeds and Shellfish. There is a glossary at the end and a page devoted to further reading. There is a List of Recipes and finally an index of entries in common English or Latin.
There aren't that many books devoted to 'British' wild foods so to find one which lists over 100 edible plants, berries, mushrooms, seaweed and shellfish is most welcome. Given the true pocket size measurements of the Collins Gem series of books, the price of a fiver (£4-99) and the quality of each entry, this is as good as it gets. Obviously not a benchmark reference work or field-guide, but at least this fits in the pocket - which is the main purpose of such books, isn't it? Five stars!