Searching for wild foods in the UK can mean discovering fresh or forgotten tastes. For one furloughed worker it also turned into a life-affirming hobby
“It was like pushing my way through to Narnia,” said Steve Woolnough of his secret find on Epping Forest’s western edge. Spotting a sunlit patch of grass, he’d crawled through undergrowth to find himself in a secluded bower of blackthorns. “These are trees that keep on giving,” he said. “I must have had 4kg of sloes just from these three or four.”
Those sloes, now being made into gin, wine, cordial and a wickedly tasty jelly at his home in Highams Park, east London, are just part of what has become an obsession and a lifesaver for Steve, 50, who was furloughed in May from his job at a sports and events company hit by Covid. Taking the family cockapoo, Billie, on long forays once his three children were back at school in September, he was struck by how heavy with inky blue-black fruit the forest’s many sloe trees were – thanks in part to 2020’s warm, dry spring.