Producer of the Month: Liz Knight, Forage Fine Foods
On her website Liz Knight describes herself as ‘a country living, greedy thirty something mother of 3 children, who has had to learn to cook one handed and eat in a hurry but still loves playing with her food…”This is a complete understatement…
My first encounter with Forage Fine Foods was when I made a special trip to Fortnum's Food Hall with a fellow foodie friend. There, standing at a little tasting stall, was an insatiably enthusiastic woman surrounded by little jars of foraged ingredients transformed into preserves and spice mixes. Her name was Liz Knight.
I tasted and bought the birch sap jelly and the wild salsa verde - “just my garden weeds” exclaimed Knight self-deprecatingly. The salsa verde is not just weeds. It is a little taste of heaven. So impressed was I at the depths of flavour, texture, ingredients and concept behind these little jars of wonder that whenever anyone treads into my kitchen the first thing I do is give them a teaspoon of each to taste. The reaction is always the same. WOW.
Despite picking wild food for years, Liz really developed a passion for the food heritage of rural Britain when she worked with elderly people in a day centre. She became increasingly engaged about pre-World War 2 food culture, which she learned from the people she cared for. When she had children (she currently has three) she gleaned from other parents that they wanted to eat wild food but didn't have the confidence or time to pick their own foods. It was then that her concept of wild food presented as the finished package started to become a reality.
Liz, who started Forage as a one woman business in 2011 with a very young baby, also runs workshops on rural food skills and leads forages and demonstrations sharing her products and recipes with audiences. One recent workshop attendee described her as someone ‘whose devotion to her chosen field (sic) could raise a dying donkey (or goat) from its way to eternal pastures.’
- What do you enjoy most about producing Forage Fine Foods ?
There are so many reasons why I love producing Forage Fine Foods, it's difficult to find one part that is most enjoyable… From waking up in the middle of the night with a ‘I wonder if that might work” thought, to gathering, making and finally offering tastings of my products to customers. Making people fall in love with the flavour of weeds such as Hogweed & Ground Elder is pretty enjoyable!
- What do you enjoy the least?
Anything that involves a spread sheet.
- Why should we buy British produce?
We may not have the climate to grow mangos, but my goodness a sweet pear & hunk of farmhouse cheese is something to relish on an early autumn day.
Buying British food makes us eat more seasonally, and there isn't much better way to reconnect with the seasons than that – from pink stems of Yorkshire rhubarb in late winter to asparagus in the spring, cherries that drip juices down your chin in the summer to milky cobnuts & jewel like fruits of early autumn – life can't get much better than a meal of food from the isles we live on.
- What achievement are you most proud of?
Opening peoples”eyes to the wealth of food and incredible flavour that is in their back gardens. Making people smile when they eat things like pine tips, honeysuckle or ground elder for the first time!
- What are your predictions for the future of British food and if you were Prime Minister what would you do to encourage more people to buy British?
Crumbs, I think the future for British food is so exciting - we have such a wonderful food heritage in Britain, one which we should be incredibly proud of and I think there is a swelling momentum to eat food that roots us to our land and our history.
If I was Prime Minister I would stand up for British food - I'd demand that all public service provision of food sourced its fruit and vegetables, grains & meats from British producers. I'd demand a revolution in the provision of food for older vulnerable people at home and in care – these people grew up eating seasonal, local gorgeous food and they should be eating it until their last meal.
Oh yes, I'd also enforce that every child had to make butter, gather blackberries, scrump for apples, make snow ice cream and discover that food is a glue of society not just the fuel. (I'd probably be hopeless at everything else but the country would eat well!)
- Best budget tip?
Eat your weeds - you can't get cheaper, tastier or better for you - and you get a neat garden at the same time!
- If you were an advertising executive what slogan would you use to promote British food
You are where you eat.
- What other British food producers do you rate?
There are so very many, but one producer makes my heart sing –a little known but delicious cheese maker Wye Valley Cheese. Based above Tintern, Wye Valley Cheese is produced by Harry Ryder who started making delicious unpasteurised cheese after he had a stroke. It is so good that even after a second stoke he is flat out making cheese whilst his wife, son and daughter-in-law are now employed by this most gorgeous, inspirational cheese maker who makes really very good cheese.
- What's on the menu this evening?
Should I fib? I wish I could use this answer to plug a product, but it's a honeysuckle gathering night tonight so I’ll be eating the children's leftover cold sausages & potatoes when I’m back if I’m lucky.
If I answered this last weekend though it would have been: elderflower & sorrel seed baked brown trout, vetch & clover spelt salad followed by rose petal and stout tiramisu. Perhaps I should fib…
- How can people get hold of your produce?
My products are available at a few lovely stores, including Ludlow Food Centre & Fortnum and Mason. I also sell from my stall at local farmers Markets & in the Market Hall at Abergavenny Food Festival. Visit forgaefoods.com and you can tweet Liz at @foragefinefoods.