Writer for The Skye Magazine, Katie Macleod - now based in New York and author of storiesmysuitcasecouldtell.com - interviews author and cook Fiona Bird before her visit to the Skye Book Festival on September 3.
“Foraging is about using your senses,” explains Fiona Bird, the author and cook who lives in South Uist and will be speaking at the Skye Book Festival at the Aros Centre next month. “Once you’ve got your eye in, you’ll see wild food everywhere.”
For Fiona, a BBC Masterchef finalist, it will be her first time at the Skye Book Festival, now in its fifth year. She’s “looking forward to an island hop without a long drive”, and will be headlining two events on September 3rd: The Forager’s Kitchen, based on her 2013 cookbook of the same name; and a workshop for children drawn from her most recent book, Let Your Kids Go Wild Outside, released in April of this year.
Foraging may be the latest trend in the food world, but Fiona has been an enthusiast for years, as her book – and kitchen habits - show. “My paternal Granny was a pretty keen forager. One of my earliest childhood memories is of identifying wild flowers with a good whiff of honeysuckle thrown in,” she remembers.
“My Masterchef final recipe used ingredients that deer (venison) might have grazed upon. I cook like this. Ingredients growing in close proximity often work well together. I am not however, a hard core forager. I don’t put a myriad of wildness on a plate just to prove a foraging point. It’s about taste and scent and often this is minimal.”
Fiona’s foraging exploits expanded when she moved from Angus to South Uist in 2012, when her husband took up the GP post on the island. “I started foraging seaweed because trees and hedgerows are lacking in the Uists,” she explains, although she adds that the ditches are more fruitful.
It’s something children can get involved with too, as her children’s book Let Your Kids Go Wild Outside aims to show. At the festival, a hands-on workshop will include the likes of outdoor craft making, seashore discovering, and even a wild tea party at the end of it all – all pursuits that Fiona and her own children were familiar with growing up. In fact, many of the activities and rhymes in the book came from Fiona’s own childhood; she describes it as a “privilege” to have been able to document her memories.
“Our younger trio… had a more relaxed upbringing, not quite feral but I no longer saw the need to rush to the wackier after school activities such as Kumon Maths,” says Fiona of the youngest of her six children. “Some of the second trio are rather good chanterelle hunters. From an early age they were seeking gold mushroom treasure in beech woods and ditches. They soon knew where to peep under moss and bracken – a wild treasure hunt.”
“The book contains a little about toxic berries (and fungi) and the dangers of being out and about in the countryside. Parents may want to protect their children but a child needs to learn about the realities of wildness, as well as treasuring bramble-stained memories.”
There will be plenty for her audience to treasure at the Skye Book Festival on Saturday September 3rd. “The audience makes an event, and with my foraging hat on, local folk always know more than I do,” says Fiona. “It’s a shared learning experience.”