A chat with Liz Knight, of Forage Fine Foods, about things that influenced her evolution into a forager and flavour-maker, and what motivates her creatively.
LK: When I was in my late teens I went for a month to Italy with a friend of mine, and we travelled around and just had amazing experiences of really good, simple food and ingredients, street food – buying just amazing tomatoes and a bit of mozerella and bread and some olives in a pot and then going and sitting in a park and eating. They are meals I remember hugely. Italy really has influenced me in discovering about that purity of food. And ingredients.
There was a real culture of food in my family. My mum’s family came from the north east, not far from the Scottish borders, kind of all that area of Northumberland. So high tea, and eating together was really really important. Whenever we went to her house, the air smelt of coal and anthracite and it was very peaty up there as well. And her garden was really damp and it was really luscious. Then her kitchen always smelt of baking and she had tins full of meringues and fruit cakes and she’d make amazing things like plate pies… I think I can remember nearly every single meal I ate around that table…
Maybe because I’m really easily distracted and daydream so much, that I can’t walk past a smell. My husband gave up walking with me when we first got together, because it was just ridiculous! I kind of have to get into it, and it’s overwhelming, emotionally – not emotionally, that makes me sound like too much of a hippie – but, do you know what I mean? It’s very very sensory.
When I drive down the lanes when the hedge-cutters have been out, I stop the car; you can smell it and you can work out what these smells are. Sometimes these amazing combinations of flavours come about because of things like that. So there’s woody kind of smells when you cut meadowsweet, and you know that kind of antiseptic smell that comes out, and when you have got that with green wood and with grass at the same time, those are just… Flavours that you really want to achieve happen just by naturally, you know.
The whole of my range and everything I do, I suppose, is about trying to evoke some kind of memory. I make a Wild Herb Rub and it is basically the herbs that grow in British meadows. So I gather clover and meadowsweet and sorrel seeds, they’ve got that kind of lemony flavour going on, and wild marjoram – wild marjoram grows massively round here. The predominant flavours are of when the hay gets cut and that smell of hay drying. Part of the reason that I made it was that when you open the jar, it took you somewhere? People when they smell it, they’re like, “Oh God it’s just like, I absolutely remember rolling down a hill when I was a kid,” or going for a walk in this place, or whatever.
And it’s not hard to put those flavours together, of place and time and stuff. I think it’s just about kind of looking what’s around. Being stuck behind a hedgecutter, and not ignoring the smells that are going on. I suppose associating why are we, what are we eating, and then what we should be flavouring those things with, are catching moments really, aren’t they?