He cites Richard Mabey’s Food for Free as an influence. At around twelve years old he became, “intrigued that there was a hidden world of flavour in the ditches and forests.” These days, when his livelihood depends on it, foraging is, for him, “a good antidote to business. It requires focus but is fairly mundane; your mind is occupied but free to wander.” He goes on, “In a world where it’s easy to order anything anytime from anywhere, foraging keeps things real and makes you see the environment close up. Each new discovery, be it Hogweed, spoots, Pepper dulse, or a new edible mushroom, is exhilarating. Birch sap is still mystical and magical even though I’ve read a fair bit about how it happens. No doubt, foraging influences the way we do things and make our decisions. It will never pay to just look at it as figures. It’s not what it’s about.”
Rupert’s most recent venture is scaled-up production of one of the hit liquers from the menus of evenings at the Buck and Birch – Aelder elderberry elixir. It’s a hand-made, whisky-based, botanical-infused, enigmatic treat in a stoneware bottle, made using the berries from the elder tree Sambucus nigra.
Elderberries are on the accessible end of the foraging spectrum, though they are mildly poisonous in their raw state. “They are massively abundant, easy to pick and really tasty,” says Rupert. “You can make jam, shrub, vinegar, pies and puddings, jelly, wine… They grow easily in poor soils and are quick to crop. There is something about elderberries too where everyone either has a granny or great grandfather who used to make elderberry wine. In that way we are part of the wave of people who are getting into all that again.
“The ethos of the Buck and Birch was to go back to the source. To start looking again using a walkable radius, and hand harvesting etc. Just like the old days.”
So in more ways than one, Rupert Waites reveals himself to be something of a Renaissance man.