Those of you who like your 1970s concept albums based around early twentieth century post-apocalyptic fiction will know where the first part of the title of this post comes from and it happens to be one of my favourite songs so I couldn’t resist shoe-horning it in. However, this post has a serious side for those interested in post-apocalyptic survival.
Autumn (or fall as it is known in some parts of the English-speaking world) marks the transition from the heat of summer to the cool of winter, and in almost any post-apocalyptic situation it will be the only time of year when you won’t have to struggle to find food. This is because you’ll be able to find food everywhere, just waiting for you to pick it, catch it or shoot it – or at least that’s how it is in Scotland at this time of year. However, if you want to be able to make the most of the bounty that will surround you, you’ll need to know what you’re doing because making a simple schoolboy error can result in at best a badly upset stomach and at worst a long and painful death.
So what am I talking about here? Well it’s what has come to be known as wild foraging. In its most recent incarnation, this is a trendy new middle-class pastime endorsed and encouraged by a flock of celebrity chefs, but when I was a kid this was just a way to make money stretch by getting food for free (I don’t think I ever ate store-bought jam until I was well into my teens). Wild foraging is, quite simply, making the most of the food that is available all around you in the countryside, and sometimes even in the city. At this time of year it’s everywhere and knowing how to exploit it will be a key skill for post-apocalyptic survival.Just to show you how much there is, this is what I found along a half mile stretch of a long-distance pathway called The West Highland Way that’s within a day’s walk of where I live in Glasgow. Firstly, there’s brambles. Brambles, known outside of Scotland as blackberries, grow almost anywhere that’s left unattended and in autumn they provide a super-abundance of large, black, tasty fruits. There’s two secrets to picking them. The first is to wear a thick glove on one hand so you can push the thorny runners out of the way without getting hurt. The second is never to pick anything that is below the height that a dog can lift its leg (if you’re wondering why, it’s the same reason you shouldn’t eat yellow snow! Hawthorn trees and hedgerows are also awash with their bright red fruits by late September. Haws are most often turned into jams and jellies, which can then be stored to provide sustenance throughout the long winter months, but you can also eat them raw from the tree (apparently according to this source – I’ve never actually tried this though). You can also eat the leaves of the hawthorn tree (they used to be known as the poor man’s bread and cheese because of their flavour). These are tastier when they are young and tender in spring and by autumn they can be a bit tough and bitter, but they’re still better than nothing. Acorns can be found anywhere there are oak trees, and this will include many city parks and tree-lined avenues. You might have to soak them for a while to get out all the rather poisonous tannins they contain, but do it right (it’s a bit of a black art and isn’t something for the uninitiated to try) and you can grind them into flour to make bread. Who would have thought that roses could be a source of food? Well, they are. Leave the flowers on the plant and they form edible rose hips. Again, you need to know what you’re doing to process them properly but get it right and they can be mixed with haws to create jams and jellies with a richer flavour. You have to be careful about seeds though as they can cause a great deal of irritation if ingested. We might think of nettles as weeds, and they do grow anywhere shady, but boil them up and you can make a tasty soup. Okay, tasty is over-doing it a bit, but it hot and nutritious and that’s what counts when you’re talking about post-apocalyptic survival. You also need to remember the ‘dog leg’ rule mentioned for brambles when collecting nettles to eat. Apples are everywhere in autumn and whether you’re talking about wild trees or ones in your local parks and gardens, come the end of the world, you’ll be able to stuff yourself with them at this time of year. You can eat them raw off the trees or cook them into a wide range of pies, crumbles and sauces. Alternatively, you can turn them into cider (whether of the alcoholic version found in Britain or the non-alcoholic version that seems to be favoured in the US). Find a cool, dry place and you’ll be able to store them, providing you with a ready supply of food throughout the cold and dark days of winter when there will be little else available. While elderberries are inedible when they are raw, if you boil them up, you can a nice rich syrup which you can use to flavour other food. However, in Scotland most people who collect elderberries use them to make elderberry wine, and let’s face it, after a long day of surviving the collapse of civilisation, you could do with kicking back with a nice glass of red. If your day’s been really bad and wine just won’t do it, you could always hit the gin, and for that you need sloe berries. It’s not real gin but it can have one hell of a kick. This makes it the perfect thing help you forget your troubles of few hours after you’ve just watched your best friend being torn apart by zombies. Of course, you can’t get too drunk or you might not hear the undead horde when they come back for you!
So as you can see, there’s plenty out there to feed the hungry post-apocalyptic survivor in autumn, and so far I’ve only considered the plants I found. There are fungi everywhere at the moment too – although I don’t currently have the knowledge to know which are edible and which are lethal so I don’t go near them. There’s also animals making a welcome return to my local countryside that add to the autumnal food base. The rivers are full of Atlantic salmon returning to spawn. Find the right spot, and they’ll pretty much leap into your arms. Okay, it’s not quite that easy, but at certain waterfalls you’ll see salmon as long as three feet trying to leap up them to get to the place they hatched years before and it’ll be your best chance of catching them with little or no effort. The salmon are not the only thing migrating around here, and the geese which over-winter in Scotland are starting to arrive. Once they’re here, flocks, which might be several hundred strong, will graze the fields each day and roost on the lakes at night, and they’d be a tempting target for anyone craving a bit of fresh meat.
Of course, if you want to be able to access this cornucopia of wild food, you really need to know what you’re doing because the stakes are high: if you eat the wrong thing or prepare it in the wrong way, you and anyone else you feed it to can end up dead or incapacitated (and in a post-apocalyptic world they are pretty much the same thing).
Luckily, there’s plenty of places you can go to learn some foraging skills, and it’s surprising the number of courses which have sprung up in the last few years where you can go along and have someone show you exactly what you need to know. So don’t delay, book one today because you never know the world might end tomorrow and you need to know what’s safe to eat and what’s not. And even if the world doesn’t end, you’ve gained a useful life skill which allows you to eat for free – and let’s face it with the way the economy is these days, anything that helps you keep the bills down is a bonus!
***WARNING: Tasty things often look very similar to poisonous things, so do not eat anything unless you know exactly what it is. Also, you should not use the photos in this post to identify what might be edible and what might not. I’m no botanist, or trained wild forager, and while I’ve done my best to make sure I’ve photographed the right plants to illustrate this article, I cannot guarantee it.***
From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.
To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.