The Edible City by John Rensten

The Edible City: A Year of Wild Food
John Rensten
Published by Boxtree
Part foraging guide, part diary. This is a lovely read for city types itching for the outdoors, with strong illustrations, useful tips and a few thoughts on what to cook using things you find.
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The Edible City, is written by ‘urban forager’ John Rensten. Part foraging guide, part diary, it’s not dissimilar in format and tone to books like Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries, and Monty Don’s The Ivington DiariesIt’s just that this one’s a bit feral.

I met John earlier this year, having organised a walk and a dodgy wild food cocktail as a gentle start to my brother’s stag do. I had no idea he had written a book before that morning (nor indeed what kind of information he had stored and how he’d presented it), but after three hours in his company, was delighted to find that he had some words coming out.

The enthusiasm, manner and insight John displayed that day is nicely captured in this book, as he guides the reader in a detailed, thoughtful and intriguing manner, though not always in a straight line (which is fine).

From January through to December, we go with John to various patches of green and brown in and around London. A few hundred words describe his forage, sometimes in detail, sometimes more vaguely — “3rd March. A secret location somewhere in London” … still secret because he’ll reveal somethings, but not his stash of wild garlic.

Within the narrative are hints as to how he might happen across a plant, and then comments as to what he did with his haul. Then, excellent illustrations of plants mentioned and others relevant to that month, plus recipes too. In the case of 3 March, for example: ground ivy and wild garlic pakoras. I can’t vouch for the recipes yet, but they’re certainly inventive, seem logical and definitely fire the imagination.

For anyone actually looking to pick wild things and eat them, the best bit is arguably the section at the back: a guide to the basics of urban foraging. This includes a table of edible plants that you’re likely to find in a British city (and in which month), plus the basics of plant ID, which is concise, helpful and easy to follow and recall.

I’m very much enjoying dipping into The Edible City. It’s a lovely read, and provides a good deal of information and instruction. If you’re after a straightforward identification guide, this isn’t quite that. But you could have a decent go from it, and perhaps it’s more likely to encourage you to do so than a plain reference book. Great to have some cookery ideas in there too.

Format and design

Small but not pocket sized — say, approx 10cm x 18cm?

It’s largely in diary form, working through the calendar year, with entries for memorable forages interspersed with plant details, superb, helpful and seemingly accurate illustrations, and recipe ideas.

Recipes that tempt

Lots. If you’re adventurous.

Think: pine needle vinegar with juniper and bay leaves; wild sushi rolls with bellflowers, bittercress and salad burnet; steamed and fried hogweed shoots.

Who is it for?

People interested in foraging and wild food. Adventurous cooks. Frustrated urbanites.

Will make an excellent gift.