Ants on the menu with 'Mushroom John' at Buxton Festival

Foraging expert and nature writer John Wright
Foraging expert and nature writer John Wright

Ants aren’t part of your usual five-a-day fruits, but they do come in a range of orange, lemon and tangerine flavours, foraging expert and nature writer John Wright will tell Buxton International Festival.

John, who has written eight books on food available in the wild thanks to long partnership and friendship with TV cookery expert and environmental campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of River Cottage fame, will be leading a walk in the town to show people what they can literally pick up for dinner from Mother Nature.

His fascination with wild food began with an abiding interest in fungi develop during his childhood trips to the New Forest, and when a TV crew staying at his local in the West Country asked around for anyone who knew his way round the local mycology, they were told: “Ask Mushroom John.”

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That appearance led to a career in writing and lecturing, including a series of books ranging from hedgerow hot-pots to beachcombing for breakfast, plus an entertaining look at Latin nature terminology called “The Naming of The Shrew.”

During the festival, John will be leading a walk on July 16 and giving a cookery demonstration at the Devonshire Dome on July 17.

And on the menu will be ants.

“They have an amazing flavour, lemon, orange or tangerine, depending on the species,” said John. “It’s the formic acid in their stings which gives them a citrus flavour.”

But don’t expect to find a new way of filling your freezer. Human beings put the meat into the hunter-gatherer act for a reason, and even without meat, we need more than wild sources to get by.

“It’s really hard to live on foraged food because you don’t get access to all the different places where you can find wild food,” said John.

“You need a stream, a wood, a hedge and a seashore. If you only have one or two of those, it’s much harder.

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“Starch is the most difficult thing to find in the wild. We eat far too much starch because we’ve learned to cultivate starchy food such as tubers which are bigger, better and tastier.”

But the real feast is for the mind. On his walks, John reveals worlds of nature right under our noses by explaining the myriad species in small patches of vegetation we pass without notice.

“The more closely you look, the better things are,” he said. “I slow people down. They see the countryside like a theatrical backdrop but they don’t look at all the detail that is really interesting.”

Visit buxtonfestival.co.uk for more details.