Have bike, will eat: Meet Canberra's forager who peddles a nutritious food cycle

Susan Hutchinson, of Lyneham, is nuts about cycling and foraging.
Susan Hutchinson, of Lyneham, is nuts about cycling and foraging. Photo: Jamila Toderas

Susan Hutchinson of Lyneham is a forager. As she cycles around Canberra on her bike, she gathers berries, seeds, nuts and fruits and these are turned into delicious preserves. When we met, Susan's forage basket was filled with wild reshape syrup (a cordial that is great in soda or a cocktail), mulberry and red wine dessert sauce (the mulberries were foraged in Braddon), a jar of preserved lemons, crab apple jelly, rosemary and hawthorn jelly for serving with cheese or roast meats, particularly game, and when picked early in the season the haws do not need citric acid added to make the jelly. Hawthorn berries are also used in her haw-sin sauce, her wild take on Chinese hoisin sauce which can be added to stir-fries especially with duck, pork or tempeh.

Her blackberry wine was made from berries picked in a pine plantation out of town where the vines are not sprayed. She also picks shoots of the blackberry plant in spring, bruises them with a rolling pin, places them in a sealed glass jar to ferment for a week during which time they turn black and smell fragrant, then she dries them for making a tea which tastes like oolong tea.

A constant companion on her outings is The Weed Forager's Handbook (2012), by Adam Grubb and Annie Raser-Rowland, which is Susan's resource for edible greens. It has guided her through a selection found in Australia, particularly wild brassicas which have little yellow flowers that taste like broccoli.

Gathered: Fennel seed plant.
Gathered: Fennel seed plant. Photo: Jamila Toderas

Susan has a Masters degree in International and Community Development from Deakin University and is currently studying for a PhD in International Relations. However, since 2012, she has suffered from chronic fatigue. During the time it took for her disability pension to come through she stayed with her grandparents in Burnie, in northern Tasmania. It was then that she started making food from foraged ingredients which gave her income without capital, and she started with blackberries, rosehips and wild fennel.

In Canberra Susan forages for fennel fronds from spring into summer. She has developed a vegan lemon and fennel pesto with macadamia nuts and the recipe can be found on her blog under the section on pasta and fish. See: susansumptuousuppers.wordpress.com

On the road from Canberra to Yass she picks wild apples from trees growing along the roadside. These she juices to make apple cider with added yeast and she uses the leftover pulp to make pork and apple burger patties served with pickled fennel and celeriac remoulade made with roasted foraged seeds and fennel bulb purchased from the Canberra Capital Region Farmers' Market.

Susan Hutchinson's home-made apple cider.
Susan Hutchinson's home-made apple cider. Photo: Jamila Toderas

As a child, Susan started young planting trees, clearing waterways and checking on local frog populations, particularly when she lived in the Grampians National Park in Victoria. In her adult life she has been an environmental campaigner for more than 20 years and has also tried to take control of the environmental impacts of her food consumption. She is concerned about the distance her food has travelled and what that has cost in fossil fuels so her weekly shopping is done at the farmers' market. She knows the name of the farmer who grew every item in her shopping basket.

Foraging is an extension of that philosophy, taking only her steps to get to the kitchen and making use of what would otherwise be left to rot on the ground or be mown down by a lawn mower. She finds it empowering, as a person with a chronic illness, to still be able to look after herself enough that she can find tasty and nutritious food in nature, in the park, on her way to Uni and around Canberra. It makes her feel good to be connected to place in that way and to be nourished by nature.

Susan Parsons is a Canberra writer.