The diversity of Brazil’s fauna is well-publicised, but it is its diverse flora that has allowed its unique local cuisines to flourish. Humboldt Director Kirsty writes about her experience foraging with an expert on Brazil’s Emerald Coast.
Foraging has become something of a modern fascination in recent years. The international focus on opting for local produce has pushed people to the hedgerows and fields, jungles and forests, searching for edible plants, berries, leaves and mushrooms to star in their cooking. The fact is that this practice is as old as civilisation – knowledge built on ancient experiences, folklore and passed down from previous generations. Nowadays, with so many of these traditions dying out, it is not just an amusing past time but an essential skill, integral to modern sustainability, high-end cooking and healthy eating. Sustainability is at the heart of foraging, and with so much in the news about the environment and how irresponsible farming can negatively impact this, it is more relevant than ever.
It was therefore with great pleasure that I went on a foraging walk with Jorge whilst on a recent visit to Brazil. Jorge is based near to Paraty. This beautiful colonial town is sandwiched between the rainforest and the ocean and Jorge grew up in the hills around here. His father runs his own farm and is practically self-sufficient, living off the land and with a strong focus on organic principles. He has passed this knowledge on to Jorge and that is how he started, going out with his father as a child, learning about the plants and trees, berries and mushrooms. Mushrooms are in fact a particular passion of Jorge’s and he will talk for hours about the benefits and oft-forgotten virtues of the humble fungus.
We were staying at the fabulous Casa Cairuçu and Jorge often takes out guests staying at the house or in nearby Paraty. He can take you for a walk in the hills above Paraty, or as was our case, he came to the house and we walked through the rainforest beyond the property, taking a path from the back and up through the undergrowth. Now, I have a keen interest in this way of living anyway. I believe strongly in the principles of organic farming, think that sustainability is key to our future and am passionate about nutrition and healthy eating, so I was always going to enjoy it. I absolutely loved the hour and a half we spent with him. However, I challenge anyone not to be fascinated by this wander through the woods, even if you have little to no knowledge of plants or this way of life.
Jorge started in the garden of the house, unfurling a hibiscus flower and showing us how the nectar that can be found right inside and how the leaves can be eaten, brightly coloured and beautiful. At each point, Jorge will explain how each plant and flower can be prepared and eaten and also their health benefits. This one is beneficial for high blood pressure, this one is high in antioxidants and by contrast, these are to be avoided as they are poisonous. We walked only a few hundred metres from the house to a nearby beach and we stopped numerous times for him to talk about a plant or a leaf or pick a mushroom.
The aim of the walk, as well as a botanical education, is to select some ingredients for a lunch that Jorge would prepare on our return to the house. On this occasion we were lucky enough to find a few fallen avocados from a tree on the beach. The size of them cast any found in the UK supermarkets into the shadows and they were whipped up into a delicious guacamole. With the help of Adriana, the housekeeper at Casa Cairuçu, Jorge prepared a simple but delicious meal of salads, guacamole and a paté that he had made the night before from leaves he collected on the school run.
Jorge’s knowledge and his passion for nature and the world around us is so apparent and hugely infectious. A foraging walk with him is a must on any visit to Paraty or Casa Cairuçu. Take time to educate yourself about sustainability and the natural world with this barefoot luxury experience.