Meet the man who finds sloe berries in city parks, uncovers beautiful lemons in abandoned greenhouses and can pluck your favourite gin garnish from a housing estate. Craft Gin Club spends five minutes with east London legend Jonathan Cook, AKA Jon the Poacher.
Urban foraging is so unexpected. How did you get started?
It’s not so unusual where I live, right by Walthamstow Marshes. We have quite a lot of green space. I started fishing as a kid, then began meeting all kinds of different people and catching rabbits. Now I forage for restaurants, bars and local food and drink companies.
How did you start working with 58 Gin?
Someone told me about Mark, and I met him at a gin market. I took him some of the citron lemons I found in a disused greenhouse. We played around with bits and pieces and now he orders a fair amount from me. I foraged all of the sloes for his new sloe gin.
What makes foraged ingredients so special?
It’s the freshness. I go out picking, and within half an hour of picking something it can be with Mark. I also know the seasons really well – this year was so warm that the sloes are very early, so the fruit had gone soft on the bushes by September. If you were waiting for what the books says, for the first frost, you wouldn’t have been able to get enough. It’s useful for people like Mark to have someone watching the plants all of the time, noticing things like that.
What are some of the common ingredients city dwellers might be walking right past?
There’s loads – sloes, elderberries, rosehips. A lot of people see them, but they don’t know how to recognise them or use them.
What are the best types of places in cities to look for ingredients and garnishes?
Local parks are great, but also housing estates. You have so many different cultures now that people will plant things up, and when they move they don’t have room to take it with them. So, they leave their plants in the estate’s communal areas. Today, for example, I’m going out picking walnuts and almonds.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve found while foraging?
There’s a tree in Stoke Newington that grows sharon fruit!
To join Jon the Poacher on one of his east London foraging walks, message him on Instagram at www.instagram.com/poacher2376