Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Foraging for food

I had an inspiring afternoon today foraging for wild food on the north coast near Gurnard's Head. Along with five others, I joined Caroline Davey of Fat Hen for an afternoon on the cliffs, learning to identify edible wild flowers and leaves. This was an education! I don't think my daily rambles with the dogs are going to be the same again - the hedgerows have taken on a new dimension.

left side, top to bottom: rock samphire, wood sorrel, wild mint,
ox eye daisy, chickweed

right side, top to bottom: chicory, marsh samphire, fat hen

I would love to report that we came back with this rich harvest. Sadly no - this boxful was foraged by Caroline earlier in the day and its destination was the restaurant at the Gurnard's Head (great food, interesting menu, if you happen to be down this way. And you can stay the night).

Our aim was to learn to recognize the wild foods that grow abundantly around the clifftops (hopefully we'll do the seashore another time), which bits of the plant are edible, if not all, and how to eat them - raw, cooked, as teas etc. I'm an absolute beginner when it comes to recognizing and naming wild flowers, but I do love being outside, connecting with nature. We strolled and chatted, tasted and touched, smelling and photographing as we went, some of us scribbling notes. Cow parsley (be careful with this, one of the umbellifers in the cow parsley family is poisonous), red clover, wild mint, hogweed, yarrow, sorrel.... it was a revelation. There is so much to learn. I've been doing a little reading - Jane recently mentioned this book, which has some lovely recipes and lots of foraging tips and photos.

above: digging up the tuber of pignut (a small and delicate umbellifer)
below: the nut itself - about the size of a hazelnut - Caroline said it
makes a great pesto



wild thyme - less pungent than cultivated thyme, so use larger quantities

We stopped for a tea break and made a couple of infusions from yarrow and meadowsweet - the meadowsweet had a refreshing almondy taste, while the yarrow was quite bitter. Generally, foraged leaves tend to be more astringent and stronger-tasting, and the leaves are best picked when young. As the leaves mature, many become quite bitter.

meadowsweet

I can't wait to try more - of course recognizing what you're picking is crucial. These three books were recommended as a good starting point. Caroline also runs foraging and feasting weekends where you go out foraging and then come back and participate in cooking with trained chefs. And then you feast. Yum!

There is a code of conduct for foraging here

5 comments:

belle.chantelle said...

I know I've said this before, but you have such a pleasant way of writing. Maybe it's the topic of your blog post, but I'm always put at easy after reading one (not to mention you have great photos)!

kristina said...

This is fascinating! I'd love to do something like this. I'm also a complete beginner when it comes to recognizing plants in the wild, but like you, I love being outside and connecting with nature. Will have a look at the webiste links :) K x

Pipany said...

This sounds great Diana. What a lovely way to spend the afternoon. I know a few wild plants but not enough to feel confident eating them. We do use sorrel and have a lovely sorrel soup recipe, but that's abut it. Meadowsweet is one of my favourite flowers - beautiful perfume, pretty petals and a lovely name. Great blog xx

Dragonfly said...

What a lovely thing to do. I'd be in my element. I love samphire. I remember being on a school geography field trip when I did my 'O' level (!) and we had to pick samphire from the salt marshes in Norfolk. It sometimes crops up in restaurants now and I can't resist it.

caireen said...

samphire - one of my favourite words! cute notebooks below by the way! are we all feeling a bit odd around this solstice? cx