Food challenge: It’s a Jungle Out There

Despite all the great advice from Fergus Drennan and countless books at my disposal courtesy of DJ’s obsession with Ray Mears and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, I have to admit I’ve found the great foraging adventure a little daunting so far!

First of all, it was pouring with rain yesterday and I didn’t really want to have to venture out of the house at all, but I had to if I wanted to find lunch! What’s more, besides actually locating the food sources and working out what to do with them, it’s difficult to plan my meals because I don’t quite know what I’m going to find out in the wild or how much of it. But the biggest obstacle of all is plant identification.

Now, I’ve been on three wild food courses over the past year – ok, one wasn’t very good and another was just for a couple of hours wandering around a wood. But I like to think I’ve at least picked up a little information from them that the population at large might not be aware of. However, putting it into practice is a different story. While I’ve heard a lot about the plants you can eat, like fat hen, Alexanders and pig nuts, and I’ve been shown them by the course teachers or seen pictures of them in books, I still don’t have a clue about finding them myself and properly identifying them. And I really don’t want to take the risk of poisoning myself or giving myself a tummy upset.

The problem is that there are lots of wild foods that can be easily muddled with poisonous ones. Just leaf through wild food writer Johnny Jumbalaya’s cookbooks (alias Marcus Harrison who runs courses at the Wild Food School in Cornwall) and loads of the ingredients are asterisked with warnings about what they can be mistaken with or that too much of it can make you need the loo all the time (dandelion!) or cause kidney damage if eaten to excess (sorrel). It’s enough to send you running to the safety of the local chip shop! So I am playing it safe by sticking with the plants that I know well and can easily identify, such as dandelion, nettle, plaintain and herb bennet etc.

But so far I’ve had some great meals. Luckily, just in time John the Poacher dropped a rabbit round at the weekend, in exchange for some eggs, which made a delicious stew. All the more tasty as we didn’t pay for the meat! And I’ve also been experimenting with Marcus Harrison’s multiple inventive recipes for nettles, dandelions etc.

His nettle and potato curry recipe (I actually made this with some sweet potato my neighbour gave me for free as she was going on holiday) wasn’t bad, although I think the nettles were a bit past their best and stringy, despite me only taking the very top young leaves.

And my nasturtium leaf and sweetcorn fritters (my own adaptation of a conventional recipe) with dandelion, daisy and nasturtium salad were seriously good! I’m also going to experiment with making some dandelion coffee.

But I’m hoping that Kris Miners who is taking me out foraging this week will help me widen my repertoire and find me some more adventurous and exciting things to eat!

Had any adventures with wild food? Leave a message and tell me all about it!

 

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8 Responses to Food challenge: It’s a Jungle Out There

  1. rik says:

    I think you\’ve got the right idea about playing safe, it\’s the way I do it. Use what you know best then learn one or two new plants at a time and wait \’til you\’re familiar with them before learning another. "If in doubt leave it out" is a good thing to remember when experimenting, cow parsley etc. can be confused with hemlock at a glance, you won\’t get a second chance with something like that! With fungi you really need an expert to show you, it\’s too easy to make a bad choice (very bad!). Try to use nettles before they flower and as young as possible too and remember not everything will be to your taste but of course, that\’s the same in a supermarket!(Like DJ\’s taste, they\’re probably the main programmes/books I watch or read!).

  2. Christine says:

    Have heard no good of dandelion coffee so if you hate it you will be in the company of the vast majority of people I know.  Is the foraging worth the time it\’s taking? Or will profit come in the future when you know what you are doing? Possibly something here for the very long term ….Me – I\’ll stick with the allotment as the local urban is not exactly foraging country (think dogs and council spray on verges) but if I was more rural I would certainly return to childhood foraging ways.

  3. lynette says:

    Really interesting, but how on earth do you handle the nettles?  Preparing them would seem to be rather hazardous.   Or am I a wuss.

  4. Unknown says:

    I think with a lot of the wild coffees you have to adjust your taste expectations; not downwards or upwards, just sideways – and they\’re never going to provide the instant caffein buzz of conventional coffee. I made roasted dandelion root coffee for the first time this year using young spring roots. It\’s very good, smooth without bitterness so is well worth the effort.
            Ask Kris to show you some reedmace (bulrushes) if there are any around where he runs his courses – or some marsh samphire if he\’s by a suitable coast. Pretty soon we\’ll be into summer fruit – wild cherries and cherry plums firstish, so lots of happy gorging to be done……..

  5. rik says:

    Lynette, ever heard of gloves! lol! Tip : don\’t use long fingered cycling gloves, the side of the fingers are thin. I found out nettles can sting through them easily! Gardening gloves will be fine though (although not for cycling!). 😉

  6. piper says:

    Yep I should have pointed out that I used rubber gloves as I am indeed a wuss! But be careful if there are any holes in them as you may still get stung.
     
    Kris did indeed show me reed mace – have a look at today\’s blog.
     
    Thanks for all the comments guys. xxx

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