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!