Are the best things in life really free? I’m about to try and find out. This week I am starting a new challenge on the frugal life blog to discover what it’s possible to eat, obtain and do for free in the UK and whether these things are as satisfying as the items we usually pay for.
In the first week of the challenge, my task is to obtain some of my food for free and decide whether it is as tasty as the food we pay for each week. Fortunately June is a good time of year to go foraging as there are plenty of edible items growing in the garden and hedgerows in my neighbourhood. Luckily we live near countryside and woods and have a big back garden, so there are usually a few things worth picking.
Also, unaware of my challenge, my neighbour gave me an advantage the other day by giving me a box of new potatoes for free. Her father, who is an expert scavenger and hates waste, had been given them on his work travels. There are so many that I have passed on some of the potatoes to other friends and neighbours, hoping the resultant good karma will help me with my challenge!
Nettles are out at the moment. Unfortunately there are still lots of them in our garden despite our efforts at weeding. However, while they might seem like a nuisance to the gardener, they are in fact one of the most useful foraged foods. Nettles are high in vitamin C and, as well as being a diuretic, are said by some to ward off colds. I decided to kick off my challenge with a cup of nettle tea for inspiration. I’d forgotten how surprisingly good it is. I’m not a big fan of herbal teas generally, but nettle tea is light and refreshing, tasting a bit like a gentle peppermint tea. Pick the young top leaves (the older leaves don’t taste as good and can be bad for the kidneys – use rubber gloves if you’re worried about getting stung and don’t eat nettles if you’re pregnant), wash them and then brew them for a few minutes in hot water. Then remove the leaves as they can turn the tea bitter if left in for too long. Delicious.
Flicking through DJ’s copy of wild chef Johnny Jambalaya’s excellent recipe book, The Essential Backpacker’s Wild Food Cookbook, I found a recipe for potato and nettle soup. Having both potatoes and a profusion of nettles, it made sense to make it for lunch. All you do is peel and chop a potato and a small onion and sweat them in a pan with some oil, then gather a couple of handfuls of young nettle leaves, chop them finely and then, when the onion and potato have softened, throw them into the pan. Next add about 500ml of water per person – you can add a chicken or vegetable stock cube if you like, which enhances the flavour. Bring to the boil and then simmer until the potato is soft. When it’s done, season to taste with salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg. I served it with the vegetables still chunky and it was very tasty (all the more, knowing that some of the ingredients had cost me nothing) but next time I might try pureeing it to see if it’s better.
Right – I’m off out now with my basket to do some more foraging around the neighbourhood. I’m hoping to find some elderflowers as they are in season in June. I also plan to try out some slightly more unusual ‘free food’ recipes, and I’ll report back later in the week.
Do you sometimes forage for food? What are your favourite recipes and do you think foraged food can ever be a serious substitute for more conventional foods? Leave a message and let me know.
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