Best things in life are free challenge: Day four

This week, as part of my ‘best things in life are free challenge’, I am trying to find free items to supplement my diet with. So I have been busy scouring the neighbourhood, looking for plants to forage.

I found a mushroom growing by the side of the road yesterday but, without DJ’s expert mushroom picking skills to hand, I wasn’t 100 per cent sure whether it was a genuine field mushroom. If you’re not certain of the identification of a plant, it’s best to leave it alone, as there are so many poisonous plants and mushrooms. It was growing by a reasonably busy roadside and could have been affected by road pollution too. Plus something had already taken a bite out of it, so I decided to pass. There is another spot in a country lane near us where we have discovered silverweed growing, which has been used in the past as a famine food. The difficulty is that it’s the root you cook with, and you’re not really supposed to dig up plants without permission of the landowner. Luckily, I have also found some promisingly looking elderflowers growing nearby and plan to make elderflower and gooseberry ice cream, using some gooseberries from the garden and a recipe from Edible Wild Plants and Herbs by Pamela Michael.  

But first I decided it might be fun to make a foraged version of one of my other favourite meals. Pasta is one of my favourite dishes and in Johnny Jumbalaya’s wild cookbook I found an intriguing recipe for chestnut pasta dough. While they’re not in season at the moment, I remembered that I had foraged for sweet chestnuts last year and froze them to use for chestnut stuffing. According to Jumbalaya, you can also use acorns to make a wild pasta dough too. However, I’ve never actually made conventional pasta before and don’t have a pasta rolling machine, so I was a bit dubious as to how it would turn out.

To make the dough, you mix half mashed chestnut or chestnut flour with half plain flour. I dug the chestnuts out of the freezer, peeled them (or tried to – it’s not easy), boiled them for a few minutes in water and then mashed them. I used about 70g of the mash with 70g of plain flour (if you use acorns, you use 25 per cent plain flour to 75 per cent acorn mash or flour). Then you add an egg, a teaspoon of vegetable oil and mix it all together into a dough. Take the dough out and knead it on a floured surface. Leave it to rest for 15 minutes, then roll it out to the thickness of a pencil lead (I made it a bit too thick, to be honest), roll it up and cut it into tagliatelle strips about half an inch thick. You’re supposed to leave them to dry out for 10 minutes, but I misread the instructions and forgot to.

Next, boil some water for your pasta, make your favourite pasta sauce and cook the chestnut tagliatelle for about ten minutes. I served it with a tomato and garlic sauce, using home grown garlic, and hoping it would mask the flavour of the pasta if I didn’t like it. When I served it up, I have to say it didn’t look particularly appealing. Once cooked, the pasta had taken on a grey colour from the chestnuts, but I tucked in anyway, expecting it to be awful. I was pleasantly surprised, though. While a bit doughy, the pasta was actually very edible. The chestnuts gave it a sweet, nutty flavour and before DJ had come downstairs to eat his share, I had cleared half the plate. I think the pasta would make a good ravioli, too. DJ is fond of his food and hasn’t always been impressed with some of my cooking on the frugal life blog. A couple of years ago, he refused to eat one of my World War Two offerings (and sensibly so – I ate the meal and felt sick all afternoon). But he ate quite a few helpings of the chestnut pasta and said it was good, despite ‘having the consistency of play dough’. I was amazed! Now I hope my elderflower and gooseberry ice cream will be just as good!

Would you try a wild version of your favourite meal? Have you ever made your own pasta? Leave a message and let me know.

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10 Responses to Best things in life are free challenge: Day four

  1. Flo says:

    Living off the land is a skill far removed from what you are trying to do Piper. If you are going to eat free you need far more knowledge and skills than you will ever learn living the life that you do. Think of blackberries, crab apples, sloes, hawthorn, rose hips, Good King Henry for greens, goose grass for herbal tea, using flower petals for food decoration and as part of jams and hazel nuts. All of these are part of my free food lore learned from childhood up.

  2. Bill says:

    Despite the new rationing system, even me website is no longer free. I have only had it since 2005, now MS are charging me £8.00/annum, + vat!!!Is there no justice left in this world?

  3. Pratab says:

    Can anyone reading Piper\’s blog and lives near the sea or is planning to go to the seaside. Please collect and send to Piper some seaweed. 😀

  4. piper says:

    Great idea, Pratab. Just fancy some crispy seaweed!

  5. Kerri says:

    I feel quite inspired by you chestnut pasta Piper 🙂 I totally get Flo\’s point about the skills of eating free etc but I guess what you are trying to illustrate is that there is more out there we could be taking advantage of but just don\’t think about it with everything that is available in stores these days. I don\’t think these days you could ever truly live free and integrate into modern society but perhaps a happy medium between the two is a good place to be.

  6. Kerri says:

    Oh, I forgot to add, I might not have a veg patch in my garden but my rosemary bush, fennel and mint are all going great guns so at least I\’ll have some free seasoning lol!

  7. Piper says:

    Thank you, Kerri! Glad to hear you are inspired. You are right – the point of the challenge is not to eat exclusively for free but to see what there is out there for free and how it measures up to the conventional things we eat. Professional forager Fergus Drennan has tried to live on foraged food exclusively and even he found it very difficult indeed. Sounds like your herbs are going great guns. Well done you!

  8. Flo says:

    My list of items wouldn\’t enable you to live off the land completely Piper but are all things that are available to most of us if we learn what they are and where to look. We don\’t make use of the things that my parents took for granted any more.

  9. Kevin says:

    Just a quick comment, always enjoy following your blogs, when I made pasta I found after rolling fold it and then re-roll it. If you repeat this 3 to 5 times it gives the pasta a bit more strength so you can handle it easier, and yes I do have a pasta roller. 😀

  10. piper says:

    Thanks for the tip re the pasta, Kevin, will try that out.

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