A foray in the fields

You know how it happens. It’s one of those ideas you’ve always thought about looking into or having a proper go at but it never quite eventuates. That is until a stroke of fate or twitter and you find yourself nibbling freshly picked wild greens on a hillside two hours out of London and close to the Bristol channel.

That is exactly where I found myself this past Sunday with a few fellow foodies: @sabrinaghayour + her dear Mum (well it was Mother’s Day after all),  @nicmonks@donalde and @stewed. In a way it felt quite dream-like but this was probably in part due to the 6am start and two hour drive – very capably executed by heavily-caffeinated @donalde.

We had all gathered at a ridiculously early hour – OK, 10am’s not that bad – to glean some knowledge from our host @sarty1, Mr Wild Food Larder, about foraging for the wild foods of the British Isles; where to find, what to gather, what to taste (and what not to). I’ve done a little gathering in my time, mainly from the Thames riverbank near my house for sorrel, a little wild garlic, elder flowers and enough berries for a nice little 2010 vintage batch of jam, but I’ve always wanted to be a little more certain of what I am collecting. Foraging can be a bit of a mug’s game after all and one wrong mushroom or leafy green and you could be in real trouble.

@sarty1 is a fountain of knowledge and his wild food forays, including a very promising sounding mushroom foray in autumn, are very popular. Ours, being the inaugural event for the season, was mainly in search of luscious greens and came with the promise of as much wild garlic as we could carry. Which of course I took to the extreme bringing my lovely large French market basket.

Fortunately @sarty1 is also a dab hand at a spot of charcuterie.  So, greeted with a fresh cup of freshly plunged coffee and a home-cured bacon roll we embraced the damp Sunday morning adventure.

‘Wild food’ has had a resurgence of popularity over the past year or so with the celebrated cooking style of ‘the best restaurant in the world’ where delicate foraged herbs, greens and flowers form a dominant part of the menu. And let’s be honest we all like a bit of free food, don’t we?

Spring is a fantastic time for gathering the fresh salad green types of wild foods and we commenced our day with a wander down the drive to see what we could find. Once you know what you’re looking for it’s clear that there are edible goodies all around. From the tiny delicate fronds of Common Vetch that taste of sweet pea shoots, the citrus bite of Sheeps Sorrel (not to be confused with the poisonous Adders Tongue), to dandelion heads w/ the sunny heads on show and a familiar tasting and weedy looking Garlic Mustard. We all nibbled, ummed and ahhhed trying to guess the identifiable flavours. It really is an exercise of the mind and it’s amazing just how hard it is to recall, on demand, the name of the flavour you know is familiar. It was on the tip of the tongue in the most literal sense.

The flavours of wild food seem to be both delicate and striking at the same time. By its nature it’s hard to gather in large predicable amounts, barring, of course, wild garlic which, in early spring, the term prolific does not begin to describe. But the flavours of the various greens once collected deliver the type of punch that cannot be delivered by mass agriculture. In short they are a delight and an intrigue to the palette.

An additional delight of the day’s foray was foraging by the seaside where we were taught how to identify Rock Samphire – Marsh Samphire’s higher cousin, wild fennel, sea spinach, Alexanders, wild chives, salad burnet and scurvy grass with its sweet white flowers. The wispy tails of fennel are a hit and have us scaling rock faces and dreaming of risotto.

At last the combination of exertion and sea air gets the better of us and we buzz back to our secret-ish location for a locally-sourced lunch including cheeses, venison burgers, hot smoked ham, wild garlic risotto, dips, sauces and spreads of various hues of green and pickled this and that.  It is all an utter delight. To finish things off we are lucky enough to pick up some fresh morels which I pop straight in my oven for drying when I get home.

After a day’s foray I can honestly say I am knackered but brimming with excitement and recipe ideas for my lovely foraged foods. Now the work and the washing begins!

Huge thanks to Andrew (@sarty1) for the foray, to the Mrs for the back-up and the risotto, to Molly for the canine company and all my fellow foodies – may you all have full stomachs and sound sleeps.

You can find recipes for all your lovely foraged goodies at www.thewildfoodlarder.co.uk