When it comes to learning all about food and its sources, there is no better experience than hands-on participation. With this in mind, I decided it was high time I donned my wellies and ventured into the wilderness for my very first foraging walk with ‘Wild Food Larder’ chef, writer and forage expert, Andrew Sartain.
I must point out that anyone who knows me also knows I have never been much of an outdoorsy type of girl, but as I get older, I find myself embracing outdoor pursuits with a real enthusiasm. For Mother's Day I came up with the bright idea of arranging a trip for my Mum, several food-loving friends and myself to a secret location just past Bristol to join Andrew for his very first foray of the year. We met on a private estate, bright and early, for a lovely breakfast consisting of Andrew’s own home-cured bacon and homemade sausages with local honey, homemade polenta lemon cake and some coffee, to perk us up and give us a much-needed spring in our step for the day ahead.
Straight after breakfast we found and examined a number of exciting edible leaves including valerian (known for its calming powers), vetch (a sort of pea shoot flavoured leaf) as well as nettles, dandelions, garlic mustard and many more. We literally ate everything from leaves and flowers to seeds and roots, all expertly explained to us in great detail by Andrew. Who would have known that so much of the greenery that surrounds us on an everyday basis is actually edible and utterly delicious!
For the next part of our foray, we headed to the beach by the Bristol Channel where the smell of fennel shoots drew us all in. We sampled the seeds and flowers of the Alexander plant, chomped on rock samphire and picked a huge quantity of sea beet leaves, which are similar to a hardy sea spinach. We also picked chives and some young Japanese knot weed before heading back to base camp, laden with an enormous basket packed full of herbs, leaves and flowers.
Once we arrived back at HQ, a stunning lunch spread appeared as if by magic, served on delicate Portmeirion crockery. There were endless jars of pickles, dips, pestos, sauces and spreads and giant loaves of artisanal bread, platters of cheese and fresh foraged salad leaves. The griddle pan was sizzling as Andrew placed his home made venison burgers and mutton chorizo burgers on the grill and I couldn’t help but get involved in the cooking by helping to stir the bright green wild garlic risotto to accompany our meal. There is nothing better than an enormous banquet of delectable treats to satisfy the empty bellies of a hungry group of foragers.
After lunch, we divided all our foraged goodies between us before going for one last stint in the woods for my absolute favourite leaf of all: wild garlic. The whole area was carpeted with it as far as the eye could see. In fact when we had arrived in the morning and got out of the car, the overwhelming pungent scent of these innocent looking wild garlic leaves had filled the air. Armed with a mini machete, Andrew showed me how to pick the wild garlic by grabbing five or six stems at the base and cutting them in one swoop and within minutes, I had over a kilo to take back home with me. I wanted to replicate Andrew’s recipe for wild garlic and walnut pesto, and I was told it is perfect for storing for up to a year.
What a wonderful fun and laughter filled day we had. Perhaps it was somewhat of a bizarre Mother’s day gift to my wonderful Mum, who is ever tolerant of my food-driven missions. All the fun aside, I cannot enthuse enough just how much I learned from spending a day with someone who has over 20 years of foraging experience. Andrew shared all his knowledge, widom and insider tips all along the walk, and only charges £40 per head. The foraged meal alone is worth that amount. In addition you are getting an extremely educational experience.
Foraging is fast becoming "trendy" so lots of people are jumping onto the bandwagon. I was told, however, that some courses are not run by experts, and can be disappointing. We were so delighted with all that we learned that we are now busy planning our next foraging trip in October, still with Andrew, but this time we are going to be looking for wild mushrooms in Berkshire and Sussex.
You can visit Andrew Sartain’s website at: http://www.thewildfoodlarder.co.uk
Or follow him on Twitter: @Sarty1
You can also follow the rest of Sabrina's culinary adventures on: http://sabrinaspassions.blogspot.com