Food foraging walks, talks and courses are frequently held in the kitchen garden building at Daylesford Farm in Kingham, and this weekend we went on a special Slow Food foraging event, hosted by Tim Field, across the footpaths that run through the Daylesford estate, to Oddington and back.
Tim Field is the environmental science expert at Daylesford, responsible for ensuring that the whole estate is run sustainably. He starts the walks at the eco-centre glass and stone building in a field behind Daylesford Farm shop and farm buildings. These particular days are open to everyone, even non-members of Slow Food and their families, starting at 11 a.m. and finishing at just after 2 p.m. and they cost only £10 for members and £15 for non-members.
Tim’s favourite foraging text book, or “Bible” as he refers to it is “Food for Free” by Richard Mabey. When he goes out foraging he is armed with a sharp knife, a wicker basket, a plastic bag and also recommends taking gloves if you are going to collect nettles. Tim also cautioned that when he going out foraging everyone needs to be sure and certain of what they are collecting, as some leaves, flowers, berries and fungi could be either indigestible or, worse still, poisonous. He taught us to never disturb the environment you are visiting when you forage, not to touch endangered species or pick more than you can eat.
We set off on this cloudy morning towards the village of Oddington, and our walk was punctuated along the way with Tim stopping and pointing out all the flora that was edible or used for medicinal purposes. A surprising number of wildflowers and leaves turned out to be perfectly delicious and nutritious and most of us would have clearly walked past without noticing had we not done this very informative walk.
We were fortunate enough to have Sharyn Singer with us, a trained Naturopath (at www.colouryourhealth.com) who was able to identify and explain each species of plant. She explained that in the spring many of the leaves are very bitter, and therefore support the health and functionality of the liver. Along the way we took note of, and in some cases picked, the following:
Wild violets, which are not only beautiful but delicious in salads. Also can be crystallised with egg white and caster sugar, to decorate cakes.
Wood sorrel, which is high in oxalic acid, and can aggravate an ulcer.
Celandine, a small pretty woodland flower with yellow petals.
Cleaver, a sticky weed which can be fried, used to make soup or eaten as a salad. It has a detoxing effect on the body.
Hawthorn leaves, otherwise known as bread and cheese in the days when “peasants” would forage for survival.
Wild raspberry bushes, for fruit.
Dandelion leaves, for eating in salads.
Hedge garlic, for salads.
Ground elder, useful in stir fries.
Wild garlic, can be used to make pesto, stuff ravioli or turned into soup.
Wild primroses, used for decoration and salads.
Along the way, through the most beautiful woodland carpeted with light blue vinca and wood anemones, we also spotted some fritillaries and wild rushes. Past Oddington Manor and Oddington Church, we spotted a pair of swans and wild deer, and then over stiles and gates, we made our way back, stopping to collect some fresh salad leaves from the farm’s polytunnels.
Back to base, every participant was busy chopping, rinsing, peeling and preparing a feast beyond our wildest dreams. One of the great benefits of eating organic food, of course, is that vegetables only require a light rinse in a bowl of water, as they are not covered in pesticides. Out of little more than weeds, wild plants and a few extra ingredients from the farm shop, we rustled up a veritable feast:
A potato, onion, cleaver, wild garlic and nettle soup, with lemon juice and Parmiggiano.
Boiled pheasants eggs
A salad of mixed fresh leaves from the woods, gem lettuce, croutons and anchovies.
Tim also cooked some venison loin (prepared by the Daylesford butchery) in a gremolata of breadcrumbs, olive oil and wild garlic. To accompany the meal there were fresh artisanal breads, wines brought in by Julia Briggs (a Slow Food Cotswold Convivium organiser), Parma ham and some delicious herb and cheese fallen soufflés prepared by Sharyn. There was no waste and all leftovers were taken home.
I would recommend this sort of event to anyone keen to learn about mother nature’s generous larder, across the seasons. It opened my eyes. Through fields, riverbanks and woodlands there is a huge variety of plant life that is edible, delicious, beautiful, health enhancing and free. Walking in the spring air keeps you fit and fascinated as well as helping you to work up an appetite.
If you would like to know more about the courses on offer, then get in contact with Daylesford Farm, and if you wish to join Slow Food, the website address is below.
Slow Food website: www.slowfood.org.uk
Daylesford Farm website: www.daylesfordorganic.com
You can follow Daylesford Farm on Twitter @DaylesfordFarm
Telephone: 01608 731 700