It's deep December and I'm standing outside. Actually, there's 8 of us standing outside and waiting for the one that's gone astray. Once we're all congregated, we begin. There's something innately quiet about walking in Winter, as if all around us is sleeping, and in some ways it is. We walk together through this slumbering landscape, initially unaware of the life around us.
What can you forage in winter?
From as early as November, my forager eyes start to spot edible greens that are normally associated with spring. Alexanders, Nettle Tops, Three-Cornered Leek (locally known as Wild Garlic), Wild Cress and Mustard, Pennywort, Wild chervil, Gorse flowers and even Daisy leaves and flowers for salads and cooked dishes.
Although the nutrition of plants can be significantly increased in Spring, goodness can still be enjoyed from these plants through the winter months. In Cornwall, where we may lack in terms of nuts and berries (there are only a few forests & woodlands here) it is more than made up with coastal plants and, due to the mild climate, a great choice of edible greens right through winter. While other areas of the UK are below frost or snow, there are milder areas of Cornwall that offer valuable forage-ables.
The benefits of foraging in winter
What's more, foraging feeds the soul not just in winter, though every time of year. According to the National Wildlife Federation's article; It's all in the dirt, the reason for this includes good bacteria in the soil that releases seretonin - the feel good hormone. This makes me feel even better about my muddy boots and dirty fingernails too!
In some ways, there's more to see in winter, without the distraction of hoards of people, beautiful, bright flowers, and sunsets to melt into. Instead, the offerings maybe more subtle - beige stems, low growing greens, and flowerless stems, though don't be tempted to dismiss these edible due to their humble winter personas.
Common Hogweed seed (Heracleum Spondylium), for example (below), may look like a dead seed-head, though within it lies delicious aromatic flavours for curries and many sweet dishes.
If you need it, use foraging as an excuse to get you outside, for that dose of daylight, fresh air and nature fix. Watching wintering birds, or rolling white horses of the waves, and returning with a handful of winter greens, it's hard for the soul not to be lifted, even if just a little. And if you're still not convinced and only yearning for the bright yellow sun of summer, then perhaps gorse is the only cure for you. Up on the moorlands of Cornwall, somewhere, you will always find the bright yellow flowers of gorse; an uplifting flower. According to Bach Flower Remedies gorse can offer you hope, when all hope is lost. I promise, summer will return.
Blackberries - everyone knows them, everyone forages them. Blackberries make everyone a forager, and what a perfect fruit to be picked. Growing in abundance, and packed with vitamin C and fibre, this humble fruit unites cities, waysides, hedgerows, countryside and wasteland through their presence, it even connects us all back to the Stone Age, as there's evidence that we've been eating this fruit since then.
Back to the current day, a couple of weeks ago I was foraging with a group of keen staff and chefs from Bordeaux Quay deli, restaurant & cookery school. Based on the harbourside of Bristol, just off the city centre, for our foray we congregated on the Bristol Downs (one of my favourite green spaces within this city) to foray together. And guess what, amongst many other goodies, we picked blackberries.
Now, I could list the things we found, and various stages that different ingredients are in as they get experimented with, stored and process at BQ. However, that list of plant names might leave you scratching your head and non-the-wiser. Though if I talk about BLACKBERRIES - ah, blackberries, we know we're speaking the same language!
Blackberries on the Isles of Scilly, where they can taste slightly salty!
So what have you done with your foraged fruits? Blackberry and apple crumble or pie, syrup, ice cream, sorbet, blackberry vinegar or wine maybe?
Well, here's a new one for you, from the Kelly Sealey, the Head Chef at BQ. And by the way, incase you like the sound of it, Foraging Experiences followed by cooking tuition can now be booked for private groups in Bristol, at an award winning venue which specialises in local produce, click here to find out more!
Meanwhile, here's the recipe;
Mackerel salad with a blackberry dressing
By Kelly Sealey
For the fish
2 eggs, beaten
4 mackerel fillets
70g unsalted butter
1 lemon, juice only
Place the oats onto a plate and season with salt and black pepper. Pour the beaten eggs into a bowl. Dip each mackerel fillet into the beaten egg, roll it in the seasoned oats.
Heat the butter in a pan over a medium heat. When the butter is foaming, add the coated mackerel fillets and fry for 1 ½-2 minutes on each side.
Turn the fillets carefully and fry for a further 2-3 minutes, or until the fillets are crisp and golden-brown on both sides and completely cooked through. Remove the pan from the heat and squeeze over the lemon juice
For the salad
Handful of blackberries
Radish, thinly sliced
A dash of red wine vinegar
Pinch of dried chilli
25ml olive oil
Place the vinegar, oil, chilli and 2 crushed berries in a bowl, whisk and add salt and pepper to taste.
Add the salad and toss lightly. To serve place the salad on the plate, fish neatly in the middle and drizzle extra dressing.
From a Simple Guided Walk, to Rustic Cooking or Gourmet Dining
Foraging for Business is something we all have to do from time to time, you’ve guessed it - the diverse skills learnt in a day’s foraging are transferable & more importantly, can be learnt in an informal, non-pressured way.
Recently, when leading a private forage, cook & dine event for a group of international professionals (it was their holiday gift to themselves), at some point the conversation steered towards team building. Now personally, I feel that a good event can naturally create a good team building environment ~ no ‘bonding’, ‘intellectual problem solving’ or ‘physical team building’ in sight. Yet, with foraging, all those boxes seemed to ticked too.
Results: Can better business be cultivated from foraging together?
Good business results usually consists of a few key ingredients. Excellent productivity is a by-product of a healthy team working together; keeping each other motivated & effective communication ( organisations that communicate effectively are 4.5x more likely to retain the best people too - Watson Wyatt (worldwide consulting firm)) . Furthermore, according to Harvard Business Review (June, 2008), the success of Toyota Business Corporation for example is due to a mix of offering new challenges & understanding different points of view & how to bring together seeming contradictions. Toyota, by the way, invest heavily in people, regardless of their position in the company.
In foraging terms, this can mean being introduced to a new skill & taste. It can also mean understanding that everyone has a valid & different response to a taste of a plant; to some its lemony heaven, to others its sour & too strong, while for another it conjures up memories of picking a plant while walking to school with friends.
Give your staff a good experience they'll remember...
Giving your staff a good time can help build the rapport needed to get a job done well, while improving morale & positive memories bring people together. A recent foray with staff on the Island of Tresco (Isles of Scilly) included front of house staff, managers & chefs. They now all have a hot topic to share, were all enthused about exciting new ingredients & seeing their local environment in a whole new way. Interesting cocktails & pizza toppings to follow!
Back to the practicalities, imagine this;
A day out, a couple of hours ambling through the countryside, time to catch up, chat, while learning a new skill together. Breaks are marked with delicious biscuits or chocolates while menus are handed out & drooled over. Perhaps a bit of chopping ingredients or stirring pots even, before tantalising aromas appearing too. Focus, enthusiasm, something new, motivation via good food are all ignited. Sounds good?
Just a small slice of good health
Despite many people that like to feel healthy, I also know many who steer away from 'health' activities as there are seen as boring & a way to inhibit fun. However, everyone likes to feels good & happy, & good food usually helps! Foraging has the benefits of being a very leisurely physical activity, accessible to anyone who can walk a couple of miles (routes can be accessed for ALL abilities & those with disabilities too). A bit of fresh air (not too much) can work wonders on bringing out those rosy cheeks!
Really, something for everyone
Foraging is an ACCESSIBLE activity- emphasising different strengths rather than who is good & who is not at a certain activity. If you can walk slowly for 1 mile, stopping occasionally, you can forage. Appealing to a wide range of interests; nature, countryside, food, walking, talking, history, in-vogue recipes, chatting, doing, resting. Time tends to fly by, & everyone always finds at least one taste they like & a plant they are therefore keen to find again. Within the group, a multitude of skills will be learnt, through all different learning styles (sensory, physical, factual, emotional, oral, taking photos or notes) - what a team, all of these skills put together makes one good forager!!
Interested, so what now?
Do get in touch to discuss what you're looking for and let me put a package together for you.
Everyone has there own traditions for Christmas Day. For me, I'm satisfied if I'm in good company, have a dip in the sea & there's a healthy amount of indulgence.
Down here in Cornwall I've plenty of people to share these common themes with; least of all bracing the elements & stripping off on the beach for that ceremonial plunge - nothing like it for feeling alive & building up an appetite! So on the morn of the 25th, Sennen beach (just a mile from Lands End) was pretty packed with rosy faces & cold toes as we raced towards those rolling waves to start the day splashing about, all with good company, of course.
The rest of the essentials for the day already prepared, there was little left to do except dry off, drink hot tea & eat. As a lover of good food, I enjoy the simplicity of a good roast with lots of colourful veg to accompany it. I could tell you a good story of a wild meal, but in all honesty, for this day I'm on holiday, want to think as little as possible about food & just allow it to happen.
However, I had put my creativity together in the form of gifts & brought out some wild ingredients to invent new chocolate recipes. For weeks I'd been thinking about combinations that would excite & please. Who in my family likes richness, who needs to watch there blood sugar levels & who prefers a savoury twist. Of course, its impossible to please everyone, though the fun for me is in the creating & the making.
I created 8 recipes in all, some wild, some not, some rich & dark (I'm a Green & Black's fan myself) & some with raw cacao & agave syrup (far richer in minerals & with less of a caffeine hit - though still chocolate!). Cinnamon, fruit, Cornish sea salt, nuts & vanilla all featured & for the wild ones; laced with sloe vodka of course, & a white chocolate with dried blackberries in (good for children if you want to reduce the risk of too much hyperactivity).
The verdict? Well the large box of chocolates is being taken to family tomorrow & I'll see which ones disappear first & let you know! Its a time a year for many things & for me, there's definitely a place for good, indulgent chocolate, especially handmade. Wishing you all a joyous festive season & here's a couple of recipes to be going on with. x
White Chocolate with dehydrated wild blackberries - goes like raisins, though with more seeds/texture!
Last year's sloes had been soaking in vodka for 12 months, de-stone & chop them, add a couple of tablespoons of the sloe vodka & stir into the melted chocolate. And one image of the final box of chocs! Most of them I've tasted, of course, so I'm quite confident about the results!
Unique Island Foraging
Really, like nowhere else.
Sudi Pigott, food journalist and author compared Gourmet Foraging and Dining on Scilly to an experience at Noma - Rene Redzepi's Copenhagen restaurant, which, at least twice has won best restaurant in the world awards (S. Pellegrino 50). Noma specialises in using foraged and seasonal produce and has a world renown reputation.
According to Sudi, we were on a level with Noma (Daily Express, 2011).
Travelling to the Isles of Scilly always feels magical to me. I couldn't get much closer really (well not much) and still live on the mainland. The Scillonian ferry is 10 minutes walk away from my house, and standing in the right place I could watch the boat leave and return daily, in season.
Foraging can appeal to such a wide reach of people, from foodies to wildlife enthusiasts, and Scilly really is the perfect environment for it. A series of islands, low population numbers and a priority for wildlife including birds, plants and sea life, plus a distinct lack of cars and motor vehicles is ideal for foraging to flourish in the clean air and land. Indeed, foraging has happened a-plenty in Scilly in the past, piles of empty limpet shells on (the now uninhabited island of Samson) pays testament to that.
(The Foragers: Hell Bay Gourmet Foraging and Dining Break, Isles of Scilly)
And what about now? Like elsewhere in the UK, foraging has largely been forgotten, and the Coop (the largest food shop on Scilly) is perhaps an over-used substitute for the wild stuff. Local foods are still used though, when available. Though I can't help casting my eye across all those beautiful fresh ingredients, forgotten in the hedgerow, fields and coastline.
When I first approach Hell Bay with the idea of doing gourmet foraging events, I wanted the best. The best chef, environment and eating experience that would allow the wild ingredients to really be appreciated for what they are - special. Special, abundant and worth rediscovering.
Our group of enthusiast guests, felt similarly (I hoped), and joined me for 3 days, 3 islands, 3 walks and 3, 5 course gourmet dinners - including the ingredients we'd foraged during the day. Travelling from various areas of the UK, foraging became our common ground, oh, and discussions about the hotel's enviable art collection.
We may not have looked like foragers, though looks aren't everything, and in a way, foraging was just the medium we used - the chosen lense to appreciate the islands and the natural abundance they had to offer. Indeed, both people's adventurous spirits, and the wild plants themselves came up trumps, my favourite being when we focused on the seashore...
Foraging for seaweeds is tide dependent and on the islands it is also dependent on the times of the boats. On our final day of foraging we got the boat to St Martins island. A sensitive juggling; this wasn't the first time we'd got dropped at the opposite end of the island to expected and planned for! A low tide is perfect for seaweed foraging, though not for mooring boats - oh well, we got to the island, were wellied up, well some of us, while others dared it with bare feet or trainers. Thankfully the coastline of St Martins came up with the goods.
It amazes me that pottering around just one collection of rocks enabled us to forage for a wide range of seaweeds to accompany our dinner.
I had a 'shopping list' of 7 seaweeds, which we snipped off with scissors and took, happily back to the hotel kitchen. Idyll memories of aisles of sandy beaches, rock pools, paddling expeditions and a little clambering, looking under kelp forests and getting faces up close to the splish, sploshing water around us. Those who chose to, watched from a distance, enjoying the sun while the wellied ones paddled out to find the freshest finds. We laid out are proud findings on the rocks (who ever took photos - I'd love a copy!) before revising their names and bundling them into our baskets before heading off to lunch.
The evening's menu was always greeted with satisfying ooohs and aaahs - all the excitment you would expect from a special dinner party. I love that part - although we forage together, I like to keep the evening's menu a surprise. It's like revealing a new painting - we've worked creatively behind the scenes - myself helping design the menu and advise processes, then leaving the chefs to use their talents and skills to create 5 bespoke courses with a range of colours, textures and visual arrangements. Like art, food comes down to personal taste, though the variety and skill seemded to be enough to please everyone...
Some dishes were a hit, while others had a mixed response that might be expected from more experimental cuisine. Personally, Sea Spaghetti (Spaghetti-like seaweed) with Grilled Turbot and pangretta with sea lettuce, followed by Rice Pudding with crystalised Alexander stems were hits with me. Though some disagreed! Other's loved the hogweed seed biscuits that accompanied Cornish cheeses - for me, I was completely satisfied already and had no room for anymore. All created within the style and quality you expect at Hell Bay.
Unique Scilly foraging it is.
I could list all the dishes of each evening, though just as a taster, here's the menu we enjoyed on our second evening after foraging on the Island of Tresco and an afternoon free to enjoy the Tresco Abbey Gardens.
- Sorrel & Wall Oxalis Soup
- Fennel Tempura Fillet of Hake, dressed White Crab Meat, steamed Rock Samphire,
- Pan roasted fillet of Venison, Nettle Gnoochi, Frosted Orache, Three-cornered Leek puree, Chocolate & Yarrow Jus.
- Gorse Flower Creme Brulee with Blackberry Leaf Sorbet
- Cornish Cheeses with Hogweed & Alexander Seeded Biscuits
I offer bespoke foraging experiences on the Isles of Scilly, my availability is limited, and especially limited in high-season when the chefs are exceptionally busy. Luckily, foraging is best in early spring and autumn - do bear this inmind if you'd like to experience the wild side of these beautiful islands.
Having watched spring slowly arrive over winter, in the last few weeks it has speeded up & fully arrived in all its glory. I love spring, perhaps because it's the season I was born, or maybe because of those lovely bouncy baby lambs in the fields... Then there's the increase of day light & all the spring foraging to enjoy too. An abundance of smells, tastes, textures & goodness - all oozing with vitamins & minerals. Basically a multitude of reasons to have a spring in my step & that madness of energy that's associated with this time of year.
Teaching foraging is largely seasonal, mainly because people want to forage to certain times of year, rather than there being a lack of plants during the winter months. As my season starts of kick off, my days feel fuller - bookings, organising & planning. At the end of the day there's nothing fresher for me than to take a walk, get away from the computer & amble along, lazily picking as I go. It's relaxing, valuable time-out, all with a flavour of spring madness of the plants I have to choose from as I walk.
Ooooh, what catches my eye today? So much to choose from. Today I chose just a few spring greens for supper - nettles, cleavers, & tri-cornered leek for soup. Chickweed & yarrow for frittata. I could go on about the bounty to enjoy, though really I just want to sit & eat, then do it all again tomorrow! Wishing you wonderful spring foraging - this really is the time to go mad out there & forage to your hearts content.
Shopping down the supermarket aisle? Not for me, in spring all my greens come from the hedgerow.