For those who know me, you will know that I don’t really eat to live, it’s more that I live to eat. With my love of food, comes a love of cooking, baking, eating out and watching Great British Menu. In a previous season of GBM, one of the featured chefs would head out foraging each day and use what he found in the menu for his restaurant. How very twee I thought, then dismissed the idea because a) I have rocks to climb and it’s much easier to just go and buy a labelled bag of something at the supermarket and b) I’m fairly hopeless with plants and don’t want to die. That was in 2018 and little did I know that Spring 2020 would bring a temporary halt to my climbing career.
Fast forward to now and the nation is in “Lockdown”. That is, we’re only allowed out for very specific reasons, one of which is daily exercise. I have been using this to run, cycle or walk, depending which bit of me hurt the most, around the local area and am very lucky to have large green spaces on my doorstep. On a recent run, as I was taking in the splendour of the carpet of bluebells extending in all directions, it suddenly occurred to me that I now had the time to actually pursue the idea of foraging a bit more.
Having decided that reason a) above no longer applied, but that reason b) was still very much valid, I took to my beloved Google and also downloaded an app to help me identify some of the local flora. Over the next few excursions I used a combination of the above along with my less -terrible-than-expected existing knowledge to spot a variety of plants which are unlikely to be mistaken for anything poisonous.
Feeling buoyed by my initial success, I returned a few days later armed with a Tupperware. Just kidding, I don’t own actual Tupperware, it was a washed and reused takeaway container. Waste not, want not. Within a few minutes, I had located a thicket of brambles (Rubus fruticosus, for those who love a name they can’t pronounce) and was happily picking off some of the young leaves to stash in my not‑Tupperware. After gathering a few leaves, I left the rest of the plants alone, not wanting to ruin the chances of a fine crop of blackberries later in the year.
Back home, after a thorough rinse (the area is very popular with dog walkers…), I was ready to make some Bramble Leaf Tea. Not exactly Masterchef material, I know, but it is supposed to be rich in vitamin C and antioxidants and I’ve been absolutely caning the Easter Chocolate recently. A few shredded leaves and some hot water later, I waited anxiously, wondering if perhaps I should have just had a cup of Yorkshire tea and not been such a bloody hippy. To my surprise, the result was actually pleasant so the remaining leaves were washed and put away in the fridge for more herbal, smug goodness later in the evening.
Another plant that I had noticed in abundance on my “travels” around the bridleways of Halton was Garlic Mustard, or Jack-in-the-Hedge (Alliaria petiolata). The leaves can be used as a herb in soups, dressings and casseroles but having recently managed to acquire a rare delicacy of 2020 (pasta) I had my sights set on it as it can also be used to make pesto. The problem with leaves of course is that you need rather a lot of them to make anything with so over the course of several days, I set to collecting the required ingredients for my pesto.
Having acquired plenty of garlic mustard, I blended it with garlic, oil, parmesan and pine nuts to make my pesto. How wholesome! As the internet warned me, the resulting mulch was rather bitter, but that’s probably fixable with some extra cheese, because, let’s face it, everything is fixed with extra cheese. At the time of writing, I have not yet gotten round to making a pasta dish, but it is on my to-do list. Since I was a little gung ho in my foraging, we had plenty of garlic mustard left over and in the spirit of not wasting things I sautéed it with butter and we had it as a side dish with dinner that evening. It turns out I am a domestic goddess as well as an accomplished hunter gatherer.
So far, I’ve been enjoying my foray into foraging, although I will admit that you do look like a bit of a pillock when you’re stood jamming leaves into a box at the side of a golf course. In spite of the perplexed/mildly disapproving looks from passers-by, I have already been on a few reconnaissance missions to find the local Elder bushes in time for mid-May. I feel like a homemade elderflower cordial would be a delightful accompaniment to gin, and if that isn’t a good excuse to get judged by random strangers, then, frankly, I don’t know what is!