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Thursday, 7 May 2009

Wild food foraging - research trip

I spent a fascinating couple of hours today up at Henham Park, 3800 acres of parkland best known as the setting for the Latitude Festival, Suffolk's answer to Glastonbury and home of the charming and laid back Hektor Rous. But there's more to Henham than music and comedy - it's a wild food forager's paradise.

I was with Jacky Sutton-Adam, wild foraging expert (and fellow food blogger) to survey the best spots for Food Safari's upcoming Wild Food in a Day on 6 June which she will be leading. Jacky has been for
aging seriously since 2004 and as we walked through the fields and woods, we talked about the role wild food can play in a healthy diet but also in bringing a whole new level of interest to simply being outdoors.

As we approached the lake Jacky enthused about what she sees as the 'premier league' of wild foods which are great to eat, good for you and by a stroke of natural fortune, abundant in Britain. These include nettles and dandelions which have outstanding antioxidant qualities and but also fat hen - a delicious alternative to spinach and chickweed.

Finding th
e perfect spot for a Food Safari's foray is harder than I'd expected - we were looking for a concentration of lots of interesting edible plants in a compact area to allow maximum gathering time. Finally close to The Stables, Henham's luxury b&b, Jacky spotted a particularly promising looking area of meadow. With a triumphant "I'll get my shears" Jacky headed off.

She ident
ified at least 10 edible plants within about 15 minutes, some of which we tasted although Jacky advocated that in most cases it's better to take things home and cook with them than eat them raw. I can testify to this! We've been experimenting with some wild foraging of our own this spring around Framlingham, including alexanders which are related to celery and lovage. My husband enjoys eating the stems raw but the rest of us are more sceptical - apparently they are good cooked like asparagus. Jacky explained that by late summer the dry black seeds can also be used as a seasoning.

Later, over lunch with Mark Dorber at the Anchor in Walberswick we discussed the wild food menu to be served after the forage. There were lots of ideas including teaming mackerel with alexanders, making
a fresh pasta dough with cooked nettles to add colour and flavour and elderflower panna cotta. There was real excitement about the possibilities especially because the nature of wild foraging is that what we find on the 6th June will be unpredictable!

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