If you’re anything like me, you just love getting something for nothing. Especially when you can eat it. So foraging is particularly satisfying. And it can be done within walking distance of Tayport, which makes what you gather not only free but low-carbon. I recently went for a two-hour walk around Tayport and came across the following ‘wild food’: Cherries, Raspberries (red and golden), Watercress, Gooseberries (yellow and red), Elderflowers and Chanterelles. Later in the year there should be Blackberries, Elderberries, Rosehips and Sloes. But foraging can be overdone, so I limit what I pick and I’m certainly not going to give away the location of my favourite spots! You’ll just have to find them for yourselves. But, assuming you do, here are some of my favourite things to cook with the ‘wild food’ that you can gather locally.
Chanterelles are in season now (late July/early August) and after the recent wet spell there are quite a few around. A health warning, though – they can be confused with false chanterelles which are unpleasant and (depending on which book you read) poisonous. However, assuming you’ve identified the correct thing, prise them carefully from the moss/grass and immediately give them a clean by cutting off the ‘root’ and brushing away any dirt/insects with a soft pastry brush. A mushroom knife, which has a brush attached, is a useful tool for the forager. Pick them responsibly by choosing only a few of the best specimens from any one patch and leaving the little ones to grow on. Ideally, they should be collected in a wicker basket so that the spores fall out to start new patches for future years.
Once home, clean them more thoroughly with a brush and damp sponge but don’t wash them. Slice and fry them quickly in butter. They generate quite a bit of liquid, so once they’re cooked (a few minutes) scoop them out and boil the liquid down. Add a little cream, boil until it’s thick, add the chanterelles and pile them into a chive omelette. Or add a lot of cream and pour the resulting chanterelle sauce over tagliatelle (or other pasta) to which you’ve added one or more courgettes (from the garden) sliced thinly lengthwise on a mandolin and fried in butter until soft. A little chopped tarragon makes a stylish addition.
Gooseberries. I’m not that fond of gooseberries but I can put up with anything if it’s free. And I needed to make a pectin-rich extract to help my strawberry jam to set so went out to collect a kilo or so from a nettle and goose-grass infested hedgerow near Tayport. The left-over extract made wonderful jelly and I open-froze the rest of the berries to make gooseberry crumble or fool later in the year. I also used some of the fruit in gooseberry and coconut cake, which was really yummy. You don’t need to use coconut yoghurt – plain is fine, but the cake is delicious served warm as a pudding with coconut yoghurt and a little gooseberry compote on the side. Also, I didn’t like the topping in this recipe so I just melted a little gooseberry jelly and brushed it over the cake when it was still warm then sprinkled it with toasted coconut. Much easier and nicer.
I’ll be off to pick raspberries in the next week for raspberry vinegar, raspberry gin and possibly raspberry jam if I can find enough. And I’m looking forward to the blackberry season. 2015 looks as if it might be a bumper year. If you’re interested in cooking foraged foods, then ‘Fruits of the Forest’ is a great book. It has lots of ideas of what you can collect and what to do with it. So get out there and get in touch with your inner hunter-gatherer. But, please, not on my patch …