FORAGING FOR WILD FOOD WITH HUNTER GATHER COOK
A few weeks ago we went along to Wilderness Festival in Cornbury Park, Oxfordshire. One of the really unique things about this four day festival is the number of new and unusual activities you can try your hand at alongside taking in all of the music and entertainment during your long weekend in the countryside. From archery, wild swimming, wood carving, hot yoga - you name it, they quite probably have it on offer and ready and waiting for you to take part.
One such activity that we decided to get involved in was an afternoon of foraging for wild food followed by wild canapes and cocktails in the woods. An afternoon organised by the team from East Sussex based company Hunter Gather Cook. Such a unique experience and a great way to spend time out in the fresh air, shaking off the stress of daily life. So I thought I'd share a few photos and a little bit about our experience here on the blog today.
Before I get started a little warning here I guess. One thing we learnt very quickly during this mini adventure was that there are a great deal of dangerous plants and other nasties out there that can do you a lot of harm, and I don't mean just make you a bit sick, I mean really nasty harm. So just a quick note - before you take yourself off outside and start picking wild flowers and mushrooms to add to your evening meal, make sure you take time to learn from an expert about exactly what you might be taking home with you. You really don't want to make a mistake when it comes to eating things found out in the wild - trust me!
The afternoon was spent with our foraging guide Elliot as he took us on a tour of beautiful Cornbury Park and pointed out an array of plants, trees and other wild goodies that I'd never before noticed even though I've spent many years walking my dog around many different country spots. I certainly didn't know that so much could actually be eaten. From hazelnuts, burdock, nettles, spearmint - all sorts of wonders just at our feet or happily hanging above our heads.
Whilst a two hour beginners tour and introduction to foraging does not an expert make, I did learn some fascinating facts that I'd never previously have known. Things like all plants within the mint family have square stems. Now the amount of times I've picked this from the garden and added it to my new potatoes without noticing that fact I can't tell you. Next time you pick up a sprig of mint have a feel - it's totally square, such an odd little quirk of nature! For some reason I was also fascinated to learn that the peanut comes from the pea family. Pretty much nothing to do with nuts even though it's in the name. It actually grows underground and is considered a legume. Who knew!
Nature is endlessly fascinating and this short but really informative introduction demonstrated just how much there is out there to learn. I can certainly see why people find foraging so interesting and how it can become a lifelong past-time and learning experience. It's also such a great way to get out and about, keep active and take in some much needed fresh air and peace and quiet. A brilliant break from the usual hectic routine.
As our two hour expedition came to an end we headed back to the woodland alcove where the team had set up an off grid kitchen and had been busily preparing us an array of wild canapes to tickle our tastebuds. Plus a bramble cocktail to which we added our foraged spearmint to give it a final flourish! With a little music, some fresh nibbles and a cocktail in hand, the afternoon concluded with an atmospheric cocktail party in the woods as we digested everything we'd learnt on our sunny exploration of the English countryside.
If you're looking for a new activity to get you out in the fresh air and exploring then foraging could well be worth a try. I'd highly recommend giving it a go. Just (as mentioned above) make sure you go with someone who truly knows what they're doing as you get started! Hunter Gather Cook run regular seasonal courses at their East Sussex site and would certainly be a great place to start if you're tempted to give it a go.