We have a brand spanking new website at:
Please drop by and check out who we are, what we do and our epic courses for 2013!
We have a brand spanking new website at:
Please drop by and check out who we are, what we do and our epic courses for 2013!
Posted at 11:46 AM in Adventures, Curing & Preserving, Fish & Fishing, France: A Year in Providence, Homebrewing, Meat & Game , Mushrooms, Press, Recipes, The Treehouse Diaries, Useful Products, Vegetables, Wild Berries, Wild Camping, Wild Greens | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
Tags: Foraging Courses Sussex, Foraging Courses UK, wild food courses., Wild food school, www.huntergathercook.com
After flying into Addis Ababa late in the evening, I arrived to a refreshingly cold ‘St. George’ beer and my accommodation which was better than some of the places I’ve lived (treehouse, cow shed, desert island etc.), I was out like a light.
Up early the next morning, I got a crash course in Ethiopian Date & Time settings: So, It’s 2005 here- I’m 7 years younger. Also, there are 13 months in a year and each month is exactly 30 days long, except the 13th, which only lasts 5 days. Finally, the hours in a day are slightly perplexing to say the least: an hour after sunrise its 1 o’clock and so on throughout the day till sundown…
Day 1 saw us head 6 hours north to the Antsokia Valley. Those of you who remember the devastating famine of 1984, will be familiar with the area. Antsokia was one of the worst affected areas and many of the news reports and images of food drops were from here. The drive up was a flickr stream of Ethiopia drive-by snapshots- getting the feel of a place as they whizz past the window. Euculyptus trees, euculyptus scaffolding, eucalyptus timber frames, thatched roofs and beasts of burden- donkeys & camels. My eyes were glued to the window for most of the journey. My first thoughts on what I was seeing was that this was how England used to be some time ago and knowing what it has become, probably still should be.
We eventually arrived in the town of kimbolcha our base for the next few days. Whilst in Antsokia we were due to visit a number of Area Development Programmes (ADP’s) set up and run by World Vision. What has happened here in the past 30 years is quite astounding. Firstly, this is Development on a grand scale- NOT aid and has been played out in 3 distinct phases:
Phase 1: Relief (1984-85)- Food drops, Feeding centres and emergency health care. Around 4m people affected.
Phase 2: Rehabilitation (1986-89)- Infrastructure, Agriculrural development and child sponsorship.
Phase 3: Development (1990- present)- Livability, sustainable incomes and phase out of ADP’s.
Some of the projects we have visited have included irrigation schemes, Fruit farms and Dairy farms. This is not on the vast scale that you would expect in the UK, but smaller cottage industries: smallholders in the real sense and not some H E Bates fantasy realized by a city dweller. The people here have grafted hard with the unfaltering support of World Vision to turn Antsokia from a dust bowl into a fruitful, fertile Oasis.
Follow us on Twitter using the Hashtag #foodfrontline.
People are amazing creatures. All individuals, all slightly tweaked versions of one another, yet all drawn to different things as we grow up. As kids we’re pretty much the same, easily pleased by similar things, yet as we grow we start to become different, interests develop, pastimes are forged, firm friends are made, experiences are had and you start feeling the things your parents used to talk about called ‘draughts’ (not the game), but that’s only one side of the coin.
On the flipside is the other person that is developing: the ‘professional side’. Be it school, college or university, there's always a goal in place for you. I still remember when I did my ISCO test I got career options such as tree surgery, jewelry design, graphic design and armed forces. Mainly because I was interested in making stuff and the outdoors, accuracy at its best- I can almost hear David Cameron reading me the results.
Many of us follow down the route that has become common place over the last 80 years, the so-called normal life: 9-5 job in a obscure occupation suggested when you were 17, or one you fell into because you didn’t have a clue what you really wanted to do at the time. Married at 30, kids at 32, buy a house and live out the days doing the same thing everyday.
Us lucky people, the choices, the opportunities and the double life.
A few years back I opted out, I hadn’t figured out what I wanted to do and what I was doing was repetitive and dull. I wanted to do my own thing, so I settled for the woods, a treehouse and the simple life of a hunter-gatherer for six months, with very little idea where it would take me. Living off about £8 a week on staples, foraging, hunting and growing veggies to make ends meet and with a bartery deal of occasional farmhand work for the land use, I became a free man.
That’s not to say I’m into all that crusty, hippy commune bollocks. It’s not really, like…my bag, man. But what that experience taught me is that there are, as there always have been, four main ingredients to life: food, water, shelter, fire. If you have all those then you are living. We fill our lives with a lot of things we don’t really need (yes I have an iphone- because they’re like a Swiss army knife- useful), but how attached to these things do you need to become beyond using it as a tool and means of communication?
This isn’t a hard hitting post about how fortunate we are in the UK and how less fortunate they might in my next destination. The thought of Ethiopia conjures up one thought from my past- food, and the lack of it. I was two years old when the famine hit the country big time. So what’s it like thirty years later and how have things changed?
I don’t tend to hit up London much these days, when I do it is always a fleeting visit before heading back to the sticks, but one thing I can imagine is that I’ll be bumping into a lot more cheerful folk than I would on the London underground. In my experience of visiting places in Africa and the South Pacific in the past, people who have less are often happier. Their lives aren’t as cluttered with the unnecessary rubbish that we in the UK like to fill it with.
Talking of luck, World Vision UK have very kindly invited me out to see what has happened in Ethiopia 30 years later. I will be spending a week or so visiting some of the organisation's ADPs (Area Development Programs) this month. From projects around the capital Addis Ababa, heading north to the Antsokia valley and south to Lake Assawa. Having downsized myself a few years back a vast step beyond the idyll of Whipping-tool’s ‘River Cottage’ series, I’m eager to see how these people live, how they cook, what they eat and how they produce it, what they do for meat? I’ve heard rumours that hunting and gathering is not an option in Ethiopia, from a legal point of view. So beyond an agricultural or pastoral existence- what options are open to the people of Ethiopia?
I’m sure there’s going to be some epic things to see, some great people to meet and some fine experiences to be had. Myself and two other writers will be reporting back what we see- Helen Graves of foodstories.com and Jo Middleton of slummysinglemummy.com
I’ve travelled a bit and I’ve been to some places and seen some stuff. I have also had my reservations about NGO’s, being a keen reader of Paul Theroux’s books, he paints the picture that they all drive around in big white 4x4’s and are responsible for creating a circle of dependence from giving aid. But that is simply one man’s opinion. I get to see it for real and pass my own judgement- not just from something I’ve read by a man I don’t know. World Vision run a very different scheme- Child sponsorship, an entirely different model. What I am there to write about is their 'Enough food food for everyone IF' campaign which is a collaboration of a variety of charities and organisation that are aiming to end the world hunger crisis.
I know what its like to be hungry, thanks to 3 months on a desert island with Channel 4 and living as a caveman for a week for Reader's Digest, but certainly not to the extent that the people of Ethiopia have in the past.
But I suppose what this all comes back to is food. Here, we live in a world where foraging is an ‘option’, Thrift is a mindset that’s tough to get into for some, buying ‘organic’ vegetables from expensive farmers markets simply because they still have a bit of dirt on them has become fashionable. It’s ridiculous, but the worst thing is, deep down, we know it.
When did our lives become like they are? A slave to the system of working in order to buy the food we need to survive (yes, I use the supermarket- can’t deny, but I still haven’t cracked the ‘secret’ recipe for Lea & Perrin’s and rice doesn’t really grow that well in Sussex). Back to the coin and its flipside, I do forage a lot of my food, shoot it, hook it and grow it- mainly because its fresh, I know where its come from and above all its pretty much free. And that makes me happy. I’m not a rich man, not by a long shot, but happiness can be found in the most unlikely of places.
I don’t know what I can expect, but I hear world vision have been doing some pretty impressive stuff out there, their sponsor a child program hits at a grass roots level and helps give many children the chance a lot of us have taken for granted. Education can lead to many things and hopefully an ISCO test isn’t one of them!
So we shall see what the next week produces- I hope to be doing live updates every day whilst I am out there with plenty of photos for you good people to see. Check-in same time tomorrow…
One of the good things about living in France is that you can buy Rabbit in the supermarket, the bad thing is, they ain’t cheap. Back in the UK, I never have to fork out for Rabbits, simply take out the gun and bring back a brace o’coneys. In France I don’t have a gun, let alone land to shoot on and even if I did, there are no bunnies running around the sandy fields of Landes, because trigger-happy hungry Frenchies have already shot them all.
Rather than potting (see potted rabbit post here), pan-frying and stewing Rabbits, a regular occurrence at Hunter Gather Cook HQ, dainty little canapés are rarely served, something that is due to change this year. Secret Productions have asked the HGC team to come to Wilderness Festival in the Cotswolds to have a woodland lounge serving wild canapés and wild cocktails after teaching deer butchery sessions and conducting foraging walks. I can guarantee that this little beauty will certainly make the cut!
Bitesize Bunny: I love it when they just jump into the basket...
Last September, the Mrs and I tied the knot in deepest darkest Sussex. Naturally, the whole event was a largely bucolic affair in the corner of a field with tents, tipis, hog roasts, hay bales and some fancy cocktails. Wild food and foraged fare was the main theme on the menu, but as I was in the process of getting hitched and my instructors were guests- who do you get to do the catering and do it well?
Dapper: One of the rare occasions I wear a suit.
Fortunately, we were recommended an excellent Sussex based caterer: Sarah Litchfield of Elm Green, who not only took up the challenge of a wild food menu for the day but delivered an excellent feast. Our list of canapés that were drawn up included the deconstructed Rabbit Caesar salad and it was a firm favourite with many of the guests, some who had never tried Rabbit before…
For the Rabbit:
For the Caesar Salad Dressing:
First deal with the rabbit. They will need to be cooked in a court bouillon for 1 ½ hours so the meat will flake off the bone, 2 hours is too long, you want the meat to still have a fair amount of hold so they can be made into goujons.
Now make the dressing. This certainly isn’t the purest of dressing, we use shop bought mayo as we don’t have anywhere to plug the kitchen aid in at our off-grid kitchen in the woods. Now for a good little tip: If you can, try to keep a bulb of garlic in the freezer to take out with you in the field, below 0˚C garlic cells denature and become a lot less fierce. Finely chop the garlic and anchovies and mix up in a bowl with the rest of the dressing ingredients, at this point taste, season and add a little water to thin the dressing down.
Once you have all your rabbit pieces, lay out three plates: one with seasoned flour, one with a whisked egg and one with breadcrumbs. Dip and roll your rabbit pieces in each in the above order and ensure a thorough coating all over and then place to one side.
Heat up a frying pan with a good glug of cooking oil in it, dip in one end of the rabbit goujons to see if it starts to fry, if so, you are ready to cook- place in all the goujons and fry until lightly golden, flip them over and repeat. Remove and place on a paper towel.
Take a couple of heads of little gem lettuce and break off all the leaves and wash well. You are now ready to plate up on the platter of your choice. The nice thing about this canapé is the DIY-ness of it all, a bit like when you get one of those hot stones in a restaurant and pay an arm and a leg to cook your own meal. Grab a rabbit goujon, dip in the dressing and then place it in a little gem leaf. Eat. Then repeat...and repeat again.
So what does a Hunter-Gatherer's Wedding look like? Mostly homemade...
If the first wild plant most of us learn as children is the stinging nettle, then the second one would have to be dock, an equally common plant always found in abundance. It seems unclear whether the dock really does cure a sting…is it the placebo effect? Is it that dock sap contains alkaline that will counteract against the formic acid? Is it the saliva mixed with the dock after chewing and then applied to the stung area that helps? They grow together, so they must go together?
Dock is part of the dock family and another rumex, Oxalic acid is largely abundant- no sign of alkaloids at all. Apparently they do contain antihistamine, which counteracts the natural histamines found in the nettle…but hey, I’m not a botanist. I’m like…a cook, man. (but I will say plantain beats a dock on a sting hands down). One thing I am sure many of you will agree with me on if you have ever had the pleasure of being caught short in the great outdoors sans loo paper, is that it makes a pretty good substitute. The veins on the underside of the leaves are very good at…actually, I won’t elaborate.
So we all know what dock looks like, but more importantly: can it be eaten?
In short, yes, it can. It does come with a list of warnings that the usual list of plants containing oxalic acid do: do not eat if you have poor kidney function or are in ill health. The toxic component is calcium oxalate (also found in taro, kiwi fruit , tea and rhubarb), these needle shaped crystals which can cause irritation to the skin, mouth throat and lead to stomach upset.
Still want to eat dock?
The needle shaped crystals of calcium oxalate is also known as Rhaphides, they can’t normally be destroyed by boiling, but heating them does ‘fix’ the Raphides into a dried starchy matrix, making them less mobile and thus: safer to eat. Phew! As I said, not a botanist, but worth knowing you’re shit if you’re going to put it in your mouth (that came out wrong).
So if that hasn’t scared you off, the key to eating dock is to BOIL IT. If you are in need of further convincing, Andy Hamilton did a recipe for the BBC Food website here.
Although Dock can be used as a spinach substitute, the firm leathery leaves are still robust enough to be used for parceling your food of choice even after boiling.Think of them as vine leaves that grow everywhere. To render them perfectly edible, they need to be boiled twice. Heat two pans of water and add a pinch of salt. Once on a rolling boil, stick your dock leaves in the first pan and boil for 2 minutes. Remove them from the first pan and stick them in to the second pan for a further 2 minutes. Take out the leaves and dry them off on some paper towels. You are now ready to roll…
Filling is completely up to you: Rice, couscous, quinoa, rabbit, venison, horse, mince (preferably horse-free) nettle pesto cakes, the list is endless. I like to do mine with a simple Moroccan spiced couscous: pan fry some diced onion, chilli and garlic, finely chop some tomatoes, parsley and mint, make your couscous and chuck the whole lot together with some sunflower seeds, olive oil, salt, a dash of cumin and a good squeeze of lemon juice.
Origami using vegetation has never been a strong point of mine. After spending weeks on a desert island in the South pacific weaving an entire roof out of palm, my enthusiasm for such activities wore thin. But there is a knack to it with dock leaves and here’s how:
So there you have it, dock leaves can be used for more than just placating nettle stings or wiping your backside with. Not many plants have such a plethora of uses attached to their CV.
Spring Fungal Foray & Feast: Saturday 27th April.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
In the meantime, life is busy. The wife and I are moving back to the UK leaving the sun, sea and surf of SW France behind (booo!) and relocating back to good ole’ Sussex. I am then off to Ethiopia with World Vision in March to hang out with some hunter-gatherers and write about it, what an adventure!
Get docking people!
Tags: Dock Leaf recipes, foraging courses sussex, foraging courses UK, Foraging school UK, hunter gatherer school, sussex foraging school, the best foraging courses in the UK, wild food recipes., wild plant recipes
No longer are the men of today content with the “Prague, Tits & Beer” of the past, stag do’s are becoming more sophisticated (sort of…), paintball and go-karting don’t quite cut the mustard like they used to. Men want to be men and do manly stuff, collectively they want to unleash their inner caveman once unchained from the desk: they want to eat meat off the bone, they want to make fire, they want to sup a few ales and roar with laughter at each others expense. So where better to go than a Hunter-Gatherer School to let it all out?
In reality it seems that man has changed little over the last 10,000 years when it comes to the basics, some things just remain the same…
Being based only an hour from London and 20 minutes from Brighton, HGC HQ is ideally placed for those looking to experience a bit of outdoor adventure during the day and then head off to the bright lights of the city for a bit a bit of nocturnal revelry. No Stag group is the same, some have headed to Brighton, some to Eastbourne and quite a few to Lewes for some serious Ale tasting in the shadow of Lewes Cathedral (also known as the Harveys Brewery).
So what can you expect from a HGC Stag do?
Without further ado and not wanting to give the game away (a little smoke & mirrors never hurts…) here we go:
Come and join us in the woods to celebrate your staggy with a day of time-honoured manliness:
Deer butchery and Cook off
Wild food wander
Bush tucker trial
Based on the South Downs near Brighton, expect a day of great banter and hands on outdoor action. The stag will receive a special gift from the HGC team as a ‘stagmento’ from his time in the woods.
Arriving At HGC HQ at 10am for a run through the order of play: The day is designed for your group to learn the basics of self-sufficiency and put them to the test!
We begin at HQ where you will learn how to skin and butcher an entire deer for your lunch using flint tools, then skewer up the meat to cook over the fire with a selection of HGC marinades and wild taster dishes. During lunch there will be a spot of cider tasting (we provide 5 gallons of cider for the day), then it is off into the wild to identify & taste some of Mother Nature’s bounty from the hedgerows. We can also provide supper, consisting of pit roast Haunch of Venison and all the trimmings.
After walking off the deer, you will embark on a tutorial of basic fire lighting, trapping and shelter building before the bush tucker trial where the stag will have to eat his way through insects, squirrel cock, deer testicle and fish bits.
Then it is time for the HGC challenge, which only the best man (or men) are allowed to know about…
Hunter Gather Cook will unleash the hunter-gatherer within and ensure you pick up plenty of tips for your next adventure into the wild!
If you are interested in booking a Stag do with us, please get in touch and send us an email: email@example.com for more information, prices and available dates.
‘Staggy staggy stag stag.’
There’s a surprising amount of stuff out at the moment- especially down here near Biarritz. The mint that has grown so profusely in the meadow outside my front door has braved the winter well and is already begun throw up new patches, the sorrel is just as plentiful as ever and even the red dead nettle is poking out all over the place. Granted we don’t have any snow like the UK at the moment and our winters are not so harsh near the Spanish border, but the weather is perpetually shit, there is very little to do as it rains almost constantly and even worse- Frenchies don’t ‘do’ pubs. Not even in the countryside. The warm beer of my motherland has never been so missed.
Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) is perhaps one of the most adventurous of all wild plants, in the sense that it can be found almost anywhere and is seriously invasive. Often it’s the back garden, flowerbeds and anywhere that man has disturbed the ground that will yield a good crop. You are more likely to find bittercress growing out of a crack in the pavement on the streets of London, than in a field in the countryside.
The plant itself grows in small rosettes that are easy to harvest- simply pinch the plant out of the ground and slice off the muddy root. The leaves have the typical cress-style look and small white flowers that can be seen reaching for the skies between February and September. The flavour has the peppery hit you would expect from rocket, indeed if you wish to up the stakes you can reach for Hairy Bittercress’ cousin: Cardamine pratensis also known as Lady’s Smock or Cuckoo flower (not to be confused with the name cuckoo pint/lords and ladies which is poisonous). Lady’s smock really does pack a punch, indeed it is an acquired taste with the power of horseradish…I have seen more people spit it out on courses than reach for another leaf.
As with many wild foods how we use them makes all the difference, the majority are best in their natural state and quite often don’t need cooking at all. Understanding what they work best with in terms of more common larder ingredients is an important skill for the 21st century hunter-gatherer. These days we are so lucky to have amazing ingredients from all around the world readily available to us. The internet is chock full of millions of recipes at our fingertips only a click away. Often the best way to begin when experimenting wild foods is to really taste the plant your dealing with and think of what it tastes similar to, then find a recipe that you think will showcase it well and make the substitution for the wildling.
This is partly why this blog has always featured more than just wild food, I have more cookbooks than is probably necessary and I rarely cook any recipes from them, but they are an invaluable resource for inspiration and ideas. Cookbooks should always have pictures to accompany the recipes- I want to try before I buy, I want to picture the end result and see if I like the look of it. The same cannot be said for restaurants, but then how many of you have had a cursory mooch around the room checking out what other diners are chowing down on? Thought so.
Of course this doesn’t always go to plan, I have had some epic disasters, but that’s all part of the learning curve. One recent exploration was pickling sorrel, I wouldn’t say it was a colossal balls up, more of sensory overload infliction to the palate: the sharpness of the oxalic acid combined with pickling fluid was enough to give you heartburn at 40 paces. However, left to marry and mingle with the Indian spiced pickling fluid for a few weeks and the result was quite a revelation!
Badass pickled Sorrel.
Experimentation is key. Playing with your wild food cannot be stressed enough. The most common wild food recipes you will come across will be elderflower cordial (can’t complain) and the quite repugnant wild garlic pesto. Granted wild garlic can be used in pesto, but mellow it out with other wild ingredients, rather than one big hit- all you will taste and smell of for the next few days is garlic! This illustrates the point perfectly, learn to use your wild food correctly and you will be off to a flying start.
Bittercress has always been something I have added to my Wild stinger nettle pesto for pepperiness and in the same way you can make rocket pesto, this is the wild version. Bittercress doesn’t tend to last very well once plucked from the earth and has a tendency to wilt and shrivel up, so this way you can increase its longevity indefinitely.
Please note, the original recipe for Pesto from Genoa never contained pine nuts, so neither does mine…but feel free to add them if you wish.
15 rosettes of Hairy bittercress.
2-3 TBSP good quality Olive oil
1 garlic clove
Small handful of grated Parmesan
A few twists of salt and pepper
1/2 tsp of sugar
A good squeeze of lemon juice
Firstly, clip the bottom of the rosettes off and place the bittercress in a bowl of water, give it a good swish about to remove any dirt/soil/sand. Remove and drain in a colander.
Heat up a small frying pan, take your clove of garlic and bounce it around the pan for a bit- this will help make it less pungent, alternatively if you stick a few bulbs in the freezer this will have the same effect.
Put all ingredients in a blender with half the olive oil and whizz in short bursts, add a bit more olive oil as you go until you have the desired thickness and texture.
I don’t think I need to tell you how to use pesto…
Weekend whittle: you don't always have to shoot an Deer to get a set of antlers, this beast was French and called Hazel.
Please check our COURSES section for HGC 2013 courses or get in touch if you fancy a private course: firstname.lastname@example.org
We get through a fair amount of Deer at HGC HQ throughout the year, from beastly 70kg Fallow to dainty 25kg Roe. All the deer that come the the HGC kitchen are locally stalked and hung for the best part of 2 weeks before they appear on our table. In most cases its down to Ash, one of our instructors, to teach the delicate art of seam butchery with our guests. They all get stuck in be it removing the pelt, pencil fillets, backstrap, neck fillet or dissecting the haunch into a variety of fine cuts: The tender sirloin, top and bottom rounds, rump and the slightly tougher shank.
HGC instructor Ash with one peice of backstrap ready for the camp kitchen.
Butchery is an important part of what we do and making it go as far as possible is firmly engrained in the Hunter Gather Cook ethos. Once Ash has finished with his apprentices, the meat is divvied up: Dave gets a fillet to make smoked biltong, I get the pencil fillets for carpaccio, haunches are put aside for the underground oven or split into cuts, antoher fillet is marinated and put on hazel skewers and all the offcuts are minced by hand. The 2 front haunches either end up in the freezer, go to my landlord or go home in a lucky course attendees rucksack. One deer, dealt with…
One Roe deer done: the remains of the carcass in the foreground ready for roasting.
What we are left with is not necessarily going straight to our very well fed foxes and buzzards (although the buzzards are more partial to picking apart rabbit pelts on a large fallen oak), but into our stockpot for plenty of future HGC meals. It works especially well in our Jelly Ear Broth with Sorrel.
First we fire roast the bones over the hearth on a bed of Oak and hornbeam before dismantling the ribcage and placing it in the pot with all the necessary goodies to form the basis of a fine stock: the holy trinity (onions, carrots, celery), a few crushed bulbs of garlic, salt & pepper, a good slug of red wine, crushed juniper berries, a sprig of rosemary, dried Wood Avens roots and an inch of cinnamon.
Left to simmer away for the afternoon and reduce, by the end of a day course we have one hell of a stock and as most of the deer we get are virtually fat free- no need for skimming!
What we’re focusing on hear is a hearty, warming drink similar to the better known Bullshot (made using beef stock). The Buckshot is the far superior cousin and that little bit wilder. We served this wonderful concoction, a hot version of a Bloody Mary if you like, on our Fungal Foray & Feast’s back in October after a good two hour, drizzle-ridden yomp in search of ‘shrooms. By jingo did it go down well!
HGC course attendees filleting, mincing and mingling.
If you don’t happen to have a deer carcass to hand, try asking your local butcher and he might be able to get hold of some bones for you or substitute the venison stock for beef stock (then you have a bullshot). Without further ado…the buckshot:
500ml of Venison Stock (reduced)
300ml of Homemade Tomato passata
160ml of Vodka (Whisky can prove to be an interesting alternative!)
Juice of half a lemon
1 TSP Horseradish sauce
1 TSP red wine vinegar
a few drops of Tabasco (add more if it’s a cold day)
a drizzle of Worcester sauce
Salt & Pepper
Heat up the Venison stock and Tomato Passata in a saucepan, then add the rest of the ingredients and heat gently. You may wish to adjust seasonings to suit your taste, being a Tabasco addict, I like mine extra hot, but have to restrain myself when serving to guests!
Final thought- don't mess about when trying to manhandle a large deer carcass that weighs more than you into the back of a jeep. Trust me...
If you would like to take part in any of our courses for 2013, please email:
I find that the beauty of eating duck is that its a relatively guilt free experience; I spent half my childhood feeding them, so its only fair to have the favour returned.
Duck. Not only has this humble fowl enriched the lives of many across the globe, but it has even lent its name to the familiar term of ‘get down’ when in the line of fire and being out first ball (that would be cricket to the uneducated). Everyone loves duck, whether it is from Peking: crispy with lashings of hoi-sin and pancakes or dished up with an abhorrant combo of orange. Duck, duck, duck and duck: the tastiest bird I have ever tucked into (although my wife might beg to differ). Chicken? Turkey? Both bland, both white and none should really be eaten raw. So in short, disappointing fowl with very few double entendres to back it up.
It appears I have now been ‘French’ for over a year. Life in South West France is grand…in the summer. Come winter, imagine English weather, regular storms charging into the Bay of Biscay and not a warm fire and country pub in sight. These are dark days indeed messieurs-dammes and blighty beckons like you wouldn’t believe, as far as I’m concerned this is karma paying me back for bragging about beaches, surf and 30C temperatures for the last six months to my UK counterparts- no one likes a willy waver (Al Humphreys-circa 2011).
Every Brit Ex-pat who ends up in France IS a willy waver. And if you know one- tell them they are. Big time. They all like to lay claim to living in a region that produces the best this and cooks the best that. All I will say is that I live in Aquitaine so that’s: Bordeaux wines, Armagnac, Perigord truffles, Bayonne ham, and Espelette chillis. But, above all else, this is foie gras country where the duck is king.
Whether you agree with the ethics of foie gras production or not (I have noted the absence of protesting folk around these parts, but mind you I’ve never met anyone that would want to be dissected with a blunt pitch fork), Foie gras is good stuff, so is veal, badger, lamb and horse, but I don’t want to get sidetracked- this is about the bird itself, not its liver.
Here in Landes, the Frenchies have developed a cunning way to hunt their Duck. Rather than chase fowl, they sit back comfortably in a sort of ‘bunker’ and eat and drink until the duck & geese come to them. Clever. Just down the road from us is L’etang Blanc, which hosts many of these hides known as ‘Palombieres’. Traditionally a palombiere is a high-rise platform in the trees that the armed Frenchie uses for nailing pigeons, often they have cages strategically placed in the surrounding trees where they keep live decoys to help bring in the unsuspecting pigeon.
On L’etang Blanc they have just taken the same concept to water. These elaborate man-made ‘islands’ are built on stilts in the middle of the lake and camouflaged to buggery (see picture).
Many of these Palombieres have running water and electricity piped in, stoves, tv's, fridges, beds, tables and chairs. Surrounding the palombieres are lots of plastic decoys sat on the water and attached to one side of the hide are the live decoys in a cage. These are not your standard live birds, but ones which have been specifically bred for their call- they are responsible for calling in passing duck or Geese and also alerting the hunters to incoming fowl.
All the Frenchie 'Chasseur' has to do is place down his Claret, spit out the baguette, flip open the flaps in the roof and fire away at the approaching silhouettes. Most hunting is done from dusk till dawn on clear moonlit nights, hence the reason for having beds to sleep in. Well thought out indeed, these are not simply hides but an elaborate setup that takes a lot of looking after- plenty of times when I’ve been out fishing for pike I’ve seen dedicated Chasseurs rowing out to their palombieres to take care of their harem of live decoys. Good lads.
So there’s the background on how we get our duck around these parts. On to the hamming…
This recipe for duck hams is based on one I came across in Paula Wolfert’s ‘Cooking of Southwest France’ and quite a fine read it is too. The recipe is fairly standard piece of charcuterie:
2 Large duck breasts
½ cup Salt (100gs)
2 TSP of Ground black pepper
½ TSP of Herbes de Provence (or Thyme on its own work well)
2 TBSP cider or red wine vinegar
So there you have it: ham of duck. Well worth doing, especially if you haven’t delved into the world of charcuterie before. Another particularly good one is this homemade Bresaola that I did a few years back.
Adios 2012, and hello 2013, hope you all have a super New Year wherever you are and do please come and see us at Hunter Gather Cook for one of our courses next year, if you are interested in a joining us for a group day or a private day just drop us an email:
This will be the last blog post here before our brand spanking new website and branding comes online in January with a shop full of our favourite kit, all our courses and a new blog packed full of HGC Recipes.
Well, well, well, been far too long! Its been a super busy last few months for Hunter:Gather:Cook- Once a blog becomes a school and then becomes a brand, things tend to get a bit out of hand! Since our final Mushroom courses in October in our Mobile HQ (see above), we have put the school into winter hibernation and been busy dealing with the less wild and somewhat nauseating business of...well, business. Admin: new website, new branding, designing new courses (the fun bit!) and tieing up other odds and sods before getting into an exciting new year (apart from January and Febuary which I think we can all agree, are the worst two months of the year).
2013 Course Vouchers.
We have a number of group days on offer next year: Taster days, Deer in a day, Kids Camps, Smoking masterclasses, Expeditions to Scotland, Wildbrew days, Mushroom days and Coastal foraging camps. Most of our standard days cost £100.00 (Kids camps £40.00), some courses can cost up to £150.
To see what an HGC course is like please have a look at our Photo Albums of 2012's courses.
If you are looking for a day of Hunter-Gathering and fine foraged food for someone you consider special for a Christmas pressie (well, you wouldnt get it for someone you don't like would you?) Then do please email us at:
There will be some actual informative posts on the way- Being in South West France, I found a cracking recipe for Duck Hams which will be up when they've cured...
Meanwhile HGC's Sponsors- Element, have had me hard at work building stuff out of wood for them:
For over a year now I have had the pleasure of working with the largest skatebrand in the world: Element. As one of their advocates I have tought wilderness skills on their skatecamps around Europe as well as advise on all things wild when needed. Not only have they been a great brand to work with, they also kit me out in some rather fine threads: their jackets, backpacks, waterproofs, T-shirts, trousers and shoes have all been put though their paces down at HGC and even clothed the rest of the team. Just as well- bushcraft clobber is banned when it comes to staff. We are certainly the most stylish and best dressed instructors in the country!
In May a film crew came over from France to film a short video to introduce Element's Wolfboro Collection and shoes for 2012. We shot in some great locations in Sussex: Firle, Cuckmere Haven, HGC HQ and even revisited the Treehouse. I put together a rather brooding script...like, we went deep man. Below are the results, shot on a Canon c300. Enjoy!
We have a few spaces available for our Autumn 'Fungal Foray & Feast' Course if anyone is interested, drop me an email- email@example.com
Ever since I first set foot in the Pyrenees last year, albeit with a snowboard strapped to them in 4 ft of snow, I have been looking forward to summer to come around again to get up into them thar hills and explore the crystal clear mountain lakes and enjoy a spot of wild camping.
For those of you familiar with the Tour De France (yes, the one in which us Brits smashed everyone else in last week- fine work Wiggins & Co), the Col du Tourmalet is the most famous climb on the Tour, it is also the highest road (2,115m) in the Pyrenees and the area which I chose to explore. Planning a trip like this wasn’t too difficult- the internet is a wonderful thing and Google Earth is even better- being able to map out and print satellite images of your desired spot certainly helps when you find yourself up in the mountains. The only thing Google Earth won’t help you with until you find yourself in the thick of it, is the terrain which isn’t obvious from a bird’s eye perspective.
Now, the Pyrenees really don’t dick about.
It’s not easy to find people to coax up a mountain. Hiking isn’t everyone’s cup of coffee. I must admit- It’s not really mine, for me there has to be a purpose: a reason to venture off into the unknown. More often than not, that reason has scales, a penchant for worms and makes damned fine eating. Fish. The area I had picked out in the mountains, just south of the town of Bareges, had a good cluster of lakes at around 2,200m (quite high up- Ben Nevis is 1,344m) in all shapes and sizes. Perfect spot. But who would be game?
I met Dustin at Wilderness Gathering last year, when Ash and myself took HGC HQ on the road to showcase the Foraging school. Dustin runs the company www.bushcrafttools.com and specialises in Fire Pistons, which he designs and produces himself. Having recently relocated to Perpignan on the Med side of the Pyrenees and a keen brother of the Angle himself, he was the perfect companion. So, through that wonderful invention used by ex-pats across the globe, we arranged everything over Skype and planned to meet at midday on a Tuesday. The plan was to have one night in the mountains and the second night in the valley by one of the rivers. Three hours drive from the Beach and I was up near La Mongie and the Col du tourmalet. Boom.
As I’m not really one for following sport, I was surprised to learn that the Tour De France was actually passing through the very day and the very place we chose to hit the mountains. Bugger. Traffic, Gendarmerie, lycra and sweaty people creeped through the mountain passes in 30C heat. Not the best start…but eventually we made it to the start point.
Rather than regale you with tales of elation, woe, steep climbs, desperate fishing, Kamikazee sheep, cows with bells on, French folk dumping behind rocks, great banter, useful hipflasks, chopping down dead pine limbs with an axe on a cliff edge, Bushcraft discussion (apparently Ray Mears doesn’t do bushcraft anymore because its ‘too commercial’- who on earth would you hold responsible for such a thing?), contemplating rolling large boulders into mountain lakes and dodging rock falls, I’m just going to present a series of pictures….painting a thousand words and all that. The only thing I will say, and perhaps the best thing about hiking up in the Pyrenees, is not having to take any water with you: you just fill up as you go along from all the fast flowing mountain streams. Who said Evian was Naïve spelt backwards?
Dustin's Pyro Piston worked a treat. Available from www.bushcrafttools.com
If ever there was a useful wild plant that was overlooked it has to be the humble Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederecea), also known as Alehoof. When it comes to name calling- both are relevant- ground ivy because of the way in which it creeps across the ground and alehoof because the leaves are shaped like that of a horse’s hoof and the plant was used in the past to clarify and flavour beer before the introduction of hops and modern clarifying agents.
Ground Ivy is part of the mint family, incredibly common and found almost everywhere: hedgerows, woodland verges, gardens, fields and meadows. You would have to try quite hard not to find the stuff. One thing that can be confusing is the way in which it can appear in different environments: found in a field or open space where it receives plenty of sunlight, ground ivy will often grow upright with smaller more pointed leaves as opposed to rounded. The leaves themselves will also be a rusty/red/brown colour- this is largely due to over exposure to sunlight. In shaded areas such as woodland or hedgrows, ground ivy will spread itself out and creep across the ground, have broader, rounded leaves that are deep green in colour. One thing they will both have, from March to June is a purple flower at the base of the leaves, slightly orchid in appearance and quite similar to that of Bugle.
This is where multi-sensory foraging is key- Use your nose. The unmistakable strong scent of ground ivy cannot be confused with anything else: with notes of mint, thyme, sage and rosemary it is the ultimate all-herb. You don’t get many people that find the raw taste of ground ivy appealing, but then would you chow down on a sprig of rosemary? Robin Harford of Eatweeds.co.uk, turns them into fritters with a light tempura batter and finds them more than agreeable.
In medieval times, ground ivy was used to stuff and flavour haunches of meat- being plentiful and readily available for most of the year it was a free alternative to cultivated herbs. And that’s largely how we use it down at Hunter:Gather:Cook HQ- Either dried as a wild rub with a few other ingredients or fresh in haunches of Venison for the underground oven. It can also be used to make a pleasant herbal tea known as ‘gill tea’ useful as a diuretic, astringent and to ease indigestion.
After a bit of inspiration from Liz Knight of Foragefinefoods.co.uk who produces her own wild rub, I thought I would showcase ground ivy as the principle ingredient and use a few old favourites from the wild larder to create my own to use at HGC school- perfect for all our meat and fish. The one thing that you will have to do is dry out most of the greenery, this can be done by simply stringing it up in the kitchen near the stove or radiator for a week or so, alternatively you can spread the greenery in a roasting tin and put it in the oven at a very low temperature overnight (with oven door ajar).
Ground Ivy wild herb rub.
(Makes one jar)
All the wild herbs were gathered bunches, enough to fill your hand in a bouquet. The pine needles must be fresh as they didn’t have as much flavour when dried-pick them off the branch and place them in a bundle before chopping finely- careful, as they have a habit of flying everywhere!
As for the Garlic and the Lemon zest- spread them in a shallow roasting tin and place them in a fan oven at 100C for about 10 minutes- just keep an eye on them to ensure they don’t burn.
The rest is simple, strip the dried leaves of the stalks and place all the ingredients in a blender before whizzing for a minute. Add seasoning and a little sugar, whizz again, adjust seasoning to your liking and place in a jar for immediate use.
Other stuff thats been going on: We still have space in August at HGC school- mostly weekdays and a few spaces left on our Book on Course on Saturday 18th August (£80.00 per person). Also had a fantastic day fishing in the Pyrenees last week- regretably no fish- still trying to break the language barrier! Mind you, they are some of the most incredible places I have been whilst out here and there is still so much to explore. Back to blighty this week for a stag do...mine this time!
Finally…out of the woods, it’s been a jam-packed fun-filled month down at Hunter:Gather:Cook with more courses in May than the whole of last year! Many has been the occasion over the last month that I have bedded down on the foraging school kitchen floor, afterall with back to back course its not worth going home- plenty of tasty leftovers to be eaten up. I wonder how many chefs have kipped on their kitchen floor sober? So Apologies for the lack of updates, but it’s been amazing to be away from the computer for so long and playing with ingredients out in the wild- back in France now so chained to the computer until later on in the week when its time to hit the foothills of the Pyrenees for some fly fishing and wild camping.
To see what’s been going on this month, please visit our facebook page for a bucket load of pictures from last month’s courses.
Some years back, whilst still a city dweller, I made Wild stinger pesto using nettles, wild garlic and a hit of hairy bittercress to add some pepperiness to the proceedings. These days the wild garlic and Bittercress have been substituted for Three cornered Leek and Lady’s smock or young horseradish leaves. Ramsons or Wild garlic is something I tend not to use so often now- I find it too overpowering even in small doses. Three-cornered leek is much less potent and has a pleasant sweetness to it. This is an ideal recipe for spring when our native wild garlics are out and the nettles are not yet flowering, although it is something that can be made throughout the summer if you find some cut back nettles banks.
As with most things that change over time, recipes are prone to evolution, the more familiar you get with an ingredient and the more books you read, things are bound to change. A big winner at HGC this spring has been our Stinger Pesto balls. They have on occasion and due to presentation, morphed into cakes- next step probably burgers and a tasty one they would make too…
Lets not mess about with tofu, soya crap and Quorn. If you do happen to be an unfortunate Vegetarian as opposed to a content omnivore- this is a recipe for you both using one of natures superfoods. Meaty as you could get without a drop of blood being spilt (although we tend to serve it with saddle of rabbit).
Wash the nettles to remove any greenfly etc, Place in a saucepan and cover with boiling water, simmer for 5-10 minutes until soft. Remove from heat, drain in a colander and run cold water through the nettles to cool them. Using your hands, squeeze all the liquid from the nettles. You will end up with a small ball of condensed nettle tops- never fear, they will fluff up nicely. Remove any larger stalks then flatten on a chopping board and chop and chop till they have fluffed up, then place in a mixing bowl.
Take a fork and mix the ingredients until combined. Wet your hands with water (prevents mix sticking to your hands) take a small chunk of the mixture and roll it into balls (golf ball size), give it a squeeze to see if it holds, if it cracks then the mix is too dry and you should add a glug of olive oil, or another egg.
Can be served with just about anything- a good squeeze of lemon is a nice touch. But they make a good base for meat or fish to sit upon, especially good with Rabbit…things that grow together go together!
Below are a few pics from HGC Spring courses. We are currently taking bookings for August, so please get in touch if you are interested. We will soon be posting some Mushroom dates for October with our resident Mycologist and Truffle hound Trainer Melissa Waddingham…watch this space.
Proud Hunters after Butchering their first deer under the Expert Guidance of HGC instructor Ash Ross.
The meadow outside the front of the house has certainly become quite the wild larder over the last few weeks, partly down to the biblical downpours that have rolled in over the Bay of Biscay and stuck firmly over Aquitaine. Over two weeks of constant rain and crap surf have kept me in the HGC test kitchen playing around with wild greens in anticipation of a delightfully rammed month of courses back in Blighty. Here in SW France everything is roughly 3-4 weeks ahead of the UK, giving a generous amount of experimental time to develop new and interesting ways to use the wild greens of spring.
My meadow (it’s not actually mine- it belongs to the local French Mafia family ‘Lesbats’ that own this little terroir) is surprisingly well stocked: Sheep’s Sorrel, common sorrel, ribwort plantain, chickweed, dandelions, common vetch, clover, red dead-nettle, nettle, Aarons rod, Round–leaved mint and even a few patches of wild chives- other than that the Allium family don’t seem to have really graced this corner of France. I cannot find any for love nor money. All the more reason to tuck in when I return to the UK in a week, having said that it is all too easy to get bogged down in Ramsons at this time of year- for obvious reasons. Little and often is good enough for me, too much wild garlic will have you crawling in Frenchman in minutes.
Another thing I have found a little odd on my forays is the French reaction to the age-old practice of gleaning the hedgerows. They seem to be completely bewildered by it. Too often whilst engrossed in gathering I hear “Excusez-moi, qu'est-ce que vous ramassez?” I was always under the impression that the French were the quasi-foragers of Europe and the practice of gathering wild plants was mere child’s play. Fighting off the urge to retort with “ Occupe toi de tes affaires” (which roughly translates as ‘mind your own fucking business’)
Not particularly polite, but when a nation tries to play on the fact that foraging is a national pastime and they do provincial cookery is to it’s bucolic best; I am skeptical to say the least. Although I am generalizing- I am looking at it from a localized point of view, it seems as thought the French attitude to worldwide gastronomy has left them trapped in medieval times. Their rigorous denial that the rest of the world can cook has been the culinary equivalent of wearing blinkers in the kitchen. It might look as If I don’t like the natives, but let me assure you- its just banter.
Anyway, back to the wild greens. Nettles, a wild super food in their own right have more uses than you could possibly imagine. In fact, that’s what the vast majority of cooking with wild food is all about- substituting common ingredients for suitable wild equivalents. Considering most everyday ingredients are distant cultivated relatives of wildings, its difficult to go wrong, but it does take a bit of experimentation…
The Red Dead-nettle, despite its name is actually part of the mint family, along with mints (obviously), yellow archangel, henbit, wood sage (inedible), wild marjoram and ground ivy to name but a few. It is an easy plant to identify and the only other plant you could confuse it with is henbit (also edible). The leaves of Red dead-nettle start green and gradually turning rusty purple as it comes into flower, the flowers themselves are pinkish/purple and have a delicate sweetness to them. These flowers are one the first foodstuffs for foraging bees in March-April, so make sure you leave some for them. This recipe uses Round-leaved mint too which I found growing in very close proximity.
Red dead-nettle makes an ideal side dish to any meal, but should it be steamed, sautéed or raw? Time to hit the lab. The best time to pick them is just after they have flowered, contrary to what I have read, they are a bit more flavorsome. Pick now, as they will disappear in the next few weeks!
Raw: Ok, but does feel like you are simply eating a plant- works well as a bulking agent in salads but distinctly unremarkable.
Steamed: Good, a bit of seasoning, but still unable to fix a tasty combo.
Sautéed: Best method- see below.
Red Dead-nettle with mint, smoked garlic and butter.
Wash the nettles and mint and leave to sit in a colander, heat a knob of butter in a saucepan and add the garlic. Sautee gently on a low heat and add the greens and the remaining water that’s clinging to them.
Try not to stir, instead swish them around the saucepan with a flick of the wrist. Season well with S&P, Cook for about 4-5 minutes then serve immediately with a good squeeze of lime juice, its also a nice touch to collect a few of the flowers sprinkle over at the end and add small busrts of sweetness. A particularly a good side dish with Lamb.
Well, what else has been going on? Lots of pickling, preserving and wild brewing, I have been getting quite into fermenting foods ever since making kimchi, Sorrel sauerkraut is currently bubbling away under the sink. Japanese knotweed has been turned into syrups, crumbles and is currently flavouring some vodka (see Andy Hamilton’s recipe here). We have been trying to have BBQ’s, cooking up fresh Anchovies in Sorrel Verde and grilling Dorade…when it hasn’t been raining.
Back to the UK in a week for a month of HGC courses, living loo construction and quite looking forward to getting back into the woods of the Weald! We are fully booked for May but June/July/August still has plenty of dates open. Please do get in touch if you want to book a Hunter:Gather:Cook Course: firstname.lastname@example.org
Next "Book on" course- Saturday 18th August: Group Day course (max 14 people: £80.00 per head). Full
Next 'book on' Course:
October Fungal Feast: A day of Mushroom ID and Cook off with Seasonal Game on In Mid Sussex (max 14 people: £85.00 per head). Sunday 21st October. 10 spaces remaining
We cater for individuals, groups, schools and stag & hen groups. All our courses are privately arranged, giving you the flexibility to book your day course or overnighter when you wish.
...to the trees!
There has been a nice bit of press recently in the Telegraph about HGC, to have a read click here. And to read an article I did for the Telegraph on my take on what the Weald is all about, click here.
Martini’s are something that has gradually made an appearance over the last few years. A far cry from the foolish consumption of the two spirits involved: attempted and unconquered in teenage years, which often result in lifelong aversion for the many. Gin and Vodka demand respect and should be treated accordingly.
Personally I have always been partial to a hint of Gin, the G&T- a British institution to the Nth degree and something to keep malaria at bay, but Vodka has never had the same appeal until my recent education on exactly what a martini is…and can be. Forget all the James Bondage banter of ‘Shaken not Shtirred’, I won’t go into the refinements of mixology and whether your martini should be stirred in the direction of France/Italy or not. That’s for the anal-ists to discuss. For me, the attraction of the Martini lies in its simplicity: Ice, Vodka or Gin and Vermouth of some kind. An ice cold drink that never fails to hit the spot.
Cocktail hour used to be de rigueur back in the day, but now seems increasingly frowned upon, out here we have been extolling its virtues as a payment for every other day of toil- and rightly so. Far too many folk in the UK whinge and binge about alcohol consumption constantly, anabolic debates from suits, skirts, slaves to the city, bored housewives’, and depressed whining lefties (not to say I’m a righty- they just drink a lot. I consider myself an agnostic when it comes to politics): “Ooo, I might give up drinking for January…”, yes of course, that sounds like a great plan, and then binge-drink for the rest of the year. Moderation is key when enjoying the finer things in life and the Martini is no exception.
Obviously, I deal in Wild plants, so I am always keen to use them in new and different ways. I have had plenty of success with my wild brews- my Nettle beer is a constant delight, Meadowsweet champagne also a firm favourite. But, would I be able to stretch my wild botanicals to a vermouth? Hmm, why not?
On the whole, vermouth gets a bad name, I always assumed Noilly Pratt was produced for the sole purpose of cooking fish (excuse the fish pun), but it turns out that its real plaice is in the cocktail cabinet (no more, I promise). A lot of Martini aficionados constantly discuss how much vermouth, if any, should go near a martini. The more hardcore say that you should simply call up a friend and ask them to open and sniff a bottle of vermouth over the phone and that’s enough, others simply wash their glass with a splash and give it a swirl before discarding. I could go on, but I can’t be bothered. Gurnard.
When I looked into the construction of vermouth a bit more closely, it actually seemed quite achievable. Quite simply, vermouth is a mixture of aromatics: herbs, roots and bark, added to a base of wine with a touch of sugar, then bottled and sold.
It came as no surprise that someone on this here interweb had produced a homemade version, but with a list of ingredients longer than an Elephant’s love muscle, see here: http://lastcrumb.com/2007/09/06/homemade-vermouth/
When it came to selecting my ingredients from the wild, one thing I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to tickle out of the hedgerows would be wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) and Gentian, the two principle ingredients and bittering agents. I wanted to make this a recipe obtainable for most who like to forage without getting too precise on ingredients for a traditional vermouth. This was all about maceration glass containers, scientific mixing and metal spoons with long handles and stuff. So Heston, you could stick it on top of a pudding and call it a Blumenthal (in my head that sounded like blancmange).
Considering I decided to do this little experiment in the midst of November, I was quite surprised what was still available in the wild larder, mind you an extra month tacked on to the end of summer: another perk of La vie de Sud-ouest France, along with 1 ½ hour lunch breaks and half days on Friday, neither of which really apply to me- bugger. Obviously I couldn’t put a vermouth together without reaching for a few store cupboard staples, here’s the list of participants:
For the wild bunch:
Wild angelica (aromatic)
Wild Strawberry Tree fruit (Arbutus unedo) (fruity)
Gorse flowers (floral)
Wild Chamomile (floral/fruity)
Maritime pine needles (aromatic)
Rock Samphire (aromatic/floral)
Wild fennel seeds (aromatic)
Orange zest (bittering)
Cloves (strong aromatic)
When picking your list of botanicals look for a few strong flavours- bitter, aromatic and perhaps something fruity/floral too.
There were thoughts of Yarrow, Meadowsweet, Sorrel and Himalayan Balsam flowers, but seasonality and simplicity got the better of me. The only other problem was: how the hell do I make it?
Fortune rarely sits on a plate in front of you- this day it did, with big shiny bells on. A certain cocktail company by the name of 'Bamboo', to which I have absolutely no family connection, came to my rescue. They do a lot of strange and wondrous things when it comes to mixology, like that blancmange bloke with the specs. I was transferred to the vermouth man who makes their in-house version and he talked me through the how, why, what, where and then of the martini’s ally.
Gather together your ingredients, both from the wild and the supermarket. Purchase some white granulated sugar, a bottle of dry white (a bottle from Languedoc was used in this case) and a spirit with the highest ABV possible in which to macerate your ingredients- the higher the percentage the better/faster the alcohol will draw out the flavours from your ingredients.
Maceration should only take a couple of days- place your ingredients in a small jar, pour over the alcohol, seal and leave in a dark place. The best I could do for the alcohol was 50% and I used a spirit as neutral as possible- vodka.
Get out your measuring jugs- to balance your vermouth correctly the ratio of white wine to the macerated botanicals should be roughly 3:1. When it comes to mixing you should use 150ml of macerated botanicals to 500ml wine.
Gently heat 500ml of white wine in a non-metallic pan bring up to a simmer and add 2 TBSP sugar. The added sugar will help to hold and carry the flavour of your botanicals. Simmer for 5 minutes and remove from heat. Allow to cool completely.
Now its time to add your botanicals. This is where it is essential to taste as you go. It works to have a bottle of Noilly Prat for tasting as a comparison as you go. Obviously, remove the botanicals themselves and just use the liquid. I added 15ml of each of the 10 botanicals, which makes it up to 150ml in total. I actually had 11- but as cloves tend to be quite overpowering I only used about 7ml of the clove maceration. Orange zest can be doubled up, as it is a good bittering agent.
Once mixed and your happy with the balance of flavours, bottle the vermouth and leave it for a couple of days to settle. You will then be ready to make your Martini.
Martini Mixing. Get your self a cocktail shaker (NOT for shaking) and drop 5-6 ice cubes in. Although traditionally Gin is the one to use, I went for Vodka, once again as it is fairly neutral in flavour and should help to let the wild vermouth shine through. Pour 15ml of vermouth and 60ml of vodka over the ice and then stir gently with a chopstick or long spoon for about 1 minute. Once super chilled, pour the martini into the glass and garnish how you wish- olives/ lemon zest/ sorrel leaves. Drink. When Vodka is ice cold it slips down a treat.
So there you have it: the wild vermouth. Very much looking forward to the onslaught of spring and summer to play with a few more wild flavours. If you ‘into’ your Martini’s, I would strongly advise having a go at knocking up your own vermouth. Wild cocktails are definitely the way forward!
Plenty more been going on- so much so that I almost feel that i have been neglecting the website...But then who wants to spend more time than they have to in front of a computer? I went back to the UK a couple of weeks ago to set up HGC HQ- she overwintered very well, just in time for a visit from the Telegraph. We also had the first course: a stag do of 17 lads- a good time had by all! I also joined Al Humphreys and The Hungry Cyclist fo their A to Z: London's World of food- P is for Peru. A visit to Soho's 'Ceviche'. Fine nosh indeed. Do get in touch with them if you want to join them on the next one.
We are taking bookings for the summer- so do get in touch if you are keen to book up your very own HGC experience, May is almost full to the brim, with only a few weekdays remaining.
The most recent project is coming to fruition, back to the trees once again for an all natural tree pod. And I think Ihave found the perfect spot:
I have never been an avid fan of January. It’s shit. Mind you, it rarely starts well: the post-festive period culminates with New Year’s Eve and the first day of the year kicks off with the inevitable hangover. The rest of the month is cold, wet and grey. It’s a time for being inside and if your house isn’t much warmer than outside (and our beachfront apartment certainly ain’t built for winter) then you just spend everyday wrapped up looking like the Michelin man. Warm food and warm drinks constantly needed. Another thing I have always found bizarre is the amount of people that give up drinking for January...if there was ever a time of year it is necessary, its now. Wierdos.
January is always a quiet time for me- that’s the nature of seasonal work, but it does have one redeeming feature- The first month of the year is a time for plotting, planning, scheming and conniving. I spend most of it playing in the kitchen and reading- ready for Spring and armed to the teeth with new ideas, recipes and knowledge to make Hunter:Gather:Cook courses the best they can be. Summer will fly by and before I know it, it will be Autumn- at least living in SW France gives me an extra 2 months of summer.
Anyhow, back to the subject of this long overdue post. Kimchi. The first time I came across this wonderful ‘condiment’ was 4 years ago in New York. My Brother was living out there and had found, what he could only describe as ‘tasty jarred farts’. I cannot imagine anyone, not even those you trust most, being able to bring you around to taste something with such a description: but I did…and by gad was it fine!
Kimchee has been on the to-do list for ages, actually since coming back from the big apple with my two tubs, which didn’t last long- but hey ho. Kimchi originates from Korea and is a fermented mix of vegetables and seasonings. It has been around for 3000 years and is a national institution in it’s home country- so much so that in 2010 there was a national crisis in Korea, a spike in the price of ingredients and kimchi itself left the Korean government having to subsidise imports of cabbage. Political food for thought indeed.
Coincidently, I noticed that Kimchi was tipped by the Telegraph as one of the top ten food trends for 2012 along with Ceviche (see that post here).Apparently natural fermentation of all kinds (esp.sourdough) is getting chefs very excited- Really? So as it was January I thought I may as well jump on the bandwagon and make some myself, being much in need of chilli heat at this time of year. Afterall, winter is a good time to put the wild food to one side and play with other ingredients, mainly because there is very little to forage.
You can get very bogged down in search of a simple Kimchi recipe- seasonal variations are rife in Korea, so here is one stripped down to its birthday suit.
First off, chop up the cabbage and place it in a bowl and toss well with the salt- the idea here is to get the salt to suck out some of the moisture from the cabbage and help create a brine. Leave for 1 hour.
Meanwhile finely chop all the other ingredients. Chillies are particularly difficult to find in France, partly because the general consensus in my experience is that the French are fannies when it comes to heat so they don’t stock them in the mupersarket- there is a reason the French word for man is ‘homme’. Fortunately the merry little town of Espelette (see here) is just down the road and Basque folks love a bit of fire! A bunch of dried chilli flakes and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper will give you more than enough heat if you are at a loss.
Back to the cabbage- it should now have decreased in volume by almost half, drain off the liquid, rinse the cabbage in cold water to remove any excess salt and pat dry with a tea towel.
Now mix all your ingredients together in the bowl, cover with a towel and leave in a cool place for 4 days, stirring once a day and tasting. You can pot it up earlier if you are happy with your level of fermentation.
Basically what is going on in the bowl is that the various microorganisms present in the raw ingredients, most notably lactic acid, is able to grow and perpetuate because of a more than 3% brine that you have created for your kimchi to live in.
HGC is still taking bookings, although there is barely any room left in May! Winner, winner, chicken dinner. Please do get in touch if you fancy becoming a 21st Century Hunter-gatherer: Not a bad idea considering the world is due to do something negative by the end of the year and according to the press, PETA are getting scientists to grow artificial meat. And here was I thinking vegetarians were just harmless and a little depressed because of a lack of protein.
Fresh off the slab at Capbreton Fishmarket.
Life in France is grand, plenty of January surf, although it is colder than a witch’s tit. Lots of fish being purchased from Capbreton Harbour. I thought since I lived by the sea I would go big on this in 2012- Bream is the current favourite. Moving inland this week to join the inbreds, have a garden instead of a balcony and build an entire kitchen from scratch- can’t wait! The French Kitchen and HGC France to come soon complete with tree houses.
Adios, Au revoir, Peas x
PS. Due to spam, of which some is difficult to work out if it is or not- I don’t reply to comments on the blog- if you wish to say sommat or have any questions, please drop me an email- email@example.com.
Last year I did a post about Trumpet Chanterelles (Cantharellus Tubaeformis) paired with the ridiculously moreish Joel Robuchon 'Pomme Puree' (see here). Out here in France I have been picking Trumpets for the last few weeks- there should still be plenty in the UK out and about, head to a pine forest near you and have a rummage! Here is a little video I put together to help with Identification and even included a Basque Sheep jam.
Trumpets dry very well, they hold their shape in the pan and are extremely tasty- well worth looking for...they make a very good tart with caramelised onion, thyme and egg too!
We also have a few places left on the HGC group course on Saturday 19th May. Get in touch if you want in! I was most pleased that we Auctioned an HGC overnighter recently for the charity 'Action against hunger' and raised over £1000 for them- Happy days!
This year I was pleasantly suprised to become an 'Element Advocate' for the skate brand Element. Rather strange perhaps to be sponsored by such a brand for doing wilderness skills, but this is all part of 'Elemental Awareness' of which I am a proud to be supporting and teaching to others. Here is a video showing a few of the things we got up to at Skatecamp in Spain this summer:
What a year its been- I never expected when I started this website 4 years ago it would go from an online world of posting recipes, experiments and experiences and turn into something, real, interactive and informative. The first year of HGC school has been great fun and a I feel I have learnt almost as much as all those who have attended the courses (I think the best tip I received was from one Alan Paterson who told me to use washing powder to soak and clean burnt eggy pans- works a treat)! I cannot thank those who attended enough for making our first year a great success.
Throughout the Spring, Summer and Autumn I was consistently pleased to see that I had really had found the perfect place for the school, the flora & fauna of the surrounding landscape not only provided rabbits, squirrels, pigeon, fallow deer and carp for the HQ kitchen’s meat store (even allowing a few attendees to dispatch them on the day), but the plants and fungi were just as forthcoming: Giant puffballs, bay boletus, parasols and chicken of the woods all put in a timely, yet surprising appearance.
2011 saw HGC doing privately booked bespoke courses as opposed to days you ‘book on to’, this will still be the case for 2012- But fear not! In 2012 we are organising a series of group days, which you CAN book onto. These will have a predetermined structure and a bit cheaper than the private days
Private days and overnight courses will still be available- I still feel that the learning experience for the attendees is much better and on a more personal level than having larger groups, this also enables you to choose your desired date and we can design the course around what you wish to learn about. We have started taking bookings already for next year- May and June are gradually filling up so please get in touch if you fancy becoming a 21st century Hunter-gatherer. There will be more dates to following for June, July and August.
Obviously all our courses are based around foraging and cooking, but that still means you have to know how to source it and how to cook it when you are off the grid and in the woods. This is how the HGC curriculum evolved- we do so much more than plant identification and ensure that you WILL get your hands dirty! As pictures are worth a thousand words, here are a few snapshots of what we have been up to this year on our courses at Hunter:Gather:Cook HQ and what YOU could be experiencing next year!
The HQ Kitchen- designed in the perfect kitchen triangle, Oak tables constructed from Oak from the very wood in which we reside.
Off-Grid Ice Cream- its amazing what you can do with a bit of plastic, a power drill and a couple of buckets. Blackberry & wild mint ice cream.
Staggy- Yes, we do Stag and Hen do's aswell! It only seemed fitting to get them a roebuck for Lunch, do a bush tucker trial and shelter challenge at the end. All washed down with 10 gallons o'cider.
Trapping & Knapping- how to catch your fur with a fig.4 deadfall and of course, you will need something to cut it up with: flint.
Deer in a day- from processing to smoking, underground ovens and slow roasting. Too much meat? Never.
Cooking- Dutch ovens do more than just stews. Muurikka Skillets and good ol'fashioned Smoking tripod always make an appearence.
Hunter:Gather:Shelter Overnighters- If you are spending the night with us, we will take you through how to build a comfy nest for the night.
Clay Oven Cookery- Our clay oven produces the best Rabbit & nettle pesto pizza and the spade we used to make it is excellent for fry-ups.
Rabbits- Once we have taken you through how to remove their furry packaging and joint them, they transform into pan fried saddle of rabbit wrapped in pancetta and sage on a wild salsa with puffball base.
Pigeon- Plucked, Pan fried and relaxed- either with a wild leaf salad and blackberry jus or Carpaccio'ed with baby horseradish leaves, elderberries and wood sorrel.
Mycological Munch: Plenty of fungi found on the farm for a fun-filled afternoon of feeding. Bay boletus, puffballs and chickens.
Man's greatest discovery: Fire, without which we would only eat cold food. At HGC we cover all the basics from wood selection, fire management, fire by friction and the all reliable flint and steel. (Sorry about all the F-ing).
Pots & Pans...and Rabbits too.
Not far from here, nestled amongst the foothills of the Pyrenees, sits a small traditional Basque village. The white washed houses and dark red beams so typical of Basque country are further accentuated by the addition of thousands upon thousands of plump red peppers strung up to dry on all the houses. This is not just any small village, Espelette, famed for the punchy little chillis is a national treasure and a cornerstone of Basque culinary heritage, so much so that it has classified with an AOC (Appellation d’origine controlee) much the same as a PGI (protected geographical status) we get in the UK.
France in general, and many of you may have also noticed this on your travels, don’t seem to be advocates of the chilli pepper. The Gallic palate is clearly not designed to embrace the spicy heat after centuries of being attuned to fine wines, strong cheese, and if I may be so bold to hit upon the presumptuous cliché of garlic and onions. Might I add, just to clear up a few things- Gauls don’t actually smell of these two fruits of the earth…or wear berets, or black & white stripy tops. But they do occasionally say ‘Ooh lala’ and are frequently seen brandishing baguettes, especially around midday. Down in this corner of South West France, and being so close to Spain the Espelette pepper has managed to gradually win over a fair few Frenchies, the dried, ground down peppers have replaced the use of black pepper in some cases: Bayonne ham (another AOC) is rubbed down with a paste of piment d’espelette during the curing process giving the ham a distinctive flavour. In Bayonne, many restaurants will serve ‘Bayonnaise’ a mixture of mayo and Espelette chilli powder- punchy and delicious with a bowl of frites.
The peppers themselves are grown in and around the communes of Espelette and Cambo Les Bains, vast fields of green are peppered (please excuse the Hugh Punely-Whittisism, but seriously, how many can he fit into one programme?!) with bright red chillis- quite a sight to behold in the open air, as opposed to being in the UK where they are shrouded in Polytunnel.
Espelette peppers are not all that hot- bite off the end of one and you would barely even feel a hint of warmth. However, munch down to the business end of the pepper, where the seeds are housed, and you will feel the endorphins start to flow as 4000 Scolville units assault your senses. This is a mistake I have made many a time when adding Espelettes to any dish, much like playing a game of Russian roulette with the fairly harmless ‘Pimiento de Padron’, a small green chilli from Spain and tapas favourite: the seeds are where the heat is and just because the flesh is bearable, the seeds will hit you where it hurts.
When I drove down to Espelette last week on a dual mission to see the village and explore the ‘Gaves’ or trout streams of the Pyrenees, I arrived to a very sleepy village, empty streets, the odd tourist (not sure if I classify as one or not) and millions of chillis. I browsed the shops and bought a rather expensive salami to go with my bread and cheese for lunch up on the mountain streams, not to mention picking up plenty of Espelette peppers- fresh and dried to play around with in the kitchen when I got home- perhaps with some fish?
As it happened, no fish, so soup it was with leftover bread. Basque soup to be precise, well my take on it at least. The chillis will create a gentle heat to the soup perfect to offset the winter blues. This soup is not so far removed from a good bolognaise sauce and as I made such a huge amount of the stuff, the rest was infused with a little red wine, reduced and thickened before being jarred up for later use. Thrifty.
Heat up a large saucepan and add the olive oil, finely chop the carrots, red pepper, onion, celery and garlic and stick it in the saucepan. De-seed and finely chop the Espelette chillis and add them to the pan and keep a few seeds aside to add for a bit of warmth if you fancy it, sauté gently for ten minutes.
Slice the tomatoes into wedges and remove the white cores. Add the tomatoes, vinegar, sugar, salt and sprig of thyme, lower the heat and place the lid on top to allow the tomatoes to gently stew down for a further 10 minutes.
Make up the Veg stock, and slowly add it to the pan, stirring all the time, turn the heat back up until everything is on a fierce boil, then turn the heat back down and simmer for 20 minutes.
Remove from the heat, allow to cool for a bit then blitz it through a blender in batches- as to how long is up to you and how smooth you want your soup. Once blitzed, return to the pan and re-heat- adjust seasoning and serve, with plenty of bread and a dollop of sour cream if you think it is a bit to spicy for your liking.
Since moving to SW France three weeks ago, Fishing has been at the top of the list, to the point that I said to myself, no more posts until I catch a fish to post about (that and the small matter of relocation and trying to make money from thin air…pitch pitch pitch). Now I am not a sea fisherman, I never have been. Ok, a few bass or garfish here and there, even a mackerel of two, a few dorado, trigger fish and bonefish perhaps, but when it comes to fishing I am a freshwater piscator all the way.
I like small bodies of water, tiny brooks and farm ponds. Reservoirs put me off in the same way the sea does. Throwing out your line in the ocean is a bit like planting a single seed and hoping for a bumper harvest- unlikely. Having said that I was sitting out back in the surf this morning with a vast shoal of tiddlers surrounding me, must remember to get me a throw net and stand up paddle board and put whitebait on the menu.
Although I haven’t been fishing in the sea itself, I have been hitting Capbreton port, Hossegor Lac and the main channel between the two hard, with little success. The usual paternoster rig with ragworm, squid, prawns all turn up a few nibbles and occasionally a very small gilthead bream- but never anything for the pot. Mind you I haven’t seen the local Gauls hauling out anything to write home about either, unless they make a point of waiting till I’ve gone home to hit the water and pull out the beasts. I have been beating my head against the wall trying to catch something for the table. Even my faltering conversations with local Frenchies at the water’s edge have been about as useful as a shotgun is to a vegetarian, mind you fishing banter is rarely crops up when learning a language, this prompted me to purchase my first copy of ‘Le Chasseur Francais: la vie grandeur nature’. Good mag, nice pictures too, I just haven’t a clue what all the text means. It may help me pick up some obscure words not used in everyday conversation.
When I moved out here, I had to be ruthless with my packing, stuffing my beloved VW Golf with only the bare necessities- of course all the fishing equipment had to come, including the fly rod. I had been planning on taking it up to search out some amazing rivers in the mountains (oh yes! Check these out: http://www.pyrenea-flyfishing.com/brouillon3/en/gallery.php) and I intend to this weekend. After a particularly frustrating session on the lake spent mostly staring down wistfully at large Mullet feeding lazily in the shallows and completely ignoring my offering on a hook, I decide to tap the vast encyclopedia that is the interweb. Could you fly fish for Mullet?
The answer was yes, and here are three great links which enlightened me and can help you get started:
Mullet have always been tagged as being particularly finicky fish, spook easily, won’t take any bait and once hooked will shed the hook as they have very soft mouths (being more the case with the thin-lipped mullet rather than the thick lipped). In some cases I have found them to be just so- not so spooky, but completely disinterested in my hookbait. About 3 days ago after frustrating session at the top of Hossegor lac and facing a rising tide, I thought I would try one place I hadn’t been before (see aerial photo below). The tide was slowly moving in and with it where plenty of Grey mullet cruising about and, by the looks of things, on the feed. Left over from my lunch was half a baguette, I ripped off a few chunks and threw them out to see if these fish would show more interest than the ones I had encountered earlier- to my surprise they were all over it like a fat kid on a cupcake. I took up the fly rod, tied on a bare hook and baited it with a small crust. First cast went out and as the tide pushed it upriver the fish moved onto the bait, in my excitement of the realization that I could be in, I struck way to early. But then it happened, I struck, the hook set and my god, the fish took off!
This was the first contact I had ever made with a mullet and I was shocked at its strength, the only fish I had encountered before with the same ferocity would have to be a bonefish in Cayman (to see the post on that click here)
I should have expected it as they are not all that dissimilar in terms of look, location and behaviour. The mullet put up an excellent fight, zipping off down stream at quite a pace and then winging it out to the far bank. By the time I got the fish in it was probably only about a pound but had fought with the same power as a 5lb trout.
A couple of Gauls had been watching and approached after the fish was on the bank. They were slightly bewildered by my set up- why the fly rod for sea fish? At least that was what I deduced from the exchange. I wasn’t sure of wether or not to take the mullet home- did I want to disrupt my Karma having finally managed to bag a decent fish? Hmmm, I was hungry and I didn’t want to upset my onlookers who would think I was clinically insane for returning a fish fit for the table. So I donked it on the head and in the bag it went. (I should point out that Grey Mullet are extremely slow growing fish- so be selective, return larger fish, one of 6lbs could be over 10 years old).
So finally, the French fish had begun to talk my language. I fished on, landing a few more that were to tiddly for the table and then called it a day, best not push my luck! On the walk back down the tidal creek I came across clumps of sea spinach, obviously things that grow together go together, never being one to pass up some wild nosh, a bunch of the succulent leaves joined the mullet in the bag.
Back at home, I was faced with the dilemma of how to deal with the fish in the kitchen. As it was to be my first taste of the fish that had always seemed to elude me, I decided to stay simple and bake/steam the fish. Preparation was simple- after de-scaling and gutting I stuffed the belly with a couple of slices of lemon, butter and a good helping of salt & pepper. I was intending to serve the sea spinach on the side, but in an flurry of inspiration thought I could turn it into a one-pot wonder: the sea spinach was spread out over a sheet of foil, liberally doused with a good Bordeaux (may as well as it comes from just up the road), placed the mullet in the center and rolled it up like a fine Cuban cigar before being baked in the oven at 180C for 15 minutes.
With the remains of the baguette I had used as bait, I tucked into my first mullet, and it was certainly worth the wait. A fine, firm textured white meat and not a hint of the earthiness I would have expected from a fish that rifles through muddy estuaries. It would be good to catch a few more before they head out to sea for the winter, but as we don’t have a freezer out here, so for know they will just have to remain the ‘Plat du Jour’.
As for other stuff: We are taking bookings for Hunter:Gather:Cook Courses for May-Oct 2012 so please do get in touch if you are interested. I am also looking at setting up an HGC HQ out here in SW France for next year- so will keep you posted on developments. Meanwhile I have my work cut out looking for a local who can take 'le Ros Bif' out to do a bit of this:
I recently did a feature on Truffle hunting for the Independent, thought I would share it with you here and throw in some of my own pictures. My Guide for all things Truffles was Melissa Waddingham- if you want to get your mutt transformed into a Truffle hound or even head to the woods for a spot of 'shrooming- contact her here.
My first ever encounter with a truffle occurred age six, somewhere in the Jura Mountains of France. My brother and I had pooled our pocket money to buy my father a birthday present. We settled upon a small Périgord truffle in oil, sealed in a shot glass. I had no idea what a truffle was, but understood this: they weren't cheap. Quite why we had paid 25 francs for something that resembled an oversized, warty bogey in a jam jar was beyond our comprehension, but my mother assured us it was worth it for the exquisite taste, a flavour I would have to wait quite a few years to see if it really was worth it's weight in gold.
Now, while looking for mushrooms above ground can be difficult even when you're bang in the middle of a good cep season, trying to root out a subterranean fungus, relying on only a few pointers and perhaps the assistance of a creature with a keener sense of smell than you or I, is a completely different kettle of fish altogether. I had always disregarded truffles as something I was never going to find in the UK, until last autumn when I began to hear mutterings in and around Sussex of the South Downs having a rich history of truffle hunting, though sadly many of these fellows in the know have died and taken their knowledge and locations of the wild-truffle orchard with them.
Of the three truffles regularly sought after, only two are highly prized: The white truffle (Tuber magnatum), which hails from the Piedmont region of northern Italy, most famously the countryside surrounding the city of Alba and the black truffle or Périgord truffle (Tuber melanosporum) named after the region where it is found in France. The white truffle, with its pungent aroma, is perhaps the most valuable with the largest specimen to date, with a 1.5kg (3lb 5oz) beast, being auctioned for £165,000 in December 2007. The black truffle has a more refined, earthy scent with notes of umami capable of filling a room almost instantly. It is perhaps more affordable than its cousin at around £1,500 per kilo.
It might surprise (or disappoint) you to know that the third, the summer truffle (Tuber aestivum), with its milder aroma, is the only one we are likely to find in the UK and fetches a modest £180 per kilo.
Over the past couple of months my desire to harvest a truffle from the South Downs has become fanatical. When you find yourself in a library looking at soil maps of the local area, you have to have a word with yourself, so I decided to track someone down who might be able to help me on my quest.
If Indiana Jones had been into truffle hunting and had been a woman, then he would have been called Melissa Waddingham and would have lived in Horsham, West Sussex, with an excitable Labrador called Zebedee. I managed to track down Melissa on the internet through our mutual love of all things foraging. She agreed to take me on a hunt. Melissa has been chasing all members of the fungal world for the past seven years and trains dogs to become "trufflers", takes guided fungi walks and is even considering cultivating truffles. Her background in woodland management clearly helped her find her first jackpot some time ago.
By following a series of natural indicators, unaided I might add, she unearthed 13 fine specimens of Tuber aestivum. A good start. Being an avid forager myself, who regularly practises and teaches the ancient art at my Hunter: Gather: Cook school in Sussex, I know only too well how productive areas are kept schtum, not so much with plants, but definitely fungi, and if you're talking truffles, well, I was expecting to be blindfolded and have the phone with built-in GPS taken away.
As it happened, there were no such cloak-and-dagger shenanigans and we met on a glorious September morning on top of the Downs at one of Melissa's closely guarded wild truffle orchards. It soon became evident that it didn't really matter if I knew the location, since I didn't possess a well-trained truffle hound to sniff out the goods and Melissa knew it. It was apparent that when it comes to truffle hunting, knowledge and some sort of creature with a good snout aren't everything – look can be just as important, and I felt woefully underdressed for the occasion compared to my expedition leader in all her finery. I knew I was in good hands.
As we entered the wood, a mixture of ash, hazel and hawthorn, which looked just like any other woodland I had ever rummaged around, Melissa explained to me that having a truffle hound such as Zebedee is only the half the battle: you need to get into the ballpark first before sending out your star player. So I was put through my paces on how to locate a wild-truffle orchard.
"Firstly, you need to be on calcareous [limestone or, in our case, chalk] soil. This is why the South Downs are perfect. Next is having the right species of tree."
Melissa went on to explain that the mycelia of truffles (the fine white strands found in decomposing leaf litter- fungi roots if you like) form a symbiotic relationship with certain trees, predominantly hazel, beech and oak. Truffles help the trees by "fixing" the nitrogen and extracting and breaking down chemicals in poorly drained soils such as chalk. Although this is all going on below the surface, naked to the human eye, there is a tell-tale sign on the surface: truffles are alleopathic, which means they chemically inhibit the growth of any vegetation around them, and this is quite visible on the surface. "What we're looking for is a 'brûlée' or 'burnt area', devoid of any vegetation," Melissa explains.
As we wandered through the hazel, ankle-deep in dog's mercury, a common woodland plant that's quite poisonous, we eventually came to what I would have thought was simply a clearing, but was in fact a brûlée. Looking around, it must have been a good 30ft (9m) in diameter, with a smattering of hazel stands and, compared to the rest of the wood, an eerily perfect circle, devoid of any greenery.
"The next indicator within the brûlée is evidence of any digging or activity by woodland animals," Melissa says. She went on to explain that the truffle's method of reproduction and spore dispersal relies on animals attracted by the scent to dig them up, scoff them and deposit the remains elsewhere. No doubt humans could do the same – a quick pit stop in Hyde Park on the way back from a top London restaurant could prove lucrative in the future. Simply put, any kind of surface disturbance is a key feature.
This is where the ever excitable Zebedee or Zeb stopped picking up sticks twice his length and went to work. Melissa didn't have to do much to get him in the mood: a bottle of truffle oil was produced, sniffed and along with some encouragement and frequent use of the word "working", Zeb was off. It was a complete transformation of character: one minute he was childish and playful, next a serious MI6 snoop on the case. He snaked around the brûlée, snuffling the ground and showing particular interest in a patch of soil at which point I was handed a trowel and put to work.
As with any type of foraging, sustainability and respect for the environment cannot be stressed enough. Under Melissa's guidance, I was shown how deep to take back the leaf litter and how to replace it in order that the mycelium (fungi roots) should not be harmed. Also, she added, so that no one else in the know might recognise it as a truffle stronghold.
What we did find was a false truffle. Close, but not close enough. The rest of the day continued with the same practice, moving from brûlée to brûlée, but unfortunately it wasn't our day. Just like fishing or even looking for mushrooms, if they aren't there, they aren't there. As luck would have it, Melissa had come prepared and brought four large truffles from her last foray the week before. Now it was time to indulge. Truffles took me a while to appreciate. At first, I couldn't understand why this fungus that Plutarch believed was born out of thunderbolts striking the earth, was so highly regarded: to an amateur, it smells of wet dog and old socks. But then, I used to think beer was horrible.
What they are is something quite special. Truffles are as much about aromatherapy as they are taste, and because 70 to 75 per cent of what we perceive as taste is actually smell, then you begin to understand how the truffle works as an ingredient. You can't simply bite into a truffle as if it were an apple: to get the most out of it you have to use a mandolin to get thin, almost translucent slivers of truffle, which then reveals its intricate marbled flesh. Rarely cooked as this can compromise and reduce the flavour, the slivers are best sprinkled over a warm dish, such as the classic scrambled egg or wild mushroom risotto, through which the intense earthy perfume of the truffle, its very soul, will waft up to your senses and infuse every mouthful. That is why the truffle is so sought after (coupled with the prospect that they are about as easy to spot as sardine among a gang of pilchards).
We headed off the Downs to my local pub, the Rainbow, where head chef Dan Baker had agreed to cook up a few taster dishes using our summer truffles. After supping a well-earnt pint of Harveys, Melissa and I talked a bit about "black diamonds" and examined the ones she had brought with her: they had a heady aroma that was both earthy and quite nutty, these were mature truffles, ready to release their spores. Typically, truffle season is between September and May, and immature truffles picked before this will have little aroma or flavour. On asking the best way to store them, I was quite surprised, well, shocked actually, that most truffle oil isn't even made with actual truffles but with an organic compound called 2,4-Dithiapentane, derived from a petroleum base and infused with olive oil. Most truffle oil is fake? Yes. That explains why it is possible to buy a small bottle at a reasonable price.
We were invited into the kitchen to watch Dan in action. First up was a sweetcorn veloute made from nothing but fresh ears of corn stripped and blitzed into a sweet creamy consistency and warmed through. As Dan began to grate thin slivers of summer truffle I asked him how it would work with this particular dish: "The sweetness of the corn will tease out the sweetness of the truffle and the warmth from the soup will pass through the truffle and enhance the aroma," he said.
Next was a wild mushroom risotto followed by skate wing with a caper sauce and Provençal vegetables. In each case the truffles were used in the same way, to help accentuate certain aspects of the dish.
There is no doubt that truffles are a luxury ingredient, for the very reason that they have a rich taste and intoxicating aroma. They are not, as I found out, all that easy to find – it is this scarcity that holds their market value: plans in France to mass produce cultivated truffles has caused uproar as it would drive down the value of the elusive truffle. Truffles are not something you are going to use every day – that is why when you do get your hands on a "black diamond" keep it simple and use it wisely. My search is still not over, with or without a snout to help me, there is gold in them thar hills and I mean to have it, hold it, sniff it and then grate it all over my scrambled eggs.
Secret ingredient: the lure and lore of truffles
Finely sliced, raw truffles work especially well with chicken, veal, fish, omelettes, soufflés, pasta and rice.
For an exquisite roast chicken, insert thin wedges of truffle under the skin of the chicken 24hrs before roasting.
Truffle aroma also has the ability to penetrate eggshells, so pop a truffle in a bowl of eggs overnight in the fridge for the tastiest scrambled eggs ever.
Preserve truffles by storing them in good quality olive oil.
The reason pigs, especially sows, make such fine trufflers is because the pungent odour of the truffle is very similar to that of a male wild pig.
Truffle production has declined over the past century. In 1900, France produced around 100 tons, now it produces around 20 tons, 80 per cent of which are from specially planted truffle fields.
As with most ingredients that have a hefty price tag, truffles are also considered an aphrodisiac...
As of two days ago, after a soul destroying 12 hour drive, become French! And made it down just in time to put together a surprise party on the Beach for the Mrs (see above). Although I will be back next spring to get HGC school up and running again with a whole new exciting course structure, specialist days, banquets and even staff members! Expect plenty of French food adventures over the coming months...at last the year in Providence has begun!
Au Revoir. Weston Out.
Pigeon has to be my favourite meat hands down, for a while beef and lamb where up there, but the free-rangeness of the wood pigeon and the fact it is wild is a comforting thought indeed. I’ve never bothered so much with chicken- it’s a tasteless bird on the whole and after HFW’s big chicken out campaign I thought rather than fork out an extortionate amount for blandness, I stopped buying it all together, same with fish unless I catch them myself. Too much fuss and politics to inflict on the palate methinks.
Pigeon are wily buggers indeed and taking them down can be frustrating. A couple of key features in the pigeon’s survival kit is unbelievably quick flight (50mph-80mph) and, more importantly, seriously good eyesight with the ability to clock an Englishman peeing in the woods a mile away.
The only real success I have had with them, in terms of sheer numbers is from decoying, but they have succumbed in some odd ways over the years: A shot with an air rifle whilst relaxing in a hammock chair on the Tree house balcony (easy supper), once whilst paddling down a river in a coracle they dropped from the sky into the boat (nearby decoyers) and lastly but by no means leastly- taking a bush pee in a hedgerow, 12-bore under arm and taking a unobservant passer by down, tackle out (bird must have been blind- Jammy beyond belief).
Being a fine, lean red meat, pigeon seemed perfect for Carpaccio so I decided to do some playing around in the kitchen. Carpaccio is actually rather a recent taste sensation and as we know it, has only been with us since the 1950’s: Ever since Countess Amalia Nani Mocenigo walked into Harry’s Bar in Venice (also the home of the Bellini) and informed the propreiter that her doctor had recommended she only eat raw meat. The dish that Giuseppe Cipriani, the then owner produced, was so named because the colours of the food reminded him of the paintings by the Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio. Bang, bosh, shebing.
The portable HQ- always busy morning, noon and night with taster dishes.
Last weekend I took Hunter:Gather:Cook on the road to Wilderness Gathering with my trusty companion Ash (he has a fine blog on outdoor cooking escapades-check out here) to cook up plenty of wild fodder for bushcraft enthusiasts aplenty. We also took along a roe buck and a dozen pigeons and rabbits to play with over the three days. Pit Roast venison, cold smoked venison, puffball and rabbit pie, wild salads, panfried saddle of rabbit wrapped in parma ham with sage & mustard, beetroot borscht with horseradish cream were just a few of the dishes we knocked together to showcase what HGC is all about (Ash even manged to collaborate on a cake baked in his dutch oven and won 1st prize in the cake comp!).
A wonderful festival and we met some great folks- definitely keen for next year. This recipe is a revised version of the improvised one I knocked together for our ‘small game preparation and cooking’ workshop. The feedback was excellent, but not as good as our ‘Wild Brewing’ workshop which included plenty of samples!
This recipe does require a bit of preparation- at least 12 hours in a marinade, but 24 if possible. Alternatively, if you wish to do it immediately, you can smoke the pigeon over smouldering oak or sawdust for an hour to give it a bit of a smoky flavour.
Wild ingredients are, as ever, a great addition to this recipe and there are some perfect matches in the hedgerows at the moment which coincide nicely with the amount of pigeon decoying going on across the country- farmer’s crops need protecting, so if you cant go out and shoot them yourself, most good Game dealers should have plenty in stock.
Wild Horseradish growing near Black Cap on the South Downs.
The two wild additions for the Carpaccio are Horseradish (both young leaves and the fiery root) wood sorrel (for sharpness) and elderberries. A word on these- The young leaves of horseradish have a nice pepperiness to them and a slight bitterness which make a good substitute for rocket. Elderberries do contain minute traces of cyanide, which is broken down by cooking, although a small handful of raw berries is harmless.
For the marinade:
Mix together in a bowl, cover and refrigerate overnight. Put the breasts in the freezer for 1 hour before cutting wafer thin.
Arrange all ingredients on a large plate, season to taste and serve with fine red wine and crusty bread.
I’ve had the French under a microscope for some time now. Studying them as if it was some kind of science project, what makes them tick, what do they eat? What do they drink? What do they do? And above all: why they don’t quite understand what the little lever next to the steering wheel is actually used for.
Of course my research has been conducted in a relatively small part of France, Hossegor, Bayonne and Biarritz: the South-West in high summer- the Cornish Riviera for the Gauls. Although my fumbling grasp of the native language is weak, I can understand most things if said at a reasonable pace and try to avoid direct translation from English to French. I’m not sure what I was taught at school, but it doesn’t seem to apply when ACTUALLY in France…apart from the vocab, that is handy.
Living by the beach is great apart from in July and August when the place has turned into nothing short of a bloody circus, the place seems like the Gallic equivalent of Rock or Polzeath- packed to the brim with hormone-fuelled rich kids with little else in mind than booze, necking one another and playing crap Euro-pop as loud as the gallivanting Gendarmerie will allow. I don’t think I have had a full night sleep without a dawn chorus of drunken teen for two weeks.
So what have I learnt so far? Some of it may sound scathing, but I find it all deeply amusing and sort of loveable. These traits are what makes France, well…France.
Which brings me onto the subject of the post- Pastis. PASTIS! I first tried it last year when we went to a friends for supper. Eager to find out a bit about it, I enquired as to what it was and why it is such a common drink (the French consume 130 million litres of it per year). Eager to fit in I accepted a glass of it and sat there swilling it in the glass as the two French lads looked on in earnest- will the Ros Boeuf take it like a man? I did, just. Having an aversion to Sambuca since Uni makes anything anise shut the gullet down. But its actually not too bad and I am proud to say I purchased my first bottle the other day, be it only a small one. What is really nice is to be able to go into the supermarket and purchase a tip-top bottle of Bordeaux for as little as 3 euros. Again, vive indeed. I also visited the Vin de Sable (wine of the sand) vineyard in the sand dunes just down the road in Capbreton…it was definitely and surprisingly worth the 9 euro price tag.
As for Petanque, apparently it goes very well with pastis, it is a national sport and there are some bad-ass old boys playing it in the park in Hossegor. When I have the courage and the linguistics to get involved- you will be the first to know! Great banter.
The Perfect Vinaigrette.
Had to include a recipe. Now I rarely buy salad dressing- except in France, they do make some good creamy ones I must admit. Making your own is much more fun and its great to play around with. Out here, because it is so bastard hot, Salad features at every mealtime except breakfast. Over the years one keeps cropping up on a regular basis and whilst I will give you the ingredients, you will have to work out the quantities for yourself, I might want to bottle and sell it one day…
Next week, I must return to Mother Blighty for a hectic month of courses at Hunter:Gather:Cook HQ, before donning my beret in September and moving to France full time. HGC will be running in 2012- the course schedule will be up in October. Lots of other stuff been going on: Check out Reader’s Digest this month to read the feature I did on living as a caveman for a week, and also have a watch of this HD vid from Mazda of foraging in the skies with Reggie Yates.
I have had some bizarre requests in my time, but creating a wild taster menu and teaching a foraging lesson from a hot air Balloon for Mazda, tops the list (or living as a caveman for a week might be closer…) Whatever will be next? Building a Tree House on the Eiffel Tower? Foraging in the Amazon Basin? Yak shooting, skinning and gutting in the Himilayas? I’d probably do them all- well, why not? Sounds like fun!
When it came to planning and plotting the menu, I delved into the HGC archives to ensure they would be receiving the finest fodder the countryside had to offer. Obviously, whatever was in season would make the cut and then it was down to digging out what was going to be exciting, tasty and inspiring. Elderflower was first to be binned- yes in season and yes as about inspiring as a BNP conference. For the last few years meadowsweet has long been the new elderflower for me and only that would make the cut- so I was pleased to see it out in full force.
Pigeons and Rabbits were de rigueur for any of my feasts, Mushrooms were still to appear (my source of chicken of the woods was looking a bit ropey on last inspection) and as far as something fishy was concerned, I wanted something different, but more native Britain than a Sunday roast. Trout- although pleasant I feel they are great to catch, but nothing special- you would also be hard pressed to find a truly ‘wild’ fish anyway these days and If you did the last thing you would do is take it home for tea.
I had my sights set on Carp or Chub. Having already been crucified by the nation’s anglers after writing an online piece about tucking into Native freshwater fish for the Guardian Word of Mouth (see it here), I was more determined than ever to continue my crusade to get more people to try our lesser-known fish. I mean, what kind of bell ringer writes a comment saying: “If every one of the 3 million anglers in the UK to a fish home for supper, there would be none left”. Yeah right, of course that’s going to happen you anus. Daft comments aside, there were some well-informed comments, all reeking of hatred for my suggestion (honestly, where the hell does HF-W get his silver lining from?!) and plenty of rants about light-fingered eastern European ‘gangs’ taking fish. I hadn’t expected such a racial assault from Guardian readers…
Obviously when eating native freshwater fish, it’s important to adhere to the Environment agencies guidelines- provided you have the owner of the water’s consent you may remove X-amount of fish on any given day. Lucky for me I have a good source of both fish and consent, so it was down to how I would cook the buggers. The food was all going to be pre-prepared and nothing served hot. Simple: Ceviche. Contrary to popular belief, Carp are NOT muddy fish, provided they are under 5lbs. This myth has been developed by cunning piscators that would prefer not to have their favourite sport fish eaten- carp fishing is BIG business these days. Ever wondered why our Eastern European counterparts are so fond of carp flesh?
Chub however, is a fish that has never enjoyed a culinary reputation of any kind. Quite simply it’s known as being inedible…until now. Even back in the day, Izaak Walton said the chub was like eating cotton wool stuffed with pins. Catching them is not too difficult, being omnivores, they will take bait, fly and even spinners. They can be found in almost every river and even some still waters and are greedy fish- smaller fish will spook less easily, but the bigger fish are big for a reason (not that anyone bothers to take them home with them).
5 Years back- 1st attempt!
In the past I have tried to cook them- on gutting they have the same firm white flesh you would expect from a bass, on cooking they turn into fishy mash potato...
It was my Friend Tom (aka the Hungry Cyclist) that suggested Ceviche as the only form of ‘cooking’ that might render the chub edible. And he was spot on. So off I went with the fly rod to my local spot to try and entice one of the beasts home to the kitchen. The mayfly nymph rarely disappoints and before long I had a good size fish in the bag.
Processing a chub is a bit fiddly: the bones along its flank are the main issue. First, de-scale the fish with the back of a knife or fish scaler, gut the fish and then fillet. Once you have the fillets, you will need to remove the pin bones that were the ribcage. As long as you have a pair of pliers, it is a case of feeling your way along and then pulling them out. Once washed, chop the fillets into thumbnail size chunks and you are ready for Chevy-chasing.
Once you have cut up the chub into small chunks , place them in a bowl with the lime juice and a sprinkle of salt, mix well and place in the fridge to ‘cook’ for 15 minutes- you will notice the flesh turn from translucent to opaque. The citric acid from the lime juice breaks down the proteins in the fish and renders it ‘cooked’.
Finely dice all the other ingredients, season well and mix them in a bowl. The cucumber is going to be used as the base for serving the ceviche canapé style. Cut it into ½ inch wide pieces and, using a teaspoon, scrape out some of the middle to make a bowl in which to place the ceviche.
Once your chub is done, drain off the lime juice and mix the chub in with the rest of the ingredients, season to taste and then scoop into the cucumber resepticles. Et Voila!
So there I was, 2000ft in the air feeding chub ceviche to Radio 1 DJ and all round good lad Reggie Yates. He certainly tucked in! I’d never been in a balloon before, and being a tree dweller I didn’t think I would suffer from vertigo. At about 1500ft, I had a brief moment when I looked down and realized there was nothing but an oversize hamper between me and the Buckinghamshire countryside far below. Shit my pants and freak out? Or are we ok? Fortunately there was no rising panic and I was actually quite blown away by the gentle silence and the stunning views. Let the feasting commence!
Potted Rabbit and Rabbit and Roe liver Terrine wrapped in stinging nettles. Served with three cornered leek doughballs.
Oak smoked, pan fried pigeon breast with elderberry and blackberry coulis served with a mixed wild leaf salad and a pine needle vinaigrette (horseradish leaf, yarrow, dandelion, bittercress, sorrel, Jack by the hedge and ox eye daisy).
Meadowsweet and mint cheesecake.
To wash it all down: meadowsweet cordial and nettle beer.
Here is a short Video of the Adventure courtesy of Mazda:
I am currently out in France enjoying life with the Mrs and putting my outdoor skills to use at the Element Skatecamps in the hills south of Bilbao. I am back in August for a busy month of courses at Hunter:Gather:Cook HQ and then to Wilderness Gathering to show Bushcraft keenos how to cook Wild food- cant wait!
If you fancy booking up a HGC course in August- Get in touch there are still dates available. Drop me an email with your dates and requirements and we will arrange a tailor made Hunter-Gatherer Experience just for you…Hasta Pronto!
Childish excitement aside, the prospect of ice cream is a wonderful thing. I must confess I was more of a sun lolly kid myself- ingeniously designed like a PG pyramid tea bag to prevent kids on a sugar high flipping the contents out onto the floor, that was the problem with Callippos. And as for Mr Freeze? Well, raspberry and cola all the way.
Ice cream isn’t really something I have in my freezer, but that’s because its so chock full of various parts of fish, fur and feather there simply isn’t the room. It just so happened that I had a craving for it during the summer we had a month ago. I decided to google how it was made after having a chat to a friend of mine about hand cranked Ice cream machines and the possibility of involving them down at HGC headquarters.
As I scrolled through endless useless links, the only instructions I could find were how to make it with a couple of plastic bags- nothing on putting together a traditional hand powered beast of a machine: It was time to hit the workshop and get tinkering…
The principle behind making I scream, you scream, we all scream for Ice Cream is both keen and cunning, a process evolved and developed over 100’s of years. It is not exactly clear who is credited with hitting the nail on the head. Most countries have been messing about with their own versions of frozen pud for time, however it was the Arabs that were the first to tuck into the dairy and use milk, sweeten it with sugar, flavour with rose water and fruits & nut. Before that it was all sorbets- in 62AD the Roman emperor Nero used to send slaves up to the Apenine mountains to collect snow to be mixed with honey it has even been claimed, in the Yuan dynasty, Kublai Khan enjoyed ice cream and kept it a royal secret until Marco Polo visited China, pinched the technique and high tailed it back to Italy. Well thank you Wikipedia. I like to maintain a ‘plagiarism free’ blog…
So where to start? Firstly you don’t actually even have to make a contraption, for the simple ‘bag method’ all you need is:
And follow this link for a video on how to do it. Not to be rude, but this isn’t amateur hour: the ice cream is far from perfect- for that you need a proper hand-cranked, Macgyver issue machine…give me two buckets, a plastic box, a piece of wood and a hand drill.
The science behind making ice cream is the same for both the ‘bag’ method and the ‘pot freezer’ method. This involves mixing salt with ice. In simple terms…bear with me sciences were never my strong point:
Lets say you have a glass of water with crushed ice in, ok? For ice to melt, energy must be drawn in from the surrounding water to break the hydrogen bonds that keep the ice frozen. The energy that's taken is in the form of heat, which is why ice makes the water cold, since it's taking the heat to melt. Salt upsets the balance and makes the melting rate slower, because the ice requires more energy to melt. This draws more heat from the solution, which results in a larger temperature drop.
That took me a long time to understand too. For more info on why check out this link. So a combination of ice and salt will lower the temperature allowing your mixture to become ice cream, water isn’t needed. It took me a couple of failed attempts before I had perfected the machine.
The evening is designed to be relaxed and enjoyable for all, do feel free to bring a bottle and if shelters aren't your cup of tea- tents are welcome! For Breakfast- the kitchen will be up and running so you wont go hungry.
Tickets are £70.00 and there are a limited amount of places available, so if you are interested please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org
Heres a few pics to show what we've been up to:
Apples have always been a favourite, as a boy, apple juice was the drink of choice, hands down. Unfortunately, being about as cack handed as a retarded Quasimodo, I regularly spilt any liquid within grasp- hence having to get up from the table and go and have a sup in the kitchen by the sink (I think I even had to eat and drink on the floor once or twice to limit damage control- no shit!). Parents can be cruel- but it certainly taught me a thing or two, this is why they have all the problems with ‘Yoofs’ these days: lack of proper discipline!
So, apples and cheese- a match made in heaven. Few things can match the sweetness of a good apple cutting through the salty creaminess of a fine chunk of cheese. Be it cheddar or stilton (mature cheddar preferably), the two were born for one and other.
It was my friend Dan who re-instilled the values of this combination as a tasty snack. Of course I have had them together before- mostly on a cheeseboard, but there was something wonderfully farmerish, holes-in-the-jumper, big ‘ands and bailing twine about the way Dan preferred his: Quite simply an apple and a chunk of Cheddar.
During April, as the pair of us toiled to get Safari Britain up and running for the summer and between chat about local gossip, gambling landlords, back-end sheep harassing teens and setting fire to defunct livestock-Sussex banter at its finest, dirty hands would devour the pair often. Now, it was something that Dan said that gave me this little, ludicrously simple idea:
“I wish there was someway you could grow an apple with cheddar inside, or perhaps even combine the two into a Jekyll & Hyde monster of a mouthful”
I pondered this for a moment: “Couldn’t you just core an apple and stuff it with cheese? Ooo…or even bake it with a some pickle!”
Dan wasn’t stupid: “Don’t you pinch my idea…OR blog it you bastard!”
Well…think of it as the highest form of flattery.
I managed to bake an egg in a tomato whilst bored one afternoon in London- this is much more inspired! A perfect snack or addition to that wonderful platter, the ‘Ploughmans’ of which the origins are not clear (1870’s England seems to be the best I can give you).
First slice off a ‘lid’ and then simply core your apple (Braeburn or Cox’s) a little wider than usual, fill it 1/3 with grated mature cheddar, 1/3 branston pickle or piccalilli, 1/3 mature cheddar and replace the top. Eat.
Now one thing I will make clear is that there is a danger when consuming such a trinket: Lock jaw, chin strain or chin cramp (which I believe is the technical term), taking a large bite out of an apple loaded with such a delectable filling is not recommended. Full stop.
This Friday I will be collaborating with Kerstin Rodgers aka Msmarmitelover, author of the recently published and hugely successful “Supperclub: Recipes and notes from the underground restaurant” to put together a wild food supper, there are still a few tickets left so don’t miss out: http://www.wegottickets.com/event/105047
Hunter:Gather:Cook HQ has become a second home and perhaps the best kitchen I have EVER had the pleasure of working in, something about that kitchen ‘triangle’ and the fact it’s wood fired AND in the middle of the woods methinks. As for courses, give me a call or drop me an email with when you want to come along and we can accomodate! I have decided that perhaps fixing dates for courses is too regimented and doesn’t fit with the way I like to do things- tailor made is much more preferable for both parties. I have been a bit overwhelmed with the feedback so far and the surprise at just how much fits into the day- so thanks to all of my hunter-gatherers so far! Also we have been tucking into plenty of carp which we/you catch from our pond- tastes of mud my arse! Absolutely amazing fish...
Carp with lemon, bay and Jack-by-the-hedge, wrapped and cooked in Burdock leaves.
At long last, on my weekend off, I managed to sort out the patch at the new pad and filled it with salads, runner beans, peas, potatoes, pak choi, spinach, radishes, carrots etc- just got to wait for them to grow and keep slugs and rabbits at bay.The produce will not only supply the house but keep HGC headquarters in the freshest, local grub around.
Final note- I have recently become sponsored by Element for my work in all things wild. Element are a global skate/surf brand that are branching out into the great outdoors with their non-profit organization “Elemental Awareness” and run Skate camps in Northern Cali and Bilbao. I will be spending a bit of time in July and August doing workshops in Bilbao and putting the kids through a Hunter-gatherer masterclass- exciting stuff!
Oh and in two weeks time, I will spend a week living as a caveman with absolutely nothing, for a feature I'm doing for Reader’s Digest with my friend and adventurer Al Humphreys. Thankfully James at Native Awareness (runs courses in Primitive skills) has been most helpful with tips, stone age gizmos and clothing. Hmmmm, I'm always up for a challenge...