What a difference a week makes! Last Sunday (20 March), officially the first day of spring, was full of blue skies and birdsong. Today, Easter Monday, as Storm Katie blows in and batters my fence, it is hard to believe that this is the same month.
Still, thinking about it brings back good memories of a great day – on a Wild Garlic Forage, followed by a Wild Food Cooking Demo. We had a wonderful walk in a nearby reserve – Arger Fen & Spouse’s Vale Nature Reserve – with two local foraging experts, Carl Shillingford and Matthew Rooney, arranged by Justine Paul of Suffolk Market Events.
Carl is a Michel Roux-trained chef and local (Sudbury) restaurateur, while Matthew is owner of The Mushroom Table. Both are so knowledgeable about recognising which wild plant is which (and safe to use), about the tastes and uses of the plants, and about ways to cook or use them in salads. Matthew and Carl had permission to pick small amounts of flower or leaf for identification and use in the cookery demo.
The day was really all about ramsons or wild garlic (Allium ursinum). The pungent garlic smell of the large foliage of this plant was just starting to fill the air in the private land that was our last destination on the foraging walk. Here we were able to pick the foliage, with permission, and this weekend I am looking forward to yet another wild garlic omelette, or I may make some pesto or a soup… and for that I will either be using Carl’s recipes, which Suffolk Markets kindly emailed to us after the event, or I will be dipping into Jenny Linford’s scrumptious new book, Garlic (Ryland & Peters, 978 1 84975 707 2), for her several recipes using wild garlic (and plenty more using cultivated garlic – more in a future blog).
Next stop, after the foraging walk was the Lavenham Farmers’ Market, followed by the Wild Food Cookery Workshop Upstairs@ theMarket where Carl and Matthew prepared and served up a feast of foraged food for us. Wild garlic soup, wild garlic pesto, served with fresh pasta (made as we watched and with no pasta machine in sight), and the savoury Easter Puddings with a floral salad, were our tasty rewards. And the bonus with wild garlic is that it doesn’t give you ‘garlic breath’ (or so they say…) but it does give you the flavour in the food!
I have been quietly adding tasty foliage from the wild into various parts of the garden and following this foraging walk and tasting session, I have decided to make friends with some of the early spring weeds in the garden, such as chickweed, nettles and dead nettle. Last year I bought a pot of wild garlic from Pennard Plants. It is now in a shady, moist part of the garden and looks like it is going to establish well.
However, I don’t think I will be inviting a foraging party to the garden anytime soon… although when I look at the ingredients of the wonderful flower and leaf salad that Matthew created to accompany the savoury Easter Puddings made by Carl, I realise that I could create something similar using the weeds and spring flowers in the garden.
Primroses are the prime flowers for this and there are plenty of them in my borders; dead nettle, chickweed (there is an endless source of this in my garden), cow parsley foliage and buckler leaf sorrel (as a substitute for wild sorrel).
For his hedgerow salad Matthew also used hawthorn leaves, wood sorrel, alexander shoots (I have plenty of these from seed I scattered after a foraging walk last spring!), spring beauty or claytonia, ground ivy, plum blossom (has a slightly bitter, but nutty almond taste) and gorse flowers.
In addition to all the expertise and the delicious tastes we enjoyed, everyone left the cookery demo with a Suffolk Market goody bag, which included a pot of garlic pesto, some garlic soup, a packet of Matthew’s dried mushrooms and a sourdough starter for future use.
The next workshop is on Sunday April 24 led by Aggie Redpath. I am booking: her workshop on flavourings, Everyday Cooking with Salted Oranges and Lemons, sounds exciting and includes some of the herbs that she enjoys using. You know how much I enjoy learning about herbs!