Category: Bespoke events

Sea beet leaves and elderflower: Learning to forage for food

We recently took a family out for an afternoon learning to forage in Dorset followed by cooking a wild food-based meal. They included a journalist who wrote the below great article about their experience. It was in The Daily Mail and numerous other papers / news sites across the US including the Washington Post and Yahoo News. The coverage was also in other countries including Canada, Namibia, Kuwait and New Zealand!

If you would like to experience a bespoke / private foraging activity for your family or group please look here.

 

 

“This,” said our guide James Feaver, “is our main course.”

We were standing in front of a dung heap in a high meadow in the English countryside. Pushing up out of the ooze was a low-growing weed. He bent down, plucked a sprig and held it up.

“Fat hen. Humans have eaten it for thousands of years. We’re going to need a lot of it.”
After a glance among us, my family and I set about picking with an approximation of gusto. When you are foraging for your food you can’t be too squeamish about little things like cow dung beneath your fingers.

I have long been fascinated with the idea of living off the land, finding sustenance among the wild plants that teem in hedges and fields. So a week’s holiday in Dorset, in southwest England — a county bursting with picture-book countryside — gave me the chance to see how abundant nature’s larder really is.

Foraging is increasingly popular in the U.K. and there are many teachers to choose from. On a recommendation, I contacted Hedgerow Harvest and booked a half-day course for me, my partner Fon and our 7-year-old son, Jimmy.

On a classic English summer’s day – meaning we experienced all weather conditions in one afternoon – we met up with James Feaver, who gave up office work for professional foraging eight years ago. He now runs courses in south and southwest England, but mostly in Dorset, his adopted home.

photo shows James Feaver, a foraging guide, holding a spray of elderflowers on a field trip in search of wild edibles in the county of Dorset in southwest England. Feaver offers a course through his company Hedgerow Harvest in foraging for edible plants like elderflowers, mint and sea beet leaves, which are then used to prepare a meal. (AP Photo/Jerry Harmer)
This July 12, 2006 photo shows James Feaver, a foraging guide, holding a spray of elderflowers on a field trip in search of wild edibles in the county of Dorset in southwest England. Feaver offers a course through his company Hedgerow Harvest in foraging for edible plants like elderflowers, mint and sea beet leaves, which are then used to prepare a meal. (AP Photo/Jerry Harmer)

We met him in the village of Toller Porcorum, donned rubber boots and light waterproof jackets, and set off in search of wild provender.

We spent the next few hours walking through lanes hedged in with soaring banks, down tracks drenched in birdsong, beside clear streams and across uncut meadows in search of ingredients for a three-course meal.

This July 12, 2016 photo shows James Feaver, left, a foraging guide, leading Fonthip Boonmak and her son, Jimmy Harmer, through a high meadow in the county of Dorset in southwest England, in search of wild edibles. Feaver offers a course through his company Hedgerow Harvest in foraging for edible plants like elderflowers, mint and sea beet leaves, which are then used to prepare a meal. (AP Photo/Jerry Harmer)
This July 12, 2016 photo shows James Feaver, left, a foraging guide, leading Fonthip Boonmak and her son, Jimmy Harmer, through a high meadow in the county of Dorset in southwest England, in search of wild edibles. Feaver offers a course through his company Hedgerow Harvest in foraging for edible plants like elderflowers, mint and sea beet leaves, which are then used to prepare a meal. (AP Photo/Jerry Harmer)

If like me you can’t tell wild sorrel from a blade of grass, this quickly becomes daunting. But Feaver has gimlet eyes and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the edible.

High in a hedgerow, a spray of tiny white flowers stood proud of the foliage. He hooked it with his hazel stick, pulled it down to picking height, and inhaled.

“The smell of summer,” he said.

For centuries, country-folk have used the fragrant elderflower to add a zesty flavour to food and drink. Now it would bring its zing to our dessert. We plucked head after head. I lifted up Jimmy so he could join the harvest.

In quick order we found red currants, wild mint and tiny, sweet, wild strawberries. The wicker basket James provided — a nice touch — began to fill.

In this July 12, 2016 photo, foraging guide James Feaver, left, shows red currants to Jimmy Harmer, center, and his mother, Fonthip Boonmak, on a hunt for wild edibles in the county of Dorset in southwest England. Feaver offers a course through his company Hedgerow Harvest in foraging for edible plants like elderflowers, mint and sea beet leaves, which are then used to prepare a meal. (AP Photo/Jerry Harmer)
In this July 12, 2016 photo, foraging guide James Feaver, left, shows red currants to Jimmy Harmer, center, and his mother, Fonthip Boonmak, on a hunt for wild edibles in the county of Dorset in southwest England. Feaver offers a course through his company Hedgerow Harvest in foraging for edible plants like elderflowers, mint and sea beet leaves, which are then used to prepare a meal. (AP Photo/Jerry Harmer)

So far so idyllic, but this arcadia comes with thorns.

Of the many rules of foraging the most important is this: Don’t eat anything unless you are 100 percent certain you know what it is. Some edible plants look uncannily like ones that are deadly. For example, cow parsley goes well in salads but is easily mistaken for something you wouldn’t want near your dinner plate: hemlock.

Other rules include don’t uproot anything (it’s illegal), only take sustainably and don’t pick from ground-hugging plants near footpaths “where dogs can wee on them.” That was Jimmy’s favourite rule.

Time was getting on. From Toller Porcorum we drove down steep, narrow lanes to a nearby beach. Here you can see the stunning coastline sweep in an arc from Portland in Dorset right into neighbouring east Devon. A trove of fossils has earned it the name Jurassic Coast and UNESCO World Heritage status.

But we weren’t there for beauty or geology. We were there for sea beet leaves, a close relative of garden spinach that grows in low belts along the pebbly foreshore. More free food, right at our feet.

 

Photo shows Fonthip Boonmak left, James Feaver, centre, and Boonmak's son Jimmy Harmer, right, gathering edible sea beet leaves near southern England's Jurassic Coast. Feaver is a foraging guide who offers a course through his company Hedgerow Harvest in how to find wild edibles. The sea beet leaves were used to make a velvety green soup as part of a supper prepared from the foraged plants, herbs and flowers. (AP Photo/Jerry Harmer)
Photo shows Fonthip Boonmak left, James Feaver, centre, and Boonmak’s son Jimmy Harmer, right, gathering edible sea beet leaves near southern England’s Jurassic Coast. Feaver is a foraging guide who offers a course through his company Hedgerow Harvest in how to find wild edibles. The sea beet leaves were used to make a velvety green soup as part of a supper prepared from the foraged plants, herbs and flowers. (AP Photo/Jerry Harmer)

 

But don’t go thinking you can kiss goodbye to supermarkets just because your eyes have been opened. That’s not the idea of the course.

“Foraging isn’t really about survival,” Feaver had said at the start. “It’s about taking the best of the wild and adding it to conventional ingredients to make great-tasting food.”

Great tasting? We’d be the judges of that.

Back at our holiday cottage, Feaver supervised the preparation of the feast. For starters, sea beet soup. For main course, fat hen pesto bake, with more fat hen as a side dish, washed down with sparkling elderflower wine. To finish, elderflower and gooseberry fool, garnished with wild strawberries.

It was a revelation, especially the sea beet soup which was one of the most delicious soups I have ever had: rich, velvety and homey, like swallowing a big bowl of contentment.

This July 12, 2016 photo shows bowls of velvety green soup made from sea beet leaves, part of a supper made from wild plants gathered in the county of Dorset in southwest England. The foraging expeditions are led by James Feaver through his company Hedgerow Harvest, which teaches participants how to identify, find and cook edible plants like elderflowers, mint and sea beet leaves. (AP Photo/Jerry Harmer)
This July 12, 2016 photo shows bowls of velvety green soup made from sea beet leaves, part of a supper made from wild plants gathered in the county of Dorset in southwest England. The foraging expeditions are led by James Feaver through his company Hedgerow Harvest, which teaches participants how to identify, find and cook edible plants like elderflowers, mint and sea beet leaves. (AP Photo/Jerry Harmer)
This July 12, 2016 photo shows a baked pesto dish made from a plant called fat hen, with a serving of Sea Beet leaves on the side, as part of a dinner made from wild plants gathered in the county of Dorset in southwest England. The wild edibles were foraged as part of a course, led by James Feaver through his company Hedgerow Harvest, that teaches participants how to identify and cook with plants like fat hen, elderflowers and sea beet leaves. (AP Photo/Jerry Harmer)
This July 12, 2016 photo shows a baked pesto dish made from a plant called fat hen, with a serving of Sea Beet leaves on the side, as part of a dinner made from wild plants gathered in the county of Dorset in southwest England. The wild edibles were foraged as part of a course, led by James Feaver through his company Hedgerow Harvest, that teaches participants how to identify and cook with plants like fat hen, elderflowers and sea beet leaves. (AP Photo/Jerry Harmer)

It had been a long day. We’d started at 1:30 p.m. and the last spoon didn’t scrape its empty bowl till 9 p.m.

As he packed away his stick, basket and scissors, Feaver said that after doing the course, “people look at the countryside with different eyes.”

Yes, I thought. With eyes like dinner plates.

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The hen do group on the beach.

Sarah’s Hen Party – Foraging walk & meal

Hedgerow Harvest were delighted to run a coastal foraging event as part of Sarah’s hen-do weekend near Lymington in Hampshire. We started with a foraging walk along the shoreline finding a range of wild foods and gathering some of them to go into the three-course lunch.

Bespoke (private) foraging course hen do.
The hen party group out on their foraging walk.

 

On the edge of the salt marsh gathering Marsh Samphire and other wild vegetables.
On the edge of the salt marsh gathering Marsh Samphire and other wild vegetables.

 

Collecting Marsh Samphire
Collecting Marsh Samphire

 

Picking Sea Beet - great hat!
Picking Sea Beet – great hat!

 

Starter - Sea Beet soup with seaweed bread
Starter – Sea Beet soup with seaweed bread

 

Part of the main course - Tarts with St George's mushrooms, Wild Fennel, Three Cornered Leek, Marsh Samphire, Sea Purslane, Dulse and Crow Garlic
Part of the main course – Tarts with St George’s mushrooms, Wild Fennel, Three Cornered Leek, Marsh Samphire, Sea Purslane, Dulse and Crow Garlic

 

Main Course - above tart with Sea Beet and new potatoes topped with seaweed butter.
Main Course – above tart with Sea Beet and new potatoes topped with seaweed butter.

 

Dessert - Elderflower Panna Cotta made with seaweed (Carrageen)
Dessert – Elderflower Panna Cotta made with seaweed (Carrageen)

The organiser, who sadly she couldn’t make the weekend, said:
I just wanted to say a huge thank you for giving Sarah and her hens such a fantastic time on the walk yesterday. All the girls have said what a great time they had, how much they learnt and how brilliant you were. The lunch looked amazing and I hear it was equally as tasty! 

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Jenni’s Hen do – Foraging walk and meal

Hedgerow Harvest were delighted to run a foraging event as part of Jenni’s hen-do weekend at Ringwood in Hampshire. In unseasonal warmth we started with a foraging walk out into nearby countryside finding a range of wild foods and gathering some of them to go into the evening meal.

The girls enjoying ice-cold nettle beer on their foraging walk after gathering nettles for their evening meal. It was a really warm afternoon and I managed to serve ice with the drinks several hours after leaving the car!
The girls enjoying ice-cold nettle beer on their foraging walk after gathering nettles for their evening meal. It was a really warm afternoon and I managed to serve ice with the drinks several hours after leaving the car!

Back at the accommodation, the girls split into “teams” with each producing a course for the evening meal.

Bride to be - foraged salad - hen do aprty
Bride to be Jenni putting the final touches to a foraged salad.

 

Foraging starter - hen party nettle soup wild garlic bread
Starter – Nettle Soup with Wild Garlic Bread. Soup garnished with Wild Garlic flower and Crow Garlic.

 

Girls - hen party - hen do - foraging
Dinner is served.

 

Foraging - hen party - Wild Garlic
Main course – Wild Garlic Pesto and Tomato Pasta bake with a wild salad and some wild pickles.

 

Pud - Japanese Knotweed and Apple Fool - with Water Mint garnish
Pud – Japanese Knotweed and Apple Fool – with Water Mint garnish. The smiles get bigger as the Prosecco bottles empty.

Among the early feedback from one of the organisers:

Hi James,

What a fantastic day/ evening we all had. Thank you SO much, we were all massively impressed with every detail & how you’d catered for everyone.

Thoroughly enjoyed by all!!
I will share the pics with the girls & happily write a review.

Many thanks,

Helen

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Seashore foraging with Dorset Tea

A few weeks ago we ran a seashore foraging event for our friends at Dorset Tea. They invited some leading bloggers to Dorset for a few days to help launch their new fruit & herbal infusions range. We had been involved in helping create this range taking Dorset Tea staff for a day of summer foraging to help inspire them.

Dorset Tea fruit and herbal infusions. Picture courtesy of Coralie - www.teatimeinwonderland.co.uk
Dorset Tea fruit and herbal infusions. Photo courtesy of Coralie – www.teatimeinwonderland.co.uk

On route to the beach we found plants of interest – lovely Elderflower with it’s myriad of uses and the deadly poisonous Hemlock Water-Dropwort. At the rocky headland we discovered a good number of species of edible seaweed. In this country little attention is paid to them but they are very popular in East Asian cuisine (Japanese, Chinese & Korean). We are fortunate in having many  of the same or equivalent species on our coast. There is also a long history of using some species in Ireland and Wales. The key to cooking seaweeds is appropriate treatment for each species.

Showing the bloggers some of the species of seaweed that can be used in the kitchen. Photo courtesy of The West Dorset Foodie (http://www.westdorsetfoodie.co.uk)
Showing the bloggers some of the species of seaweed that can be used in the kitchen. Photo courtesy of The West Dorset Foodie – http://www.dorsetfoodiefamily.co.uk/.

 

Dulse
Dulse – an edible seaweed – popular in Ireland. Photo courtesy of Coralie – www.teatimeinwonderland.co.uk

 

25-carageen
Carageen – gives a setting agent – a vegetarian version of gelatine. Photo courtesy of Coralie – www.teatimeinwonderland.co.uk

 

20-sugar-kelp
Sugar Kelp – used for crisps, dashi stock (for miso soup etc) and in cakes & biscuits! Photo courtesy of Coralie – www.teatimeinwonderland.co.uk

I had put a crab / lobster put out a day or two before. You never know what will be in it when you retrieve it. I was delighted that it contained…

Lobster
A Lobster – Photo courtesy of Coralie – www.teatimeinwonderland.co.uk

 

A Velvet Swimming Crab - Photo courtesy of Coralie - www.teatimeinwonderland.co.uk
A Velvet Swimming Crab – Photo courtesy of Coralie – www.teatimeinwonderland.co.uk

 

one and half Prawns - Photo courtesy of Coralie - www.teatimeinwonderland.co.uk
one and half Prawns (blame the Lobster) – Photo courtesy of Coralie – www.teatimeinwonderland.co.uk

 

and a Three-Bearded Rock Ling (cod family). Photo courtesy of Coralie - www.teatimeinwonderland.co.uk
and a Three-Bearded Rock Ling (cod family). Photo courtesy of Coralie – www.teatimeinwonderland.co.uk

We headed for our start via some seashore plants including this magnificent Sea Kale. This was once a very popular Victorian vegetable, grown in gardens with young shoots forced in earthenware “chimneys” like rhubarb.

Sea Kale
Sea Kale. Photo courtesy of The West Dorset Foodie – http://www.dorsetfoodiefamily.co.uk/

The session ended with a picnic Hedgerow Harvest had prepared based on foraged wild foods. This contained 13 foraged wild foods and featured :

  • Wild cordials and Elderflower Champagne
  • Miso soup – including dashi stock (Sugar Kelp), Ceps, Wild Garlic and Sea Lettuce
  • Frittata – including home-smoked mackerel, Sea Beet and Wild Garlic,
  • Sides – Sea Spaghetti and Carrot salad, Sea Lettuce
  • Elderflower Panna Cotta – using Carrageen seaweed and Elderflower
Elderflower Champagne
Elderflower Champagne. Photo courtesy of Coralie – www.teatimeinwonderland.co.uk

 

Miso Soup - with lots of wild ingredients.
Miso Soup – with lots of wild ingredients. Photo courtesy of Coralie – www.teatimeinwonderland.co.uk

 

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Frittata – including home-smoked mackerel, Sea Beet and Wild Garlic, with side dishes of Sea Spaghetti and Carrot salad and Sea Lettuce. Photo courtesy of Coralie – www.teatimeinwonderland.co.uk

 

Elderflower Panna Cotta - using Carrageen seaweed and Elderflower.
Elderflower Panna Cotta – using Carrageen seaweed and Elderflower. Photo courtesy of Coralie – www.teatimeinwonderland.co.uk

You can read the bloggers write ups of their trip to Dorset including lots more photos at:

West Dorset Foodie

Tea Time in Wonderland (foraging is part of the way through the article)

The Girl Outdoors (foraging is part of the way through the article)

There are also photos scattered over twitter and other social media including

Dorset Tea – Seashore forage Dorset (Pinterest).

If you would like to join us on a seashore foraging course or would like your own bespoke foraging event please contact us.

 

 

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