Nettle soup followed by a poached breast of chicken wrapped in wild garlic leaf and wild garlic pesto could sound a bit weird. Then again, when it comes at the end of a foraging day, it not only makes sense it demonstrates what it’s all about. But is it tasty and worth the effort?
There’s much talk about foraging these days but let’s face it, however good a reference book is, it is not conducive to go out there and find out on your own. I prefer a hands on approach so I booked a foraging day with Masterchef winner Mat Follas. Nine of us met at the Wild Garlic restaurant and were greeted with a coffee before we set off on our walk towards the woods.
We took a lane I have walked many times. I had noticed these pretty little purple flowers but never knew they were called Ground Ivy let alone that I could eat them. Most people will know these (unlike this French townie) and want to get rid of them on their lawn. It spreads like mint, in fact it rather tastes like it. Jack-by-the-hedge (or Garlic mustard), the good old nettle, hogweed and wild garlic can also be found in abundance in many places.
Theo, who helps Mat on his foraging days was an absolute mine of information. Once people got over his tattoos and his ‘traveller status’, we quickly realised he is a sharing kind of guy and knows his stuff. He pointed out that many of the plants we now consider weed or that grow in our hedges were in fact imported by the Romans for eating purposes. Nettle soup is not such a novel idea after all. Of course we can’t eat all the leaves we come across, it may be on private land or a dog may have marked them as his territory.
The point of wild food foraging is to use common sense. Whilst wild food is very much what spices Mat’s cooking, it does not mean that he forages anything that is not abundant. He may have to supplant it with some home grown version as he feeds rather more than a family of four but many people can find new tastes for their salads or greens in their back garden if not in the woods.
The seaside was a revelation for me. I have walked along our gorgeous beaches many a time, avoiding treading on those purple and green thick leaved, wavy looking plants. Look closer. It must be a cousin of the broccoli, only sweeter. These lovely balloon like tiny white and pink flowers? Pick a few Sea Campions (and leave plenty) and garnish your salads.
So back in Beaminster, what was the food like… The nettle soup, presented in a mini saucepan was light, fresh and surprisingly tasty. The wild garlic flower on the side not only looked pretty, it gave a little kick and balanced the starter perfectly. The poached chicken breast that followed was wrapped in a wild garlic leaf with a wild garlic pesto and was totally succulent. I will try this at home although I doubt it will taste the same. New potatoes and a spoonful of horse radish ice cream completed the main course. I don’t normally like horse radish as I find it too strong but this was subtle and spiced the chicken surprisingly well. Pudding? A rather tidy berry Mess. Got the girls Oh’ing when it arrived and kept us quiet for once.
We were a rather chatty kind of group. Friendly forager wannabes met a kiwi chef and a traveller to learn about the British wild food in the middle of what used to be a Norman town. That tickled my fancy. Mat and Theo were a fitting combination of forager and chef who obviously love their food (Theo’s mother was trained by French chef extraordinaire Bocuse) and are willing to share their passion. We weren’t prompted to give Theo a round of applause when he left us to our lunch to get back to his kids nor did we feign our appreciation when we thanked Mat for a fun and instructive day. The beautiful surroundings were the cherry on the cake or in this case, a wild garlic flower on the nettle soup.