I’m often asked if the purpose of my blog has changed since I first started writing a year ago. Yes and no I guess. Yes because the reason I started writing is thankfully no longer the reason I still write. No because I chose to write around food as I love it above most things; and that has not changed.
This blog has led me to a parallel universe of deliciousness I would never have found otherwise. I have met more new people in the last six months than in my five years in London. These new people have introduced me to markets and restaurants, underground supper clubs and foodie adventures and I can never go back to my ordinary old life ever again.
Last week I had the time of my life foraging these woods:
Before now I always associated foraging with long trips out of town, getting stung by nettles and ending up with mostly poisonous produce. David Gillot and his guided foraging walk have changed all that.
I met David through Su-Lin, who I met through Dini, who I met through Chef Ben, who I met through Twitter. David is a rare one among us who knew what he wanted to be when he was barely a teenager. All he wanted to do was become a chef, and ten years on he is living his dream.
I cannot begin to explain the envy!
Not happy just cheffing in a kitchen he has decided to spread the joy with a food academy on his Four Gables Farm next to the Ashtead Nature Reserve. That is also where he took a small group of us foraging.
After a brief introduction on what we might find (and gentle requests not to taste everything we see!), armed with our trugs and foraging calendars, we set out into the (relative) wild. Only a few minutes in and we were surrounding by blackberry bushes with more than enough fruit for each of us to pick. We also found sloe berries, rosehip, stinging nettles, and apples. Thanks to an unseasonal heat wave most mushrooms had dried out but we did find a few that the slugs got to first!
Who would have thought that such treasures were within a half hour train ride of London – freely available for anyone to claim!
David is a gentle guide. He was very patient with our questions and paced himself to our frenzied picking! We foraged for nearly two hours and throughout this little adventure David shared little gems of information. Did you know that it was illegal to take home your own road kill but your friend in the car behind you can help himself to it no problem? And that stinging nettles make an excellent pesto ingredient? When we walked past an enormous oak tree David had a pop quiz ready for us! We didn’t see any wildlife but his own farm will soon be home to eight Khaki Campbell ducks and 24 beehives (and about 1 million bees!).
He also had a recipe ready for anything edible we found along the way. Except acorns – it seems that the squirrels have their dibs on this one! Here is one of his recipes I tried at home. Trust me – it’s delicious:
Stinging Nettle Pesto
100gms stinging nettles
¼ cup mint leaves
1 clove garlic
½ cup pine nuts
2 tblsp lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil
¼ cup parmesan
- Bring a large pot of very salty water to the boil.
- Drown the nettles in a bowl of cold water for 5 minutes. Make sure you use tongs or wear gloves.
- Add the nettles to the boiling water and boil for 1 minute.
- Drain, cool completely and squeeze out as much water as you can.
- Mix all the ingredients (except the cheese) in a food processor. Blitz until it forms a mostly smooth paste.
- Fold in the cheese, add salt and pepper.
We walked only a very small area of the 500 acre reserve but came back with a truck load of goodies including a divine apple and blackberry jam David made for us.
This has been the best new thing I’ve done since skydiving over a year ago. I took home a basket of happy memories. And the inspiration to follow my own dream.