Foraging Course – Edible Eastside

On Saturday, the Captain, my Mother and I set off for a foraging adventure.  I was excited.  Very excited.  More excited than was seemly.  Have we established that it does not take much to excite me?  I think we have.  My excitement was magnified, however, because this was the first foraging course that I had both booked and actually managed to attend.  I had booked to go on a course with my Mother ages ago and one of lovely friends had booked a mushroom day for my birthday.  I wrote about them here.  Unfortunately, both of these were on top of my operation so I had to cancel.  Disappointed does not begin to cover it.

So, discovering via Twitter that Edible Eastside were running their first foraging walk as part of Birmingham Food Fest 2011 AND the walk was to take place along the towpath could not have been more perfect.  This course may very well have been written with the Captain and me in mind.  I first lost him before we even entered Edible Eastside’s yard situated in Birmingham’s Eastside and housed among a superabundance of canal heritage.  The yard itself was part of the nineteenth century Fellows Morton Clayton buildings and the Digbeth Branch Canal was just a hop, skip and a jump away.

The Captain rejoined us as Jayne Bradley described her vision of an ecologically sustained initiative to promote urban gardening and food production.  We then set off with Pam Smith, the project’s horticulturist and gardening advisor.

Her knowledge of plants, folklore and history were impressive and her enthusiasm was second to none.  She was a great believer in only eating things that were worth the picking, and frequently commented that such and such a plant was edible, but it tasted like hay.  Paraphrasing Terry Pratchett, she reminded us that all plants are edible, it’s just that some are only edible once.  We learnt things like the more brown patches there are on a silver birch, the more ghosts inhabit it.

That cleavers can be boiled and used to make antiperspirant as well as eaten.  That nettles make excellent string.  That Woodruff can enhance the flavour of alcoholic drinks.  That I have forgotten so much more than I thought would even though I knew I would forget just about everything.In all, we only wandered from Typhoo Basin through the Curzon Tunnel and up the first couple of locks in the Ashton Flight but in that short stretch alone, it was hard to see how you would starve, if push came to shove.  As well as the nettles, woodruff, cleavers and silver birch, we also found:

Oregon Hollygrapes (Mahonia Aquifolium); Elder;

Chinese Bramble (Rubus Tricolor); Mugwort; Chickweed; Plantain; and so much more.  Much of it may taste like hay, but you would have lovely nettle string bags and there would be no evidence of perspiration thanks to your Cleaver splash-on.  And there would always be the silver birch ghosts for company.

This wonderful afternoon was rounded off with a nip of Pam’s Sloe Gin and the opportunity to taste Jayne’s delicious smelling cooking.  Sadly, I had completely run out of energy so having fortified myself with sloe gin (could you really see me passing up on that?!), we took our leave.  A great day and I look forward to the next.

For the Captain’s take, check out his blog from the 28th October, when his post should be live.

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You just knew this post was coming …

It had to happen. Sometime during this boaty holiday, while the foraging Siren had me in her grip, it was bound to occur. Call it destiny. Call it fate. Call it madness. Call it what you will. Sooner or later the inexorable pull was certain to draw me in and the inevitable consequences would follow.

This morning I woke, at the BW facilities at Camp Hill, next to the most magnificent patch of nettles I have seen in a long time! They were a joy to behold. Well, from a safe distance or appropriately attired that is. Their tall heads nodded gently in the breeze. Their flowers waved beatifically. One could be forgiven for forgetting that they sting at all.

So, what to do? Those who know me, know there is only one course of action I could possibly take. Soup. Nettle soup. The Captain was more than a little sceptical. He eyed my gloved hands sorting through the mound of tops with great suspicion. But a little butter, some onion and some veggies and we were left with a very delicious lunch.

Nettle Soup

Serves 4

1/3 carrier bag full of nettles, tops or young leaves

Knob of butter

1 medium onion, finely sliced

1 large carrot, chopped

2 sticks celery, chopped

1 large potato, diced

1 large garlic clove, crushed

500-750 ml chicken stock

pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Good dollop of crème fraîche plus extra for garnish

salt & pepper

Garnish: fresh chives, parsley

Using gloves, pick over nettles and wash thoroughly. Discard tough outer stalks.

Melt butter in a large pan and sweat the onion, carrot, celery and garlic till soft but not brown. Add the potato and cook till edges soften. Add stock and pile in the nettles. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5-10mins, until tender. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Purée the soup. Return to clean pan, heat through without boiling. Check seasoning, serve. Garnish with swirl of crème fraîche and a generous sprinkling of chopped herbs.

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