Friday, 25 October 2013

Foraging in the forest with John Wright from River Cottage

Yesterday evening I went to Nicholson's nursery in North Aston, near Oxford, where they had John Wright, the expert mushroom forager from Dorset to speak and advise about foraging. You might recognise him from being on the telly with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (yes, I had to google the spelling!) on the River Cottage programmes as well as on the radio and other media platforms:

The talk by John was fascinating and I'm even more enthusiastic about foraging the local land for my edible delights. I've had quite a few excursions in the woods finding food or pretty ferns (ferns are my favourite but unfortunately they are pretty much inedible). In the summer, I picked mussels off of Carne beach rocks near Portloe in Cornwall and cooked them with onions, tomatoes, and lemons on our fire. They were possibly the freshest, most succulent muscles I've ever had and they were free! We made sure to pick the big ones and leave the little ones to grow to preserve them.

In the Lake District in the late summer, just coming into mushroom season, my brother-in-law-to-be and I had a mushroom hunting competition on our walk around Buttermere, west of Derwent Water. We were not confident enough to take home and eat, it was rather a competition of who could find the most species. Here are a selection of what we found; if you can identify them then please, go ahead: 

Also, when I was out blackberry picking as they first came into season, we found this on a tree stump: 

After John's inspection, we have found out that the above is "chicken in the woods" and is very certainly edible, in fact something which my stepdad deemed "very filling", spoken from experience in his early wood foraging days. I wish we had picked it and eaten it but at the same time, this funghi was providing shelter and food for other animals so taking it would feel like we were sacrificing others, not to mention whether we are actually legally allowed to take it!

By the way, if you're wondering, I made blackberry, peach, plum and apple crumble with the blackberries we picked on the hedgerows. Crumble is simply flour and butter rubbed together with your fingertips until you form a breadcrumb-like texture then add sugar to the mixture and put on top of fruit and sugar in a bowl. Bake until it starts bubbling up the sides and it's golden and smells good:

Anyway, back to John Wright, here is the table of beautiful mushrooms he brought along after his foray in the New Forest: 

And here he is discussing all the varieties with us at the end (notice the bottle of red visibly diminished):

At the talk, we bought both John's books on mushrooms and also seaside foraging, both equally relevant for our future endeavours. After a jolly signature and a few glasses of red Pinot noir, we bundled back home to my Mother's Cotswold cottage in chatter full of Death Caps, explorations and Samphire. Let the foraging begin! 

Before I go, I have one more foody delight to share. Look at these prawns that I brought back from the covered market in Oxford: 

Although I've caught crayfish from the river Thame and taken them back for dinner, these were certainly the biggest and tastiest prawns we've ever eaten. However, catching the crayfish by hand and net rather than buying them was far more satisfying. The fishmonger said the jumbo prawns fly off the shelves when he gets them in. 

To cook, We simply boiled them quickly in water and then spritzed them with lemon juice. Nothing else needed. Not when it's so fresh (just like muscles we cooked on the beach). No sweet chili or mayonnaise, just the pure coral blushing beauty of it. A huge recommendation if you're at the covered market in Oxford this weekend. I understand they also sell them at the big fish shop in Botley (Oxford foodies will know where I mean!)

Happy foraging!

ZP x

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