“Here, turn right here, this has got to be it”.
We swerve round the corner and bounce along the driveway. “Nice pond, but where’s the big house?” There’s plenty of rolling parkland and a cluster of outbuildings but no grand house to be seen.
There’s also a tall affable looking chap wearing wellies and a big chunky jumper so we slow up and roll down the window. “Here for the food foraging?” he says, “follow the track round between these buildings and you’ll see a group of parked cars and over to the right people on the lawn, that’s were you need to be.” So we drive on as instructed and sure enough there’s about 15 cars and a bunch of people standing about having coffee. I get out and amble over and my husband drives off to a day of peace and quiet.
I get a coffee and Polly (half of the duo that makes up Food Safari) passes me some still warm flapjack (yum! this is a good way to start) then introduces me to the rest of the group – none of whom I’ve met before but some of whom I’ve been chatting to via twitter (yes that’s you @Farctum and @EssexGourmet). Once everyone is here Tim (the tall affable chap in wellies, he’s the other half of Food Safari) tells us the format of the day. We’re going to be foraging for wild foods here on the estate and then also down by the river Blyth (also on estate land) then we’ll be off to The Anchor at Walberswick for a lunch show-casing some of the wild foods.
Tim hands over to Jacky (aka WildFoodie) who’s our foraging expert today. She explains that we are on private land so sadly we can’t entertain any thoughts of popping back sometime to bag some more goodies; well I guess not unless we can get to be new best friends with Hektor who manages the estate, I imagine he’s probably got enough friends already though. Jacky also explains that the weather in Suffolk has been so dry recently that we probably aren’t going to find enough stuff in really good condition for us to take bagfuls home. We are going to have to be content to watch and learn, that’s the nature of foraging, it’s a real luck of the draw thing. Jacky had a scout about yesterday so she’s got lots of examples to show us and she’s been able to collect enough goodies for our meal later.
Then we move on to our first spot, I’m expecting we’re going to have to walk a good distance across the park perhaps into a wooded area, but no, there’s plenty to see only steps away from where we are. Take a look – what can you see that’s edible?
Hmmm looks like a bunch of weeds in a badly tended garden if you ask me…..but hold one we are going to find at least FOUR, yes that’s four, edible goodies in this patch.
Okay so clearly I’m in nappies on the foraging front compared to the likes of Jacky – I can’t see a thing I’d fancy eating. But with Jacky’s expert guidance we learn about ground ivy, cleavers (aka sticky willy – hmmm), nettles, ground elder, burdock and elderflower – blimey that’s six – and I don’t think Jacky was even trying hard….she tells use how to identify each of them through look, feel and even sound and also which bits to pick and even how to pick (clever scissor movement with your fingers for nettle tops). We taste as we go when things are okay to eat raw. Mostly everything we test has a fresh but quite bitter taste but there are differences between them.
Next its time to move on to the river. But before that a few of us think a comfort stop might be good so Polly takes us over to the stable block, which has been converted into a rather lovely looking B&B, and we get to use the facilities there. I also get a quick lesson in the intricacies and long running feuds of the Rous family and learn that the final version of the big grand house was knocked down (some say a fortuitous fire…) in 1953, so that’s why we couldn’t see it. There are plans afoot for a new house to be built.
Anyway down to the river – I would say bank but here the estuary is really wide and flat so it’s more like a gentle slope. The estuary systems in Suffolk and Norfolk are havens for all sorts of things and in particular marsh samphire.
If you look really hard you can see the samphire at the front of this picture
I’ve had this before, bought from local farm shops and I love it. We are a little early in the season but we can see the samphire starting to sprout like some kind of mini primeval forest. We get to test the samphire and its wonderfully juicy with a salty tang –I’m looking forward to it being available in the farm shop soon and hoping we get some at lunch. We also find sea purslane which looks a bit like a succulent version of sage although it tastes nothing like sage. Again it’s juicy and salty.
And finally we head off to The Anchor pub at Walberswick with our appetites suitable whetted. But before we get to tuck into lunch we take a quick look at the pub’s allotment where Jacky tells us about poppy leaves (nice and sweet and almost pea like in flavour), hops shoots, dead nettles and chickweed (plus other assorted things you might just throw away but can actually eat!).
At last it really is time for food. We wander over to the beautifully refurbished stable block and are served with glasses of refreshing elderflower scented beer from Lowestoft whilst nibbling on fresh asparagus, tempura hop shoots and absolutely wonderful chickpea and samphire mini pancakes. These are so divine we are nearly knocking each other out of the way to get our hands on them; I’m definitely going to be trying to recreate them at home.
Mark then guides us into the stable block itself where a huge long table awaits us and a further three courses of food with matched beers. Mark is an absolute mine of information about the beers and clearly likes to surprise his guests with things such as a Gueuze he describes as having aromas of sweaty horse saddle and horse piss – great! Hektor and I try to tell him that we are not especially familiar with either of these but to no avail. Food wise every thing was delicious but dishes and flavours that particularly stood out were the chicken of the woods in the risotto,
The chicken of the woods is the pinky/orange bits
a very meaty mushroom that might make some vegetarians shudder, the semi pickled carrots in the salad, the elderflower panacotta
and finally my favourite local cheese, Buxlow Wonmil. It makes a change to have lovely food paired with beers rather than wines and is something I might try myself. Of the beers I think my favourite was the Frambozen although the Gueuze was much nicer than Mark’s description would lead you to expect; its kind of nicely tangy and refreshing, a bit like liquid sourdough.
Its time for everyone to head their separate ways, full of new knowledge, exceptional food and plenty of beers. I have a glass of Benedictine for the road (fortunately my husband is collecting me) and we waddle off clutching our information packs, happy foragers that we now are.
You can find out more about Food Safari’s days out in Suffolk on their website, arrange gift vouchers for loved ones or simply book a treat for yourself. I’m hoping to try another one of their days soon.
To view the menu and other information about The Anchor at Walberswick click here. Go on treat yourself to some great food and beer.
When it came to deciding what to have for dinner on Saturday there was quite a bit of negotiating to be done – I fancied doing a curry but hubby gets to have what he tells me is a really good take out curry once a week for his lunch so was much less keen. As we wandered up and down the aisles in the local Waitrose pondering our choices I knew that time spent in a shop would take its toll and that if I kept my nerve he’d go with the curry idea in the end…..and so it came to pass that curry was on the menu.
I particularly wanted to do a curry as I’d spied bags of chickpea (gram) flour earlier in the week and under a somewhat misguided thought that one of the Indian breads was traditionally made with gram flour I wanted to give it a go. Quite where my notion that gram flour is used in Indian breads had come from I don’t know because of course once I got home with my 2 kilo bag and started looking out recipes I realised I was very wrong. I paused for thought, disappointed. Where was my mate Jay just when I needed some guidance on authentic uses for gram flour – not anywhere to be found. But in the back of my mind there was a niggling little thought that I had seen something made with gram flour that wasn’t a deep fried bhaji or pakora. Further searching and at last I found the recipe I was looking for ‘Onion pancakes’ in a book called Brit Spice by Manju Malhi. It a quick and easy recipe and you can adjust the flavourings to suit.
Makes about 6-10 pancakes depending on how thick you like them (so serves 2-4):
I onion, peeled and chopped
1 chilli, peeled and chopped (I didn’t have a fresh chilli so used about ¼ tsp dried chilli flakes)
1 tomato, peeled and chopped (I hate peeling tomatoes its such a faff so I left the skin on)
1tsp peeled grated root ginger (lazy ginger worked fine)
250ml/9fl oz water
150g/6oz chickpea/gram flour
1tsp cumin seeds
¼ tsp salt
oil to fry
Put the onion, chilli, tomato, ginger and water in a blender and blast until you have a runny paste – doesn’t need to be ultra smooth just get it mixed together pretty well.
Put the flour, cumin and salt into a bowl and mix together so the cumin seeds are well distributed.
Add the paste from the blender and mix to get a runny batter.
When you are ready to cook the pancakes heat a frying pan (15cm/6inch size), add a little oil, ladle in some batter to cover the pan base fairly thinly and cook for about 30 seconds or so each size. Put on a warm plate and get using the rest of the batter till you have a nice stack of pancakes.
Serve with the curry of your choice or with chutney and raita. Any that are left are also good cold with dips and tangy cheese. Yum.
I’ll definitely be trying these again (not least because there’s a lot of flour left!) and might see how they come out unspiced.
So what have we done so far with our roast chicken leftovers (apart from store them safely in the fridge of course)?
Well one of the favourite options is to rustle up a quick curry – always good whether you go for a creamy or a tomato based option. Probably not very authentic but WAY BETTER than anything you’ll get in a supermarket heat and eat; and believe me I know, I’ve tried a lot of heat and eat curry in my time searching for one that’s vaguely good. They are few and far between. Even if the supermarket recipe started out more authentic it’ll never taste quite as fresh and zingy as something you do yourself. So next time you’ve some leftover chicken gives this recipe a whirl and your taste buds a treat.
We went for a tomato based option and did a side of chickpeas and purple sprouting broccoli (because we happened to have a few bits of the latter lurking in the fridge drawer).
First the chicken curry…..
(enough for two – scale up with the chicken meat for greater numbers and add some water if there’s 4 of you, more tomatoes if there’s six – we could have made enough for six with the meat we had left but decided to save it for later in the week).
The pan: we always use some kind of low sided sauté type pan for curry as this helps the sauce thicken faster than a regular sauce pan would – which is quite important.
The onion: we pretty much always start by frying up an onion fairly finely chopped so its starts to colour but not get too dark (it can get bitter if it over colours though I have found a great curry recipe with really crispy onion but I’ll save that for another post).
The spices: then we add the spices which are a mix of mostly freshly ground and a few ready prepared; we just go with the flow of what we fancy taste wise and how hot we want it to be (this last point always being up for a bit of debate as I’m a bit of a curry wimp when it comes to the chilli content). This time we used coriander and cumin seeds, ground turmeric, dried chili flakes and a chopped fresh red chilli. We toss the spices with the onions for about a minute to start to release the flavours – boy does it start to smell lovely.
Tomatoes: we add a tin of chopped tomatoes and raise the heat so it all starts to simmer down.
The chicken: as the tomatoes begin to bubble quite vigorously we add the chicken meat, which I’ve pulled off from one of the legs and cut into smallish chunks.
We leave this to bubble away fairly rapidly, keeping an eye out and stirring every so often to prevent it catching on the pan bottom.
While that’s working its curry magic we get the chick peas and sprouting broccoli on the go, cutting the latter up into small florets and tossing with the chick peas, a tiny bit of water and a few twists from a garam masala spice mill plus a good dollop of greek yoghurt to coat everything. This cooks away and thickens whilst we pop on the basmati rice and get some bowls warming.
The chicken curry needs a good 20- 30 minutes of swift bubbling to get the chicken heated through and the sauce nice and concentrated, the chick peas and broccoli need about 15 minutes cooking (thought they’ll survive more if the timings go a bit awry) and the basmati needs 10 minutes boiling and few minutes after its drained to help fluff up.
Then its into the waiting bowls, to the table and dive in for a tasty curry experience. Pretty good all round authentic or not.
Oh and there still at least two meals left on the chicken before we even get to thinking about maybe making stock.