“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.
After cooking up a good batch of stock on Friday afternoon it was then time to use up most of the rest of the roast chicken leftovers.
Subconsciously I must have known it was ‘British Pie Week’ (as created by Jus-Rol the makers of ready to roll pastry!) as I’d been thinking creamy chicken pie with mushrooms or leeks for a few days. And to do credit to Jus-Rol it was their pastry I used – there was a half packet near the top of the freezer leftover from a previous pie-making moment that was begging to be put to good use – and so out it came to be defrosted.
Now I know you can say its not exactly home cooking to use ready made pastry and if it had been shortcrust that was needed I might have made my own as I’m finally quite good at it. I used to be rubbish at pastry but I think your hands just get colder as you get older so you get better without trying – at least in relation to making shortcrust pastry ;). But I find that a hot meaty pie needs a puff pastry top because really I love the way it gets all crispy on the top and soggy next to the filling without ending up too heavy or stodgy. Plus we have to remember that sometimes a few quick cheaty bits in the kitchen help to deliver a different dish – if I’d thought I’d have to make puff pastry myself, something not attempted since domestic science at school (such a great name to inspire teenagers to cook –what were they thinking) then there’d have been no pie.
So cheats pastry it was (come on, Delia cheats what can be wrong with it?).
To the pie filling. This was an amalgam of having read many recipes over the years and just thinking through what I wanted. Creamy but not too creamy; so crème fraiche instead of double cream. I wanted the mushrooms to play as big a part as the chicken – well I would they are in my top 5. And that was pretty much were I was coming from.
So chop an onion and sauté in a little butter (for me onion just adds
a nice tangy sweet flavour to any savoury dish – its a staple ingredient). I also added a couple of rashers of bacon chopped up small – because I had some thereto use up. Then add the mushrooms chopped into medium chunks or left whole if they are tiny. I used some big portobello’s and some small chestnut mushrooms to get to different textures – the portobello’s are softer the chestnut ones quite dense. Cook down a bit until the mushrooms start to release their juices. Add the chicken cut into bite sized chunks, a splash of white wine bring to a simmer and add the crème fraiche. Cook it down a little so it’s thickening up. Putit in the pie dish (remember you need a pie funnel if the dish is deep).
Roll out your home made (swot) or cheaty pastry (top marks for thinking ahead) to a good inch larger than the pie dish. Cut off about ½ inch of this extra and use it to create a pastry rim round the dish – even if you don’t need one it means there’ll be some extra crispy crust. Moisten the pastry rim and the lid and apply lid to rim. Pinch together with your fingers then knock up the edges with a knife to help give some extra lift. Cut a slit to allow the steam out. Apply decorative pastry patterns with any remaining pastry. Into the oven it goes – gas 6 (200C/400F) for around 30 minutes to cook the pastry.
Serve with a flourish but hope that it doesn’t collapse like mine did, the filling was a long way below the pastry – still tasted great though.
Today its time to use the rest of the roast chicken. Its going to be a chicken and mushroom pie for dinner and a big batch of stock. So off to get any missing ingredients and prepare for a lovely afternoon of cooking (and delicious aromas filling the house).
Come back later to check on how things are progressing.
For those of you unfamiliar with the term ‘butty’ the OED defines it as follows:
butty (also buttie) noun (pl. butties) informal, chiefly N. English a filled or open sandwich: a bacon butty. – ORIGIN mid 19th cent.: from BUTTER+-Y.
Or perhaps think about Ken Dodd for a moment and the jam butty mines – or maybe don’t. Also, of course, there are chip butties and cheese butties. In essence any kind of sandwich can be called a butty although I’m not sure you’d apply the term to something filled with chicken and avocado or crayfish and rocket or cucumber…..now there’s a thought a cucumber butty – a new slant on afternoon tea.
Anyway back on the bacon butty trail – this morning I had a great example rustled up for breakfast from some beer cured back bacon, some sautéed portobello mushrooms, a good dollop of ketchup (my favourite Stokes Real Ketchup – yum) and 2 slices of properly chewy wholemeal.
It was great.
But then I’m probably biased as I made it.
I’ve been thinking about my favourite foods recently, listing, considering, adding, subtracting, juggling, testing…….although I’ve not quite got to my top 5 just yet I’m getting close.
But one thing that has just got to be on there is MUSHROOMS.
I love them in all their different guises. From elegant looking oysters to hearty portobellos and every stop in between, they are a (very) regular feature of my cooking. Stews, stir fries, omelette, risotto, pasta and fry ups.
But I’d stake a lot on the two best ways being:
1. Sauteed in butter and eaten on toast (rye or sourdough for preference)
2. The thing that makes a bacon sandwich truly great (oh joy)
And here are some big fat organic field mushrooms cut into generous sized chunks being sauteed in butter – wonderful, wonderful, wonderful.
Sometimes you just NEED to have a burger in a bun for your supper. Well yesterday that was me.
A quick search in the freezer revealed some organic beef burgers that seemed to fit the bill – each quite small so it wouldn’t count as sheer greed but only mild gluttony to have two.
So out they came to be defrosted during the day and sit winking at me from the counter each time I passed. I thought carefully about what condiments and sides should accompany them to add to the experience. I spooled through ideas in my head remembering previous winning combinations and all the while the anticipation was building.
At last I settled on an ‘open burger’ – only 1 bun between two burgers so there would be no ‘lid’. Off I set to get some buns, choice was limited and I had to settle for wholemeal floured rolls (perhaps at this point I should have spotted that things might be about to go wrong but no I continued to think I was building the dream burger I craved).
Back home the burgers were cooked on very hot chargrill pan for about 5 minutes per side, each of the two sides of the bun was given a different treatment – one had mayo, one ketchup (find both of them at the Stokes brand of Essfoods) – and the side orders of saute portobello mushrooms and grilled baby plum tomatoes duly prepared. Then the whole things was rapidly assembled and whisked to the table to be greedily devoured.
But something had gone wrong – perhaps not very wrong – after all I still managed to eat everything but some how it just didn’t cut it. The bread was tasteless and dry, the burger tasteless and kind of watery – its texture was fine but there was just nothing to the whole thing – no zing, no nice beefy flavour, no soft but fresh tasting bread effect. To be fair the mayo and the ketchup and the sides were great but instead of supporting a strong main act they were left to hold up the whole show on their own!
So the problem – well I can only think that the burgers didn’t stand up to the freezing very well on this occasion. I’ve had the same burgers before both fresh and defrosted and they have been pretty good – not as good as if you made them yourself but there isn’t always time for that kind of thing. And as for the buns well maybe wholemeal just doesn’t work with burgers – I love wholemeal bread but it doesn’t seem to do it on the burger front.
Or just perhaps, the fact I had been dreaming of perfect burgers all day meant nothing would live up to the expectation!
Its been pretty cold the last day or so with a snow fall of about 6 inches today – something we haven’t seen for a long time (18 years according to the records). So its mostly all about curling up near the heater/fire/radiator with a warm drink and a small snack whilst contemplating which warming dish to have for lunch or dinner.
Soups and stews are the order of the day and better still if there are a few things to hand to cook one up relatively quickly. Who wants to have to scrape the snow off the car to go and get dinner in weather like this when the time could be better spent making snowmen and going for a brisk walk? So its been a search in the fridge and cupboards for things that can quickly be rustled up into hearty dishes.
Porridge for breakfast – always good on a cold day; then a soup for lunch made from onion, canned beans, sliced leftover sausage (salami, ham or bacon would also do the trick) and the last bits of a cabbage – a kind of muddled up caldo verdo/minestrone.
The search for dinner possibilities revealed beef stew leftovers (always happens when there are two of you to feed – stew and casserole recipes don’t seem to be devised for less than 4 – but hey why worry when they are almost always tastier on the second go). We added some big field mushrooms and then some pasta which we cooked and stirred in at the last minute.
All good warming dishes, no trip to the shops needed and plenty of chance to make snowmen because there won’t be another chance to do that for nearly 20 years!