Sunday, April 28, 2013

Stalking the Wild Everything

 Saturday,  April 28, 2013

            There are two types of walkers… those who powerwalk, burn calories, extend their muscles and their stamina. The other group of us likes to linger, see the sights, notice the little things. We are born foragers. While the first group sees with the destination in sight, WE see (and enjoy) the little things around us:  the trees IN the forest and maybe even name them! My father and sisters are power walkers. I am like my mother… I like the scenery along the way. I linger longer, and press my nose against the Ponderosa Pine bark that smells like vanilla. I do NOT return from a walk all sweaty.

            So back to foraging.  That was the purpose, theme, and anticipation of today’s class-in-motion with Darina Allen. You see while I LONG to forage, I don’t know that much about it. Oh, I know a blackberry when I see it, and grew up picking sour grass from the side of the road, occasionally sucking the nectar out of those purple flowers from the low growing foliage, and I took a Field Biology in College where I ate sea urchin gonads. But I really don’t know anything about foraging … and I have always wanted to!

Fab Wellies, Darina!

            Darina gathered the 22 of us as a hen gathering her chicks. This was to be a full day class (9am – 5pm). She told about how foraging was a way of life for her as a girl with her family, but didn’t even know the word “forage.” It’s just what they did to procure most of their food: berries, fruit, nuts, herbs, leaves, shellfish, etc. Eating from nature does not only fill one’s stomach, but there is lost lore in how these plants help our bodies: Nettle keeps away “the rheumatics” .. Hawthorne for cardio vascular, feverfew for headaches, comfrey draws out infection, and carrageen (seaweed) that makes metabolism work optimally.

We begin in the garden...

            Then we were all out and about on the grounds of Ballymaloe where she pointed out the countless edible plants! We traipsed over fully half of the hundred acres (well, it seemed like it anyway), a 180 year old garden, seeing the edible gems hidden only from the uneducated eye:  

  1. stinging nettle
  2. primrose
  3. wild garlic
  4. lemon balm
  5. bitter cress
  6. Hawthorne leaves
  7. feverfew
  8. spruce tips
  9. lichen (yup lichen.. who knew?)
  10. borage
  11. hogweed flowers
  12. goosefoot
  13. sweet woodruff
  14. tansy (I thought those were poisonous)
  15. ground elder
  16. Bishop weed
  17. Beech 
  18. wood sorrel
  19. salad burnet
  20. chamomile
  21. sweet cicely
  22. Angelica
  23. Walnut leaves
  24. Cowslip
  25. plantain
  26. chickweed
Sea Kale grows on the coast, but folks plant it in their yards. When it first comes up,                        you cover it (blanch) so it remains pale. We had it steamed. It is a luscious flavor combination of asparagus and celery.
We tasted, evaluated, wrote down, and snapped pictures.  After some 90 minutes, we piled in four cars and drove the bumpy back roads, turning at random places to arrive at Ballyandreen right on the coast! Alexanders lined the roads.

The bluffs above Ballyandreen

            We had the luck of the Irish having a sunny day. First we climbed the bluff with Darina pointing out wild violets, mallow, wild sorrel, gorse, and wild thyme.  Straight below us were rocks and tide pools. Descending to those tide pools, we saw the stream picked clean of water cress, rock and marsh samphire .

Dorina in her outdoor classroom.
tiny periwinkles

                But the biggest bang for my buck($$$), came in discovering the shellfish that are there for the taking (responsibly of course … like manna in the wilderness). Darina pointed out limpets and periwinkles and muscles (they all looked pretty small to me and I’ll admit I had my doubts that this country Swede could fill up on them). Not at this shore, but nearby would be clams and cockles.  We looked at seaweeds (all types are edible) - laver, dulse, carrageen, sea spinach. Local farmers spread it on their land as a fertilizer. And cooking in seawater is the best medium for all of these – not just because it already has salt, but for all the many minerals and goodness.

My Wellies working well!
the coastal haul...
         Then back to the school for a quick lunch and into the classroom to see the alchemy of fire and nature’s bounty:

  1. Foragers Soup and Foragers Salad
  2. Cooked Alexanders
  3. Dandelion Flower Fritters
  4. Crystallised Flowers
  5. Candied Angelica
  6. Nettle Beer
  7. Salad of Hot-smoked salmon, beetroot, horseradish cream and watercress
  8. Knotweed with melted butter
  9. Elderflower Lemonade
  10. Wild Garlic Pesto
  11. Nettle and Ricotta Pizza
  12. Rock Samphire with Melted Butter
  13. Gorse Wine
  14. Compote of Rhubarb with Sweet cicely
  15. Herb Tea Tisanes 

                       How many of these can you identify?

I spy with my little eye this blog's author!

            Darina and her assistant Emer, moved in an almost choreographed dance of teaching, commenting, preparing, and plating all what we had brought back! So, here are the pictures. 

All manner of crystallized edible flowers

Amazing periwinkles! You take the pin to get the meat out and dip in the freshly made mayonnaise.

Believe it or not these are dandelion flowers dipped in batter, fried, and sugared.

Amazing muscles we had just gathered... ethereal! 

fresh hot smoked salmon and foraged greens.

           I can tell you that it was delicious. The periwinkles while microscopically small were amazing, and the muscles intoxicating. There is even an "oyster leaf" that tastes uncannily like an oyster when you bite into it!

            Now… to remember what's what when I see it!


  1. I'm now looking with curiosity at my patch of bishop's weed. Edible, eh?

  2. :Looking forward to your next blog. Hope you had a memorable time with family. Xoxox D