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Fashionable foraging

"If it's had something urinate on it, it's good to eat." Mike Eggert

"The face of Mussel man, a.k.a Lance Wiffen from the Sea Bounty in Australia’s mussel capital, Portarlington, was carefully painted on one side of a mussel shell and served with Blue-lip mussels and sea saltbush." Dining Without Borders

I actually wasn't going to talk about fancy food like this from Ben Shewry at Attica or even from the king of foraging Rene Redzepi of Noma. I was/am actually going to talk about more homely stuff, but as I 'researched' I, of course, came across those two famous foragers - and, of course, there are many more. Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall was one of the early movers of course, but he's not an haute cuisine man. Suffice to say that it's increasingly common for the most celebrated of celebrity chefs often use foraged, or indigenous ingredients and make a big deal out of it. At the very least an increasing number of restaurants have their own kitchen gardens. So one more quote from the celebrity scene - Rene Redzepi himself this time and then I will move on.

"All of the people who work in the kitchen with me go out into the forests and on to the beach. It's a part of their job. If you work with me you will often be starting your day in the forest or on the shore because I believe foraging will shape you as a chef." Rene Redzepi

No one more thing. Because the super chefs forage, and because modern times, COVID and slightly nuts and berries types have been encouraging us to forage, there are an increasing number of courses on how to do it. Indeed once I had started down the foraging path for this post I checked to see if I could do one myself. Because I don't know what's what other than dandelions and blackberries. And mushrooms - well I just don't dare.

And I did find a course - over on the Merri Creek - about twenty minutes drive from here - maybe half an hour and cheap too - only $30. It's run by a man called Adam Grubb for an organisation called Eat that Weed. I'm seriously thinking of doing it. They have a book too.

And then I saw a lady in England complaining about all the people gathering mushrooms in the New Forest in Hampshire and thereby destroying the forest by denuding it of mushrooms. Apparently in Epping Forest which is near where I grew up, they have banned the picking of mushrooms. She also complained heartily about John Wright one of the River Cottage people who ran courses in the New Forest, charging £70 a pop for at least 25 people for every course. Whilst I think there is a certain degree of right on both sides of that particular battle I also think it is rather sad that it's so hard to get a balance between people being 'natural' if you like and commerce. Once again it almost seems that you have to be rich to enjoy the foodstuffs which sustained the poorest in the land for centuries.

I also remember reading in one of my cookbooks - maybe the Cornersmith one - Use it Up - in which the author said that, with permission, she harvested the fruit from her neighbours' trees and made things to sell in her shop. She did not mention whether the person whose tree it was ever got compensated, but it didn't sound like it. Exploitation I thought.

There's a lot of twaddle written about foraging - e.g.

"The way I see it, gathering food is our oldest, most primal relationship to the earth and “wildcrafting'' (transforming the raw elements of nature into food, drink, and medicine) is the world's oldest magic." Danielle Prohom Olson/Gather Victoria

I suppose it's not exactly twaddle but it is a bit over the top. However the same lady has some divine looking dishes on her website. I'm sort of jumping the gun here but in a post that I came across today called Glorious spring greens: the divine flavours of Viriditas she talks at length about gathering various weedy, and native greens in her area - Victoria in British Columbia, not Victoria Australia and suggests various dishes. This one is a Latvian bitter greens soup with dumplings, although I think you have to subscribe to get access to the actual recipe. The point is, I suppose that even though she's a bit witchy and fey - she probably believes in astrology too - the food looks great.

I now see that I am going backwards with this post.

It all began with a rare opportunity to watch a cooking program on the television yesterday. It happened to be an episode from Food Safari - Fire in which Matt Germanchis, the chef who made the world's best pizza at the championships in Italy showed us how to make Hortopita (Spinach and feta pie) - or rather his grandmother Christina did.

I think I had been dimly aware of this dish - it's not complicated - well unless you make the pastry yourself, and the filling is gloriously variable. Basically you just go out and forage for greens and herbs of some kind. Or you can forage in your fridge for the limp and unloved, or forage in the supermarket for what's on special - make it go limp in a pan, add some beaten eggs and pour into your pastry. Top with crumbled feta and lots of olive oil, cover with pastry and bake. Preferably in some kind of wood-fired oven - he used an old Aga they had in the back yard. But of course you could do it in an oven.

Anyway it got me to thinking about foraging and considering doing that course. And then on my walk back from the shops today I saw various goodies hanging over garden fences and wondered whether I was entitled to take them. And yes apparently you are. So I saw olives and some fruit on a palm tree. I have no idea what it is. Which brought me back to the need to do that course. I looked out all the way home and saw various things - some I knew were Ok to eat, some I had no idea. And then again, even if they are edible weeds surely they need to be tasty too? Yes - think I might do that course. This is what I saw. I know the olives, and the dandelions. If you know what the others are, let me know.


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