Fergus the Forager
For and from the GMTV website minus all the stupid adverts
Read Fergus Drennan's diary about his passion for foraging for food, get his recipes and find out what happened when GMTV descended...
Today, is my 11th day of eating nothing but wild and foraged food - there is a distinction - and those eager beavers at GMTV, the chief culprit being Matt Arnold, woke me up at 5am to start preparing breakfast. Wild foods are definitely on the menu, although I hadn't factored in such wildly early hours. Normally it would be fine.
Just grab a coffee and embrace the caffeine culture of speed. No such luxury. But is it really such a luxury? Isn't it just so much more fun and rewarding to drink wild coffee made with roasted acorns and wild water, to remember the warm autumn days gathering acorns in the sun, the jays fluttering in the branches above and squirrels twitching their tails in anticipation of their next nut for the winter store? I certainly think so!
Sourcing and eating wild food really opens your eyes, your mind and heart, in fact, your whole being, to a deep appreciation of and connection to the natural world around you! The more you eat, the better the feeling. Now you don't get that with cakes and chocolate which, admittedly, are great at first but later...
Today's breakfast menu is most interesting, in my opinion, because of the salad and, in particular, the salad dressing. Having eaten wild salads (amongst other things of course!) virtually every day for the last two weeks I've been getting, not bored exactly, but just desirous of a little dressing luxury. This morning I cracked it! So here's the breakfast menu starting with that all important sexy salad sauce!
1 litre spring water
Pull the berries off the stughorn sumac berry clusters and squash with a potato masher in the spring water. Strain and add the seaweed powder. Add the 2 different juices and salt, then bring to the boil. Continue to boil for five minutes. Strain out the seaweed and pour liquid in a suitable bottle. Add finely chopped dittander and chives and shake well. Leave to cool. This will also allow the mustard pungency of the dittander leaves to infuse. Wow!
Salad (on the side)
INGREDIENTS (varying proportions of each)
Grated alexanders roots
Roughly chop or tear the the leaves and mix together with the grated roots and flowers. Easy!
Pheasant with wild mushrooms and other goodies
4 Pheasant breasts
Scrub and chop the roots into small batons and boil for 10 mins in seasalted spring water. Meanwhile finely chop the fresh or rehydrated wild mushrooms, mixing with some chopped wild garlic leaves. Bash your pheasant breast out flat and stuff with the chopped leaves and fungi. Form a parcel with the meat, skewered and shallow fry. Whilst frying toss in some different mushrooms for good measure and boil the rest of the wild garlic in a pan of spring water. Bring it all together and serve hot.
Something sweet instead......
Chestnut and apple porridge
A handful of dried chestnuts
Grind the chestnuts and apple, add water and blend some more. Place in a pan with a little more water and heat until required thickness is reached.
And to drink...
Acorn and rosehip seed coffee
Simply shell, roast and grind the acorns with the roasted seeds (hairs removed) and infuse in boiling water
Seabuckthorn and apple juice
Want to know more? I run wild food courses. Can't bear the thought of it? Stay away from my website at wildmanwildfood.co.uk
How to skin a Badger
My name is Fergus Drennan or Fergus the Forager as I like to be called - not the roadkill chef (I blame that particular moniker on Paul Kingsnorth) and..well, I'm just an average bloke really.
Nevertheless, I am perhaps a little more sensitive to certain cultural and environmental pressures than some and feel compelled to respond creatively. Of course, most Ecologist readers do this in any case, using all the particular skills they possess. My skills lie in cooking (some would disagree), nature appreciation, insatiable curiosity and looking beyond the limitations of certain cultural taboos. My aim is to let those skills inform my eating habits as much as possible as I seek to battle the culture of waste and cult of speed, not forgetting to mention, of course, the environmental degradation that follows in swift pursuit. It may be that I'm doomed to failure, that I've failed before having even begun, that gross hypocrisy and contradiction will mar my every step. But step into a past-peak-oil future we must. To that end I did a thought experiment. What if cheap food runs out; what if all conventional food runs out; what would I do? I would have to switch to the transition food of a transition diet: foraged and wild food. Could I live that way for a year? Maybe. Would it help inform others - small sustainable eco-communities, as to the wealth of wild foods they could use to supplement their diets and the processing problems and other pitfalls they would need to overcome? Probably. Would it be fun, stupid, playful, absurd? No doubt. Should I stop the thought experiment and do it for real? YES, WHY NOT!
Today is the the 11th day of my year-long 100% wild/foraged food eating experiment. So far so good - actually that's not quite true as I'll explain in a bit, nevertheless, assuming I eat three meals a day, I can already cross thirty-three off the list which means there are now only another one thousand and sixty two to go. So, no problem there then!
Apart from my comments above, there are many reasons for carrying out this experiment. There are the obvious environmental ones of course. We've all seen the astonishingly disgraceful figures detailing the tonnes of perfectly good food we throw away every year; we all know about the polluting effects of excessive food miles and the resulting packaging that is destroying our landscape, be that as ubiquitous plastic bag remnants in trees, oceans full of the albatross-suffocating-and-starving stuff, and landfill stinking with the out-of-sight-out-of-mind debris of our rampant consumerism. Eating wild food seems to bypass many of these problems whilst, inevitable, giving rise to inherent problems of its own. And, in that respect, I'm definitely not suggesting that if the current millions populating the British Isles returned to subsistence living and we all foraged for our supper we would achieve a return to some lost Eden of plenty, a place where we all lie basking in the sun with sheep and lions (as The Jehovah's Witness Watchtower magazine would have it), with humanity and nature in perfect harmony, at one, as manna gently falls on a heavenly summer breeze: Far from it, far far from it! The dire results would make foliage stripping locusts of us all. Nevertheless, through incorporating a certain amount of wild food into the diet there is much to be learned.....
Waste has always bothered me in all it's various guises: wasted words - mindless babel when silence would be more appropriate and powerful, wasted time, wasted skills, wasted talent, wasted opportunities, wasted food and wasted clothes amongst other things. Why buy new clothes when charity shops are brimming full with good things? Why go to some crappy sweat-shop-sourcing cheap clothes chain when you could make your own?! It is to that end that an unexpected project has inspired my interest, perhaps even more than my wild food diet. Right now, thanks to being pointed in the right direction by archaeologist Karen Hardy at the university of York, I'm reading through a PhD thesis entitled Skin Processing Technology In Eurasian Reindeer Cultures by Torunn Klokkerness. This is with a view to creating a whole Davey Crockett set of roadkill skin clothes: boots, trousers, jacket and hat (maybe with a feather in it!). To that end I already have a badger, fox and rabbit skin soaking in a bucket of my own urine as part of the initial tanning process. If all fails at least it'll make a good soup! Interestingly, the procedure has made me appreciate urine as a valuable resource, something definitely not to be wasted. I've found my self trying to hold it in so as to be able to reach home and my piss awaiting bucket!!
This is how you skin a Badger.
1)fresh road slaughtered badger
2) Cut down the underside with a very sharp knife or razor blade. Just to cut the skin, not the flesh
3) Start to peel the skin back
4) Continue cafefully peeling back away from the flesh
5) Pull out arms and legs
6) Skin side - still needs scraping
7) fur side
Now, just on the off chance that any vegans are reading this and are feeling outraged (as I, in fact, am) at the thought of roadkill or, more to the point, are outraged by my behaviour, let me tell you something. The last time I visited Karen Hardy at the University of York it was to discuss the possibility of me not brushing my teeth for the year's duration of my wild food diet. One of her specializations is the analysis and identification of starch grains in Mesolithic dental plaque from recovered teeth. Apart from giving us a greater understanding as to our ancestor's diet, dental plaque research has other interesting applications. It seems that analysis of various foods sold as vegan has revealed that, actually, animal products are present. Because throughout July I have decided to eat an exclusively vegan diet, analysis of my dental plaque may help to refine research. This means more scamming bastards who put meat products in vegan food are likely to be exposed! Actually, I think to a large extent it is unintentional - due to cost cutting, perhaps, or inadequate sourcing of materials.
Now, let's get back to the wild food.
April Fool's Day
A glass of sea buckthorn and apple juice
Chestnut and apple porridge served with (disgusting) Alexander root milk - big mistake!
A mug of feverfew tea
Wild Spring Salad
(alexanders leaf and flower buds, fennel leaf, Hoary Cress, Smooth Sow Thistle
Hairy Bittercress, Dandelion Leaves, Garlic Mustard, Honesty Leaf and Flowers
Common Mallow, Red Valerian, White deadnettle Flowers)
(30g acorn flour, 10g wild garlic leaf powder after making leaf curd, i.e with protein removed,
6g dried yellow le mushrooms, very large handful of seabeet, very small handful of cleavers
a pinch of Herne Bay's finest sea salt)
Wild garlic, nettles, burdock root, alexanders root, evening primrose root, cleavers, charlock
hawthorn leaf, blackberry leaf, garlic mustard etc etc etc spring and seawater soup
Japanese Knotweed stewed in wild apple juice
A piece of wild cherry cheese
Feverfew tea throughout the day
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
The Caffeine Kick Gets A Kicking
Four years in a row I've fasted for one or two weeks twice a year - just drinking water. This is a wonderful thing to do - provided you're not anorexic and your health is good. Anyway, the first four days, sometimes even the full fourteen, were always a major arse pain.
I'm partial to a cup or two or three......of strong, stronger, strongest coffee. The first days of such fasts, then, were always dominated by severe coffee withdrawal headaches - excruciating. Then, last year I found out about feverfew and it's reputation as a migraine cure. Well, the herb is WONDERFUL!!!!!!!!!!! I drank three cups on 31st March, three every day until 4 days ago, then one a day and, finally, none. No headaches, and believe me I HAD been caining the caffeine! The only hint of a germinal headache came as I was on the way up to London to see Paul Kingsnorth at his book launch, a few weeks ago now. Unfortunately after 4 station stops I had to text him the following:
"Hi Paul. Was on the train 2 London - even took wild soup and wine, thought about all those stressed and hurried people rushing about at Victoria station, felt nauseous, got off train! Going back home. Really hope it goes well 2night + look 4ward 2 reading the bk! Fergus x"
As soon as I arrived back in Herne Bay I nosed about the local park, found some fever few and ate it. My germinal headache was eradicated at source! I also found some Japanese Knotweed so, arriving home, I stewed it up, this time with windfall dwarf quince and wild apple juice.
Japanese knotweed, in fact, is a fabulous plant and has been serving me very well these past two weeks. However, it is true that in many ways it can drive you mad - wild even. The day before my abortive trip to London I had come across a wonderful quote about the plant that I had forwarded to Paul after using it to conclude an article I had just written on the plant's culinary value. It just seemed so incredibly apt given the subject matter of his new book Real England. Karen Leach, writing for Birmingham friends of the Earth has come up with this delightful analogy:
"a similar monoculture has been creeping into our high streets all over the country, and is similarly tenacious, pernicious and rage-inspiring.
Just as Knotweed is all cloned from one single plant, so the big chains are all cloned from global corporations. Just as Knotweed makes it impossible for the local plant life at its roots, and thus kills off the local insects and the local birds, so the big chain shops kill off the local independent shops around them and thus destroys the local economy. Just as Knotweed will come back again several growing seasons in a row until those of us out there with mallets and rollers are exhausted, so a big supermarket, refused planning permission, will apply again and again until the Council and local people are worn down and give in."
Next time I want to tell you about the amazing generosity of saints: St George and St Werburgh. In the meantime, I won't be going hungry.
On today's dinner menu: Slow roasted charlock and cleavers stuffed pheasant cooked with chestnuts, wild mushrooms and apple juice, and served with braised burdock roots and sea beet.
And, besides, I've quite sensibly laid down a not insignificant quantity of supplies:
Inventory of wild food supplies April 2008
250g sea salt (Herne Bay)
1.4kg dried apple rings
363g mixed dried wild mushrooms: tawny funnel caps, hedgehog fungus, parasols, trooping funnel caps
156g dried field blewit mushrooms
286g dried yellow leg mushrooms
300g dried mixed boletus mushrooms: ceps, orange birch bolete, bay bolete
7.437 kg dried chestnuts
1.775 kg alexanders root flour
2.170 kg roasted alexanders root flour
1.6 kg roasted acorn halves for coffee
1.8kg coarse grade acorn flour
3.6 kg fine acorn flour
2.3 kg dried rose hip seeds
940g roasted rose hip seeds for coffee
350g hazel nuts in shells
590g Carrageen seaweed powder
2.135 kg dried kelp powder
915g dried dulse powder
580g dried unlabeled and unknown seaweed powder - probably kelp and serrated wrack
590g chickweed powder (from 2002)
95g hairy bittercress powder
268g dried wintercress powder
100g wild garlic leaf powder (after extracting protein content for leaf curd)
528g slightly burnt rosehip and apple juice cheese roll
1.525 kg wild cherry cheese roll
150g curly dock seed flour
100g dried wild cherries
140g powdered alexanders seeds
140g unknown flour
180g unknown but probably evening primrose seed pod flour
20g reedmace seed head flour
100g tree mallow seed flour
454g wild garlic leaf curd
225g alexanders leaf curd
8 x 50 ml bottles 4x concentrated apple juice
6 x 250 ml jars 5x concentrated apple juice
29 portions of seaweed, pheasant and fox soup
29 portions of nettle, wild garlic, burdock root, alexanders root, evening primrose root etc etc soup
40 litres spring water
9x 500 ml bottles rosehip (and apple) syrup
57 x 750ml bottles sea buckthorn juice
4 x 750ml bottles clear extracted sea buckthorn juice for vinegar
30 x 750 ml bottles apple juice
7 pints bullace plum wine
6 pints rosehip wine
7 pints apple wine
3 frozen pheasants
350g processed badger protein
1 frozen rabbit
950g pure processed badger fat
3 badger intestines for sausage making
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
Speeding up to slow down
Speeding up to slow down; speeding up to mow down; the first reflects one of the terrible ironies of the modern world; the second, one of its tragedies: Roadkill.
The concepts of both tragedy and irony are rich seams for creative inspiration to chip and forage away at in the search for nuggets of truth. As a forager who, since the beginning of April, has been attempting to live the entire year on wild food, I have been forced to explore this dreadful irony. In fact, this particularly exhausting irony is more finely nuanced than you might suppose, as its juxtaposition of opposites has some particularly annoying friends: got to hit rock bottom before climbing back up; you can only completely appreciate a full belly of food when yours has been entirely empty, and other such variations on the theme of apparent contradiction. In fact, I'm coming to realize (not that it isn't completely obvious) that living in the modern world with a regular job, and all the other clutter of modernity, postmodernity - or whatever you wish to call it, is virtually impossible if one wishes to forage for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That, in itself, is a full-time Mesolithic job. And so, in my hectic rush to slow down these past three weeks, only one thing has allowed me to do so. The moment came last week after meeting Adam, the creative explorer of roadkill tragedies (and so much more) at his show, Roadkill: The Last Supper. All his pieces are brimming with painful nuggets of truth - the truth of tragedy and, yet, also the truth of opportunity; the opportunity to change. Look deeply at his works and you may be struck so intensely that you breakdown, burst into tears, as I did, or even laugh hysterically in opposition to your deeper feelings. But, playing positively with the dynamics of contradiction, and looking deeper still, the horrors that cause such passion breakdown into more basic parts: love and compassion, friendship and laughter.
So what led me to react the way I did, to have such a strong emotional reaction? Well, the answer lies in the resurfacing of a painful childhood memory, an event that so traumatized me at the time that its influence touches on many of my beliefs and activities today. It is, for example, why, in part (always in part), I am concerned about roadkill; why I refuse to sell wild food; why I have never smoked and why, indeed, I have issues with any form of external authority or power - be that rules of grammar, teachers, governments or global capitalism.
It was a gloriously warm and windless sunny day in early May 1979. With reckless abandon, nature had decided to cast aside the cold shackling chains of winter, showing off instead her fully verdant spring virility for all she was worth. I was 8 years old and bursting with enthusiasm for all things wild that crawled, hopped, flew or simply hid away from my prying eye. It was the prying eye of identification. Seek, find, name, understand, befriend. That was the childish logic of my daily pursuits and it applied especially to beetles, spiders, butterflies, moths, frogs, toads and newts.
A typical day, then, would see me striding out net in hand to capture things that flew - butterflies and moths, or things that swam - sticklebacks, toads and newts. Having built a small garden pond I was very keen to bring it to life with wildlife riches from what I considered to be the mother pond down the road, so off I skipped to the local park.
Everything was just so perfect - that perfection informed by both relativity and welcoming relief. It had been cold and grey for the previous few weeks and now the relative change in weather fortunes had families out playing games on the grass whilst other groups of people lay sprawled out in homage to the spring sunshine. Around the pond tadpoles were teeming and newts were abundant amongst the weeds. I was feeling particularly chuffed after managing to net both a male and female newt. I retired to the grass to watch them swim about in my jar, imagining my little pond some time in the not too distant future filled with generations of newts now that I had, so cleverly, hooked these two up together. After all, it was obvious from the way they swam that they were now partners for life with a one track mind: make baby newts!
As I lay there two older boys ambled over, admired my newts and asked if I would get them a few. Seeing my reluctance they offered me 10p for every newt I could get. Wow, my pocket money was only £1, and I had to wait a week for that. Now, I calculated, I could earn that with my net in about half an hour. No doubt these boys also had ponds in need of a few newts. Catching 10 newts was a sinch. I returned to the boys, now sitting in a ring that had grown in number to about 6, and triumphantly presented them with a jar of newts. The exchange was done; two fifty pence pieces jangled in my pocket; the sun shone; the day had reached an entirely unanticipated perfection beyond perfect. I walked away and glanced back over my shoulder. The boys (actually 4 boys and 2 girls) had placed the jar at the centre of their circle. As I continued to gaze one of the boys waved me away with a dismissive flick of the hand. Feeling uneasy for the first time I continued to linger, watching as they tipped the water out. I was acutely aware that on a very hot day newts liked to remain cool so this puzzled me. With some boldness, and in spite of again being waved away, I turned back. Perhaps they simply didn't realise that the newts wouldn't like to be out of water in the midday sun? If so, that was surprising because, I thought, older boys and girls, being so much more knowledgeable than me, would have known this. The jar had now been completely emptied of water. One of the boys held his hand over the jar. A cigarette dropped from his mouth - up until this point I had not noticed that everyone there was smoking. On his hands and knees, the only free hand he had that was not supporting his weight was the one covering the newt jar. He removed this to retrieve his cigarette. As he did so two determined newts made a successful bid for freedom. There was much laughter as he fell over trying to retrieve them. This struck me as a perfect moment to pipe up. So I did, suggesting that if there was water in the jar the newts would be quite happy and not try to escape. "You've got your money, now FUCK OFF!", said the boy who had handed over the 50 pence pieces. Suddenly the day of joy and light was taking on a darker hue. More laughter at the shocked look on my face. I explained that the reason I had got the newts, apart from the money, was my understanding that they wanted them for their pond. This statement sent them into convulsions of laughter. "Fuck off", they shouted, "we don't need you any more; we'll do what the fuck we want with them."
I won't give any graphic description, suffice to say, what they wanted included burning them with cigarette butts and mashing and grinding all life from the newts with pounding sticks and and hammering stones. As they laughed merrily with bits of newt splatter on their faces I stood, watched, and cried. Dark is the night without light or reason.
And so with these dark memories locked away I strolled around the gallery, until....
Road Kill ( Light on Reason )
The piece had the following explanation or, rather, observation:
One world famous Squirrel, oil taw, willow lantern-work and three bar stool, coin of the realm and chromium plated steel bolts, oiled rope. When I began working on the squirrel I discovered the skull had all but completely disintegrated. I presume on impact. Further investigation showed broken limbs, ( both fore paws and left hind leg ) massive internal injury, stomach having burst through the abdominal muscles and finally its spine had been snapped in half. Trauma throughout the muscular systems of the animal was evident. I'm reminded of a recent experience with students showing me a podcast of a squirrel being launched into the air via a clay pigeon launcher and the resultant giggles.
I could hear the demented laughter once again, its long-remembering arms dragging me back through time to be surrounded by grotesque newt splattered and contorted faces.
Dark is the night without light or reason. And yet 8 years after that incident, about the time when I must have been the same age as those boys and girls, I was ready to understand through an exploration of my own inner darkness. On a windy night of madness as clouds rushed across the moon I fully explored the complexity of their motivation - its ugly and wicked depravity as well as its deep fear and genuine curiosity so that, in part, I now understand.
Respect is one of the keys; respect not purely represented in action but as intention, as a state of mind. Over the course of the coming year I intend to continue with my wild animal skins project; I intend to continue with a diet that may at times include roadkill. I may even post up a few recipies. There will be stock, wild roots, mushrooms and salt. And yet neither these nor the main roadkill food item will be the main ingredient; the most important ingredient. That ingredient will be respect because respect is the key.
Any roadkill clothes I make and food I cook will all be made with respect in mind. Here I am supported in friendship and agreement with Adam. As he has said and I would say:
"All my pieces contain naturally processed forms which without exception bare in mind the simple premise of working with respect. The processes I use are indigenous in origin and therefore proven to be environmentally benign. However it is not entered into lightly and my understanding comes from the knowledge of what it costs to produce.
My premise is that all synthetic and processed materials have a relative cost and we as adults make a conscious decision regarding the materials we use. Often these decisions are made without a true understanding and therefore due to this fundamental flaw without our true consent.
I entered into making these pieces to highlight the plight of many of the animals under our care and stewardship and believe we have a duty care to protect and sustain the natural spaces still remaining, before we ruin them by exhausting them completely.
The real truth; 'It is easy to turn a blind eye'"
If you read my last blog you will know that I had intended to write about the generosity of saints and, in particular Bristol's St Werburg and England's St George. One supplied me with wild garlic, japanese knotweed, and a roadkill buzzard amongst other things, the other with his eponymous mushrooms. Well, it's a long story and there's no time for it now. At least that protector and defender of animals has put in an appearance: St Francis!
Next time, my trials with wild bread - so far disaster but hopefully, by this time next week, success!!!?
Thursday, May 08, 2008
Better Bread Than Dead
Better Bread Than Dead
I won't pretend that the last five weeks have been easy. In fact everything has been far harder than I anticipated. This is all because the number one ingredient of any completely wild food diet is not to be found in woodland, field or stream, not even lying ignored, dead and forgotten by the side of the road. In fact, it is neither plant nor animal, neither fungi nor seaweed and, strangely, has no food value whatsoever. And yet, although always present, it never stands still; in times of sadness and moments of pain, like a ponderous tortoise it tortuously creeps, and in times of joy, like a swallow it sweeps - if one wishes to get poetic about it. Which all goes to make this particular quarry far more elusive. It is none other than time itself and, in particular, its successful management.
The foundations of successful time management lie in the ability to be organized generally and to have a plan. And, given that under normal circumstances I'm completely, hopelessly and unforgivably disorganized as well as usually having about 10 rough plans for the day - when one or two would be quite sufficient, things have not been proceeding quite as smoothly as I would have liked.
Speeding up when attempting to slow life down can have dire consequences leading to enforced slowness. Today, or rather, tonight, is such a time; a night for juggling with noughts and hoping for ones. What I mean here is that, again, before even arriving at the presumed central importance of wild food in my year-long experiment there is something else that ties with time in primacy of importance: health. As I sit here sleeplessly with excruciating back pain and a seriously dodgy foot, the author Adeline Yen Mah's reflections on health chime in my ears with ever-louder tinitustic persistence. Reflecting on being thankful for various things in life, she asks us to think about all the good aspects of our own lives. For each, whether it be a happy marriage, beautiful children, financial security, a fulfilling job or a big fat basket brimming full of wild food, she asks us to imagine that particular aspect as being represented by the figure zero. She then goes on to say that good health is number one and that, basically, if you don?t have this in the first place then all you are left with is a big bunch of noughts: 0000000 0000000uch, 000000000h dear! Well, it's 3am and I can't sleep because of this scream-out-loud diabolical back pain that sends me writhing in spasmic contortions of pure agony every time I move. I certainly feel like zero!
Perhaps, given that the way I do things in the first couple of months of this year-long wild food diet is likely to form the foundations for what follows, it may surprise you, given the time-shaken and ill-health of those foundations at the relative outset, that I have already started making bricks to build my wild food sanctuary. Forget mud and straw, water and clay; for sheer density and structural integrity such rudimentary bricks will never compete with my own. What is more, for the greater good of humanity, I have decided to reveal the secrets of their production, including detailed information as to all the superior materials used and the alchemical skills and magic required to create them.
How to make a brick 1
200g Alexanders root flour
200g Acorn flour
12g Oregon Grape skins
1 tsp Carrageen powder
650ml Spring water
5g Badger fat
Pinch of sea salt
Gather Acorns in October, shell, roughly crush and place in a pillowcase. Stake this down in a clean flowing river for 6 weeks to remove tannin. After this, remove from the river, rinse, grind to a fine paste and spread on trays to dry. Once dried render down to a fine flour in a coffee grinder or similar. In March dig for the Alexanders roots. Scrub clean, grate and lay out to dry for a few days. Once completely dry grind as for the acorns. At any time of the year gather Carrageen seaweed. Dry thoroughly and powder. When collecting the seaweed also gather some seawater. In the winter this can be placed in a tray on top of a radiator to evaporate off the water to leave the salt. At the height of summer this can be solar-evaporated. In April gather ripe Oregon Grapes (Mahonia species) with a good yeast bloom on the skin. Collect water from a natural spring. Now, to make the brick you must combine all these ingredients in the following way: First, boil a teaspoon of carrageen powder in 2 cups of spring water with 2 teaspoons of acorn flour until it thickens substantially. Set aside. Next, in a large bowl mix the acorn and alexanders flour. Add the grape skins, water, salt and warm carrageen mixture. Knead well. Grease a brick tin with badger fat and spoon in the mixture, leaving to slow prove for three days - just as your favourite Italian baker might treat his best breads. If all is going to bricky plan then, at least in the rising department, after this time absolutely sod all should have occurred. On the other hand, a white blanket of mould ought to be completely covering the surface. Using the appropriate magic words: shit, fuck, damn it, scrape this mould off and bake in the oven at 180 deg C for 45 minutes. Remove from oven, cool on a wire wrack, then start building your house or eat.
Of course, this is really a description of my failed attempts to make and bake my first bread from 100% wild ingredients. In a bizarre twist on the Arthurian legend I do not have the problem of being unable to draw my bread-sized Excalibur from the stone-like bread but actually getting it in there in the first place. And yet, I must indeed set out on my own particular wild food grail quest. It is the quest for that magical substance: gluten. Without this or its functional equivalents leavened bread, cakes, pasta, pancakes etc are all off the menu. I've a discouraging sense that the quest for this particular grail will be long and arduous. Saponinic spirits, tannic terrors and oxalatic ogres all raging and inflamed by the ergot evils of St Anthony's blazing fires are the foes that await me, not to mention a whole legion of potentially organ liquifying phytodemons, unnamed and unknown. If your botanical knowledge doesn't stretch this far, I'm alluding to the most common toxic substances I have so far come across in my search for a useful wheat-flour alternative: saponins (Horse Chestnuts), tannin (Acorns), calcium oxalate (Lord's and Ladies tubers), ergot fungus (wild grass seeds). Phytochemicals are simply a range of substances that plants produce that have no food or nutritional value, often serving to protect the plant from disease. Actually, I've just had a very disturbing thought. What if one of the main symptoms of poisoning from one or several of these toxic chemicals is excruciating scream-out-loud muscular spasms of the back??!! Ummm....then again perhaps it's due simply to a lack of magnesium in the diet???
OK, it didn't rise and did feel almost as heavy as a brick but, even in spite of the mould, once cooked it wasn't all bad. There is definitely a strong correlation between the enjoyment or appreciation of food and the amount of work that has gone into its creation. Anthropologist Karan Hardy at the University of York and co tried the bread. Your can hear their fulsome praise here: Farming Today: 05 May 08 Fergus the Forager
I should have got them to taste some of my elderflower, badger fat and cuttlefish egg biscuits. Would they have received such a favourable appraisal? If you have read my foraging column in this month's Ecologist: Respect Your Elders, in which I have written out the full biscuit recipe, you may have reacted like some of my friends with thoughts and comments such as, "What is the point of it?" or, "But nobody's going to bother making that recipe!" In the latter case that's probably true. Nevertheless, there is a point. The recipe for biscuits there - using 100% wild ingredients, is meant simply to illustrate how difficult it would be to produce or obtain even the very common foods that we take so much for granted if, perhaps, through natural disaster or social collapse the conventional ingredients were unobtainable. The attempt to make such things is not a retreat to war-time frugality - in spite of our current so-called war-on-terror, but is a valuable education in itself. Of passing interest, the other day I came across a bit of filming that channel 4 had done with me for their website - an act of attempted redemption on their part, apparently, after giving unchallenged air time to a climate change denier or some such bogey man. Anyway, I'd forgotten about this as it was filmed over 6 months ago, but if I recall I did talk about the joys of such experimental research challenges - I can't listen to it because the sound doesn't work on my computer.
Right, back to the gluten search, to that very education I have just mentioned. Where to begin? As far as I know no native or naturalized British plants contain gluten. The use of carrageen and its capacity to gell and set in my first bread was an attempt to mimic gluten's ability to trap carbon dioxide in rising dough. The use of Mahonia berry skins was my attempt at getting an active yeast culture that would produce the carbon dioxide in the first place. Both failed - the first may have worked but given that no significant yeast fermentation occured its presence became irrelevant. No doubt I could have made a sour dough mixture that would have fermented under its own steam so to speak. In any case, the yeast fermentation is not a problem as I have succeeded here many times before - for instance using mahonia and bullace plum skins started off in wild apple juice solution or using birch sap yeasts.
The first clue and sign of hope that a lightish wild bread can be made came last year. Whist house-sitting for friends I noticed that they had an organic rye flour loaf. In fact, it was the most delicious rye bread I've ever eaten. It was so light and airy that I assumed it must be half rye and half wheat. To my amazement it was 100% rye. I had always assumed that rye didn't contain sufficient gluten to create a light crumb structure, instead producing very dense breads. However, according to Katz in his wonderful book , "in rye bread, gluten is not the primary component that traps carbon dioxide produced by fermentation. Rye contains polysaccharide compounds called 'pentosans' which are extremely viscous and enable dough to hold gas." Unfortunately no grasses of the Secale genus grow wild in this country (rye is Secale cereale) but perhaps plants with similar acting pentosans do? Unfortunately Rye Grass is a non-starter. That's in a different genus (Lolium) and is used as a sedative and vasodilator and, reports Elpel in his fantastic , could be poisonous in excess. The search goes on....
Yesterday I attempted to make brick number 2 or, being a little more charitable, I could call it breeze block 1. Yes, after refining the ingredients and method I managed to get the thing to rise by a whole centimetre. Now that's progress! This time it contained the following ingredients: 50g roasted alexanders root flour, 70g acorn flour, 60g reedmace rhizome flour, 40g reedmace seed-head flour, 30g evening primrose seedpod flour, 2 tbspns shredded dried dulse, 1 tsp carrageen powder, sea salt and spring water. Unfortunately it collapsed prior to baking. Nevertheless, although almost equally dense it does taste better than the first one.
This is going to be a hard one to crack and any helpful advice or suggestions would be most gratefully received! Right, I'm off to bed. Maybe I'll dream about wonderful fat loaves falling like manna from heaven. Actually, last week I had the most delightful morel picking dream. Four days later it came true with unsurpassed generosity but that's another story.
Our Father, who art in Heaven
Hallowed be thy Name
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done, in earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread....
Wednesday, May 14, 2008
Slow Food: The torturously slow trials and tribulations of one man's attempt to eat nothing but wild food for an entire year.
It's kind of obvious I know, but blogging for me is futile in the sense that nutritionally speaking its value is worse than zero - resting and typing metabolism must be taken into account as sources of food energy consumption. That statement in itself should give you a good insight into my state of mind. Actually, in describing my anxieties and troubles (all of which seem to flow quite freely from the absurd task I've set myself: eating like a Stoneage man in the modern era - when I have so many other commitments other than just feeding myself) I would like to use the phrase, "perhaps I've bitten off more than I can chew". Yet, although it would be incredibly apt, taken literally it seems to imply a surfeit of, no doubt delicious - all be it challenging - nourishing chewables: Succulent, wholesome and delicious chewables, all reflecting a luxurious abundance which is light years away from my current reality - they reside somewhere on planet supermarket no doubt. I'm struggling. I'm struggling big time! I'm struggling spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, socially, philosophically and physically - amongst the many other ways one can struggle. Chewables abound but sourcing them is a full time commitment. I both want and don't want to give up and the ambivalent tension is quite disabling!
So, no time to blog. Time is at a premium and other resources must be called upon: discipline and faith, they're my current allies - despite my repeated efforts to rebel against them in the past. Now I shall get to know them face to face.
All I can offer is a few pictures from the last few days and a few unusual statistics.
Pot roast pheasant cooked with chestnuts, japanese knotweed, apple juice and winter chanterelles, served with steamed hogweed shoots and stir-fried alexanders root and St.George's mushrooms.
Pot roast rabbit cooked with boletus fungi, sea purslane and wild garlic, served with burdock root mash and steamed sea kale.
...and slow food!
Steamed sea kale and reed mace stems with stir-fried morels and immature pine cones, served with wild garlic leaf curd cooked snails on acorn and alexanders root toast!
777 snails take 1 hour to collect, 40 minutes to cook and 1 hour 5 minutes to shell.
777 snails in shell weigh 5 kg 200g.
777 snails gives 2kg 200g of cooked snail meat.
Also made my first wild vinegar mother from birch sap.....
.....and have been filtering sea water for salt
....as well as krauting the Sandor Katz way with sea kale, dittander stems, wild fennel and sea salt.
.......whilst taking advantage of the sun to dry plants for future teas and beers: lemon balm, yarrow, birch leaf, ox-eye daisy, fennel and fever few.
And finally, today's number one find: some lovely chicken of the woods fungi.
Have also been sampling my first attempts at wild wines - intoxicating!
So let's raise a glass to Fergus Drennan, self-proclaimed vegetarian and say, with glutenous snail-like voices, rest in peace vegetarian Fergus......
Friday, June 06, 2008
The Pearl of Great Price
It's been a strange week, or should I say weak? This strange week has a recipe, the ingredients are purely verbal and can be found in condensed form amongst the following quotes - beware though, it's a very potent and potentially dangerous recipe:
"Our day-to-day life is bombarded with fortuities or, to be more precise, with the accidental meetings of people and events we call coincidences. 'Co-incidence' means that two events unexpectedly happen at the same time..." Milan Kundera
"In the magical universe there are no coincidences and there are no accidents." William Burroughs."
"People who ingest the wild, whether plants or landscapes, do something civilized people never do, they take inside themselves the wildness of the world; they eat the Wild Redeemer. In that moment something unique happens, some invisible thing enters inside them. And when that happens everything changes. They become aware that there are intelligences in this world far older than the human and that the human and the older intelligences of the world are intended to make contact" Stephen Harrod Buhner
Within an eight-day period I found beauty, pain and death. It started with a beautiful pearl,
a visit to the Dalai Lama in Nottingham, whilst often immobilized and utterly crippled by pain,
and pulling a dead man from the river Stour - an event that has left me feeling unexpectedly traumatised.
Given that all these events occurred within an eight-day period it offers, I suppose, a fairly condensed narrative history, a merely curious story perhaps, but certainly a history bound by fortuities and magic that unnerves me, even scares me or - to reflect that sense of uneasiness in another way, in my most neurotic of perennial questions - a question become mantra: does it mean anything at all; does it mean nothing; is the spontaneity of complete chaos and randomness the architect of such happenings or magic the true creator? Where does truth and meaning lie - in the realms of objectivity or in the dynamics of mutual co-creation beyond the bounds or divisions of subjective/objective?
Buhner speaks of the Wild Redeemer - capitalizing Nature as the supreme spirit in contrast yet not necessarily opposed to Christ - Christ the pearl, Christ as the traditional Redeemer - as the one to save us all from the state of hopeless sin and its consequences:
"....the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it."
The implied analogy was that the Kingdom of Heaven was of such worth that his disciples should gladly be willing to give up their wealth and comfort to obtain it. Christians typically take the parable to mean that heavenly riches are far greater than the full sum of all worldly riches. Though the idea is not present in the text, some also teach that Jesus is the pearl that some men found, and sold all for, and became his disciples, hoping for an eternal kingdom." Wikipedia
Today I know two things: my health is so bad and I'm in such diabolical pain that, although not being gladly willing to give up wealth and comfort, it has been forced upon me. In the last few days I've lost several thousand pounds (and am set to loose more) due to my physical inability to run foraging courses and events that I have been forced to cancel. Things are so bad that I can no longer afford to pay rent on the house where I was supposed to be living (but never actually had time to move into) and have, today, been forced to move out off. The vicious cycle or, perhaps more aptly, the downward spiral, has meant that being physically unable to gather wild food I am becoming weaker, becoming weaker I am less and less able to feed myself. Weakness compounds weakness, pain compounds pain and restful healing has become a mere cherished dream. All the Wild Redeemer can do for me now is, not save me from a state of sinfulness and its consequences but, rather, save me from a state of stubborn stupidity and its particular dire straits. First let me explain more prosaically about pain, pearls and death.
About seven weeks ago a friend (plus something more) asked me to help her move from Canterbury to Bristol. She hired a van that I was to drive; we loaded it up with the accumulated stuff of life and set off, driving for 4 1/2 hours without a significant break. That night my back muscles - I expect the Longissimus muscles running down either side of the spine, went into painful spasms that kept me awake all night. Over subsequent weeks up until today the pain has ebbed and flowed - although the last few weeks have punished with nothing but a continuous high tide of ferocious pounding wave upon stormy wave of agonizing pain. I've spent over £400 on chiropractic, acupuncture, shiatsu massage and various other therapies - some providing short-lived temporary relief, others merely aggravating the problem.
Initially, after a month, the main problem was sleep loss due to the continuous wakeful inducing and cattle prodding nature of the pain's sheer relentlessness. Not wishing to take any conventional medication I turned to wild lettuce for its sedative properties - this amounted to about 300g of fresh whole plant or the extracted juice from the same quantity.
(It is the bitter white liquid that has the sedative properties.)
It worked a treat and I could finally slumber in peace. The temporary respite that I mistook for healing led me to do something very stupid: I ran two back-to-back 12 1/2 hour foraging courses over one weekend - finding six hours between the first and second to prepare for that second one when I ought to have been sleeping. Being so busy attending to the class I skipped dinner after not having allowed for time to prepare a completely wild alternative. That was a terrible mistake. The day after both (very successful) courses I really felt so exhausted I thought I might die (terribly ironic given comments in an email I received from one of my weekend foragers: "We wish you all the best with your 'wild food year'; may the energy levels continue. On the amount you ate on Sunday that must surely be an advert for foraging.") From that day on (5th May) pain became my increasingly vocal and irritating companion.
Six months earlier I'd bought tickets to go and hear the Dalai Lama speak at the Nottingham Arena so like the stupid Transcaucasian Kurd in one of Gurdjieff's stories, having paid my money and in spite of my wise friend Lucy's sound advice not to bother going but to stay and rest instead, off I went to be enlightened. Here's the Kurd's tale:
This Transcaucasian Kurd once set out from his village on some business or other to town, and there in the market he saw in a fruiterer's shop a handsomely arranged display of all kinds of fruit. In the display, he notice one fruit, very beautiful in both colour and form, and its appearance so took his fancy and he so longed to try it, that in spite of his having scarcely any money, he decided to buy without fail at least one of these gifts of Great Nature, and taste it .Then, with intense eagerness, and with a courage not customary to him, he entered the shop and pointing with his horny finger to the fruit which had taken his fancy he asked the shopkeeper its price. The shopkeeper replied that a pound of the fruit would cost two cents .Finding that the price was not at all high for what in his opinion was such a beautiful fruit, our Kurd decided to buy a whole pound.
Having finished his business in town, he set off again on foot for home the same day .Walking at sunset over the hills and dales, and willy-nilly perceiving the exterior visibility of those enchanting parts of the bosom of Great Nature, the Common Mother, and involuntarily inhaling a pure air uncontaminated by the usual exhalations of industrial towns, our Kurd quite naturally and suddenly felt a wish to gratify himself with some ordinary food also; sitting down by the side of the road, he took from his provisions bag some bread and the fruit he had bought which had looked so good to him, and leisurely began to eat .But.....horror of horrors!......very soon everything inside him began to burn. But in spite of this he kept on eating.
And this hapless biped creature of our planet kept on eating, thanks only to that particular human inherency which I mentioned at first.........
And so, just at the moment when our Kurd was overwhelmed by all the unusual sensations proceeding from this strange repast on the bosom of Nature, there came along the same road a fellow villager of his, one reputed by those who knew him to be very clever and experienced; and, seeing that the whole face of the Kurd was aflame, that his eyes were streaming with tears, and that in spite of this, as if intent upon the fulfilling of his most important duty, he was eating real red hot pepper pods, he said to him: "What are you doing, you Jericho jackass? You'll be burnt alive! Stop eating that extraordinary product, so unaccustomed for your nature."
But the Kurd replied: "No, for nothing on Earth will I stop. Didn't I pay my last two cents for them? Even if my soul departs from my body I shall go on eating."
Whereupon our resolute Kurd - it must of course be assumed that he was such - did not stop, but continued eating the red hot chili pods."
(p19-21 All and Everything, G.Gurdjieff .Routledge and Kegan Paul. London 1973)
On the third day of my visit to hear the Dalia Lama speak I had to miss the whole proceedings and remain, instead, lying on my back all day - well, except for a farcical attempt to gather reedmace stems and a few nettles. This involved taking over an hour to walk the 100 metre distance from where I was camping to the bullrush (reedmace) stream. The journey was punctuated by repeated contortions as I fell to my knees doubled up in excruciating pain. I must have looked like a modern dancer rhythmically contorting to the chimes and clashes of an imaginary so-called cutting-edge musically cacophonous beat! Also, being unable to bend down I had to pull the stems from the top thus leaving behind the lovely and firm water-chestnut-like base. No doubt I expended more energy collecting the food than I gained from eating it.
Unfortunately, in spite of the obvious sincerity and wonderfully down-to-earth rapport of the Dalia Lama, contemplating his words just seemed to aggravate my pain - although, admittedly, not contemplating them would probably have produced precisely the same result. Speaking on the somewhat misleadingly described or translated term 'emptiness' - a term much better expressed by the delightfully lucid and straight talking Thich Nhat Hanh by his concept of interbeing, just led to waking daylight nightmares concerning Zeno's paradox. On the previous day His Holiness the Dalai Lama started down the dead end road of beginning to explain the concept of emptiness in respect to the relative illusion of being as it relates to the concepts of coming and going. Who is it that comes and who that goes? The argument was pure Zeno's paradox. Goodbye Tibetan Buddhism Hello Chan! But don't get me wrong, this is not a criticism, merely a grumpy pain-fuelled observation - and besides, perhaps I'm just not ready for such a strong burning chili!
At the end of the five days I was well and truly stuffed - in so much pain I could not go home! Fortunately synchronicity threw me an ace card just as I was leaving Nottingham arena in despair: Carmel. She very kindly gave me a buqi treatment, enabling me to find sufficient pain-free resources to make the 200 mile journey back to Canterbury - but only sufficient for that.
Hence this was my breakfast two days later:
Chestnut porridge made with spring water and Mahonia berries
codeine phosphate hemihydrate, paracetamol,
sodium metabisulphite (E223),
pregelatinised starch,calcium stearate, aerosol OT-B (dioctyl sodiumsulfosuccinate and sodium benzoate (E211)),gelatin,
titanium dioxide(E171), erythrosine (E127)
and indigo carmine(E132), shellac,
soya lecithin, 2-ethoxyethanol, dimethylpolysiloxaneand iron oxide (E172)and diazepam, anhydrous lactose, magnesium stearate and microcrystalline cellulose.
Snail, Oyster and limpet Soup
And for dessert
..... yes you guessed it....
codeine phosphate hemihydrate, paracetamol, sodium metabisulphite (E223),
pregelatinised starch,calcium stearate,
aerosol OT-B (dioctyl sodiumsulfosuccinate and sodium benzoate (E211)),gelatin, titanium dioxide(E171), erythrosine (E127) and indigo carmine(E132), shellac, soya lecithin, 2-ethoxyethanol, dimethylpolysiloxaneand iron oxide (E172)
diazepam, anhydrous lactose, magnesium stearate and microcrystalline cellulose.
I had succumbed to the feeling that there was no other choice but to visit men who push the codeine around: the doctor .
(Actually, this is Kris with the fungus two years ago which was then 13 kg. Below is this year's fungus that Kris helped me lift from the same tree)