By Josie Gritten
A few years ago, when we were living back in Wales, I came up with a crazy idea – 1 day of foraged food, 1 week of ‘skip diving’ and eating only what the shops wouldn’t sell, and one month eating only locally produced food. Here is our journey into the first challenge…
“Are we really going to eat snails?” asks Max, turning up his nose in disgust and poking their wet shells with a muddy finger.
Well, yes, we are. We have decided to try an unusual challenge – can we feed a family of 5 for a whole day on foraged food alone? We are almost vegans, but on this day we decide that perhaps we should act a little more like our ancestors and add a bit of hunting to our gathering. Snails are plentiful in our garden and are easy to hunt, so snails it is.
We are all quite excited and a little nervous. We often eat a fair amount of foraged food but the thought of sticking to it for a whole day is… well, a challenge.
Breakfast begins fairly easily. It is September and in Wales the bushes and trees are gloriously laden with apples, blackberries, damsons, hawthorn and other delights. We top these off with thinly sliced Dandelion root. It is a bit chewy but everyone seems happy enough. So far, so good.
We spend the morning harvesting fat hen seeds: roasting, winnowing and grinding them to form a flour. It is pretty gritty and disgusting to be honest, but I persevere and make blackberry and damson patties with it. I even manage to eat a few, but I think that the 2 hours of work I put into preparing them is more of an incentive than the flavour. The kids aren’t too keen either and after a while, I begin to wonder where Elizabeth, our 3-year-old, has disappeared to. Eventually, I find her at a neighbour’s house, merrily munching on a slice of toast and jam. I can’t decide whether I feel slightly betrayed or proud of her. I guess she just has a different idea of foraging than the rest of us!
We head off into the fields, gathering nettles and thistle root. I’m planning to make a delicious soup to fill us up. Roger and the boys rootle around in the leaves collecting acorns and we head back home to cook.
Lunch, in the end, is a sort of stringy green gloop with the leftover patties and snails. I can’t help but wonder that our efforts are proving less than appetising and question if things were the same way-back-in-the-day – surely not? However, despite their slimy grey appearance, the snails are a surprising success. Elizabeth declares: “I found snails, I cooked ’em, I eated ’em – great. Don’t eat ’em Mam, the kids want some”.
We eat just enough lunch to take the edge off the hunger and then pile in the car and head to the beach for a change of surroundings. We have come well equipped and Roger and Max clamber awkwardly into wetsuits and waddle off in flippers, masks and snorkels to hunt for lobster around the rocks. Morgan sets himself to fish off the beach and Lizzie and I wander around the rockpools to see what’s what.
After a while, I realise that Welsh beach foraging is harder than we thought. The fishing rod snaps, there are no lobster and I find myself ensconced in a conversation with an older couple walking their dog. They want me to eat some of their sandwiches, to ‘feed me up a bit!’ We chat for a while, then catch up with Morgan who is wet-kneed in the rockpools pretending to be Ray Mears.
We light a hearty fire and cook up a green sea-beet soup. It’s pretty tasty and we all eat with gusto, valiantly ignoring its sandy crunch.
And as we sit contentedly around our driftwood fire, I reflect on the day. It went well, I think. The fear of being hungry was heavier than the hunger itself. We felt aware of our empty stomachs more frequently than normal but never worryingly so. The fact that we spent every minute of our day finding or preparing food but never quite satisfying our need was frustrating, but it was fun. And, as Max said: “I’m hungry, but I’m happy”.
Of course, a feast of chips on the way home from the beach certainly helped!
Tips for successful foraging
- Start near to home:
It is interesting how many edible and medicinal plants grow around our homes, even in towns. The plants we often think of as weeds can be a great source of food. In New Zealand, try kawakawa, puha, plantain or dandelion.