“Whoever coined the saying ‘there’s no such thing as a free lunch’ had certainly never been foraging”, says columnist James Waller-Davies. “Foraging gives you food for free and as fresh and natural as you can get.”
The first things I ever cooked were foraged. As a young kid, our house backed on to fields and from late summer into autumn they had an abundance of wild mushrooms.
Half an hour of sharp-eyed hunting would yield enough for a breakfast of mushrooms fried with the leftover new potatoes from the evening before, topped off with an egg. Mushrooms have never tasted so good since.
Samphire is a Lincolnshire gem. Found along the marshes from late July and August, it is similar in taste to spinach, but with the delicious tang of sea salt. When young, it can be eaten raw in salads. When steamed or boiled, it makes a perfect accompaniment to fish and lamb. It’s not too dear if bought, but why buy it when you can get it for free!
l Know where you are going and be safe. Some places can be hazardous, especially the shoreline, if you don’t know them well. Go with someone who knows the land if you’re not sure.
l Know what you are looking for. Some mushrooms and berries are poisonous – others just taste revolting. Use a guide book, or ask someone who knows. If you’re not sure, don’t eat it!
l Be adventurous. Field mushrooms and blackberries are great, but there are so many tasty things to find and eat. Nettles make a great soup and wild garlic adds a subtle lift to lots of dishes.
l Never take more than you will use and leave some for the next person. Never pull plants up by the roots.
RECIPE: Samphire linguini with cockles and mussels
Ingredients (serves 4)
Large bunch of fresh samphire
80-100g linguini per person
200g cooked cockles (cooked weight)
6 mussels per person
4 cloves garlic, chopped
30ml olive oil
Rinse the samphire well in cold water, then steam or boil for 3 minutes. When cool enough to handle, gently remove the tough inner ‘skeleton’, leaving the rest of the samphire intact. Set aside.
In a large pan of salted boiling water, cook the linguini as you like it – ‘al dente’ if you like it slightly underdone, or softer as you prefer. Drain when ready.
Whilst the pasta is boiling, pop the mussels on top for a minute to cook. When they are opened, they are ready. Remove and set aside, leaving them in their shells.
In a large, wide pan (a wok is perfect), soften the butter in the olive oil and gentle soften the garlic. Add a good twist of black pepper.
Add the linguini, turning over in the flavoured oil and butter. Then add the samphire, cockles and mussels, and turn gently. Squeeze the lemon over the pasta, add seasoning, and give one last turn. Serve.