This is the story of how we gathered these 33 different wild foods…
…and joined them with these wild Galloway beasties…
…and turned them into these…
(Hover for descriptions of dishes. All images of plated dishes courtesy of Clementine Sandison)
It started with a tweet…
About a year ago I tweeted this picture of English stonecrop. Pretty quickly I got a reply from Christoffer Hruskova, a michelin starred chef at London’s North Road Restaurant. It said “Will you sell me some of these amazing ingredients?”. I replied that I wouldn’t – my days of selling wild foods are behind me. But I love to give them away to people who really enjoy and treasure them and a check of @chrishruskova‘s profile and the menus on North Road Restaurant’s website showed me very quickly that I was talking to a chef who was really passionate about wild ingredients and new how to use them in what has become loosely described as “New Nordic Cuisine“. For the record, Chris is Danish and cooked this way long before Noma hit the headlines.
So I sent down a little package of foraged treats, knowing they would bring pleasure and be lovingly cajoled into delicious recipes.
Not long after, I heard that Chris and North Road Restaurant had parted company and he didn’t appear to be immediately starting anywhere else. In the back of my mind I had been wondering how I might get more great chefs to visit Galloway and experience at first hand the amazing ingredients – wild and farmed – that we have around us. Good food is the product of its place in the world, and it is right that chefs learn to cherish the ingredients around them…but still I wanted to show off Galloway’s amazing nooks and crannies. Its not that i’m obsessed with fine dining and the world of michelin stars – far from it – I believe that wild food is, by its nature, utterly egalitarian, allowing tramps and bankers to eat the same fantastic ingredients. But it is exciting to find new ways of dealing with traditional foods and see cooks at the top of their profession giggle like school kids at the taste of a weed!
I had also been pondering about how to improve my gourmet foraging days. Its not that i’m a slouch in the kitchen, I really enjoy putting together ingredients I have watched, nurtured and gathered myself. Its just that foraging for and guiding the day, as well as cooking and serving a tasting menu was a bit much – especially as I have a full-time job through the week.
So I asked Chris if he wanted to come up to Galloway and cook for my gourmet foraging day. In exchange he would get personally introduced to all my favourite foraging spots and intimate with the best wild foods in the country as we gathered the ingredients for the menu.
He said yes without any hesitation or talk of a fee.
And so, nearly a year after english stonecrop brought us together via Twitter (don’t knock twitter – cyberforaging is where its at!), Chris and his lovely wife Katja arrived in Galloway. They were an absolute pleasure to entertain and share our house with. I was only a little nervous about cooking for them on the first night. If you have the wonderful ingredients of Galloway at your disposal, you have to be criminally careless in the kitchen to mess things up. So I criminally overcooked the venison that i’d been marinading with pontack and douglas fir for days, but the hogweed shoots went down a treat!
The greatest excitement for me that night was a gift of alexander leaves, buds and dehydrated seeds brought north by Chris from his go-to-forager in England (@absolutelywild on Twitter). Alexanders is a member of the carrot family that is fairly common down south, but I have never foraged or even tasted them before. It was delicious – aromatic, intense and a perfect distraction from the overcooked venison! Thanks George, i’ll be sending some of our wild Northern specialities down soon.
We had loosely assessed the wild resources at our disposal and sketched some vague ideas for the menu before Chris arrived, but the plan was to gather together what was at its very best and form the menu around that. Too often I see menus that are inspired by convention, imported ingredients, fashion and convenience rather than what is in season and at its very best. A brutal early spring had set our growing season back by nearly a month, but as luck would have it, many of our spring plants were recovering and at their super-tender, punchy best for the visit.
After day one, we were assisted by volunteers Emma Wilcox, who drove all the way up from the Kent coast where she runs a supper-club in her spare time, and 16 year old Kieran Paterson, a local lad who recently came runner-up in a regional cookery competition. Picking small tender leaves can be fiddly and time consuming and we would have been hard pushed without their hard work. I am particularly indebted to Emma who put in a hell of a shift in the kitchen on Sunday when Kieran couldn’t make it. We were also very lucky to have Gary Goldie joining us – the most passionate and knowledgable foraging chef I have encountered – and a rock in the kitchen, helping turn 60 or so wild ingredients into 8 extraordinary courses.
So here is a photo-journal of some of the many highlights of our two-day gathering foray around Galloway and the guided walks and tasting menu on the Sunday.
Galloway Wild Foods
Spring Foraging Day
28th April 2013
The Garden Room, Cally Palace Hotel, Gatehouse of Fleet
The menu uses around 50 different wild foods gathered within 20 miles of Gatehouse
Alexander and wild garlic tarts
An exploration of the edible wild spring plants of Cally Woods
Plant layout and discussion of foraging guidebooks
An exploration of the wild foods of Carrick Shore: Coastal succulents, seaweeds and shellfish
Chris Hruskova’s Spring Wild Food Tasting Menu
Mini dock and dandelion pudding & dried nettles, wild leek dip
Reindeer moss & dried cep
Spoots & coastal herbs, buttermilk & wild garlic
Raw pickled crab & rye with sea kale, sea beet
Cured pike & reedmace, burnt onions & ground elder
Salt baked celeriac, pickled sea lettuce & ramson capers
Wild Galloway salad, elderflower vinaigrette
Wild mushroom broth pickled girolle, hay smoked bone marrow & herbs
Braised red deer short rib, wild thyme, scurvy grass, sorrel, cardamines & flowers
Local cheese selection with crab apple and sea buckthorn jelly
Douglas fir granita
Cream cheese, butter milk sorbet, Jerusalem artichoke
Sloe and damson gins
Sweet cicely marshmallows
Boozy chocolate damsons
(You can see pictures of nearly all these dishes at the top of the page)
This was quite a day! The weather was mixed – between cold and wet – but our guests were fun, hardy and interested in all we found. Sadly this was the least successful of 3 days out on the sand flats hunting spoot clams, but most people got to at least see one being caught!
I had the pleasure of sitting down to the meal and it was fantastic. The baked celeriac with pickled sea lettuce was a huge hit with all, as was the dessert – about the nicest I have ever tasted. The venison with super-punchy scurvy grass and cardamines was stunning, but quite testing for some pallates. Chris was surprised by the potency of the douglas fir we foraged and it made for a remarkable granita – the lady sitting next to me wrinkled her nose up and said “Oooh – that’s not for me” when she tasted her first mouthful. She then proceeded to eat every last bit of it (and tried to get her husband’s), all the time exclaiming “hmmm…its growing on me!” I think this may have happened quite a lot around the tables with several of the dishes as people “tuned in” to flavours they had never encountered before.
For my part, I was blown away to taste how ingredients I have long cherished, nibbled in the woods and played around with at home, could be made to sing in the hands of a master-craftsman.
This blog has gone on quite long enough, but our remarkable weekend will live on long in my memory. Huge thanks again to all who took part or contributed in any way. Below are comments and blogs from our guests on the Sunday if you wish to read more.
Look out for more events like this soon on my events calendar. Chris and I are already in planning for something similar down south in August.
If any chefs would like to team up for a similar weekend – in Galloway or further afield – please get in touch!
Clementine Sandison took some great photos (many of which I have used here as I was a bit too busy myself!) – view them here.
“We had the most wonderful day on Sunday… I just wanted to say thank you to you and your wife for being such wonderful hosts and for bringing all those wonderful flavours into our life. The food was beautiful and surprising and if I’m honest sometimes a little challenging but then who doesn’t like a challenge! The whole experience was fantastic and I would happily do it all again!” – Amy and Callum McCaig
Photo blog of Sunday’s foraging by @BellaBlithely. – some lovely photos here too.