Some time in February 2012 I decided to set myself a wee challenge – a gentle test of my foraging, cooking and enthusiasm. I decided to eat something wild every day for (at least) a year. Its been going well and i’m thoroughly enjoying it so I thought it was about time I wrote something about it other than tweets (under #dailywilds).
Spring wild food
To novice foragers, this may seem like a fairly hefty challenge. But having counted over 200 different wild foods growing within a 10 minute walk of my house in the verdant Fleet Valley, I felt sure I could find something good all year round without too much effort. (“Without too much effort” is the mantra of any self-respecting forager – those that apply too much effort tend to mutate into gardeners). Use of a bike would put me in easy reach of the coast bringing another 50 or so sea vegetables, seaweeds, shellfish and fish into range. I also do a fair bit of driving around the region for my job and tend to try to time lunch breaks for when i’m passing an interesting area for foraging – bringing immeasurable other edible plants, fungi and beasties into range.
Early summer wild food of the Fleet Valley
So not such a challenge after all really. I’m in touch with lots of other foragers who I’m sure eat wild food most days. Ace forager Fergus Drennan had a go at living entirely on wild and foraged food for a year. Now that is a challenge, requiring huge knowledge, careful preparation and considerable efforts to preserve gluts for the leaner winter months. Fergus has great skills and I feel sure he would have managed and thrived had he not fallen ill. His illness was not as a result of his wild diet, in fact there is evidence to suggest that a good foraged diet (or paleo(lithic) diet) is what our bodies evolved to thrive upon.
So here are my personal and public aspirations for the Daily Wilds project:
- To demonstrate that wild foods need neither be expensive “cheffy” ingredients or muddy “survival food”, but an accessible, delicious and free food resource for all to enjoy.
- To get closer to the forager that still lurks in all of us.
- To showcase the vast array of wild food that is available to all of us throughout the year.
- To force myself to eat more seasonally, locally and healthily.
- To innovate new ideas and recipes for incorporating wild food into everyday life.
- To encourage others to eat more wild food and perhaps even undertake their own Daily Wilds project.
With this in mind, the rules I set myself were:
- Eat or drink something wild or foraged every day. I consider over-dependency on bought wild food (such as dried porcini) to out with the spirit of the project!
- Wild ingredients can be all or just a small component of a meal, or something just picked and eaten on the hoof – but the more the better.
- In an emergency a toot of sloe gin or a nibble of sorrel is perfectly acceptable!
I am now about five months into the project and haven’t missed a day yet – though a 3 week trip to the frozen wilderness of Canada’s Yukon proved quite testing. It demonstrated just how spoilt we are for wild food all year round in Galloway and how important familiarity with your ‘home patch’ and its wild food resources can be.
Anyway, here are some edited photographic highlights of the project so far. I will eventually post some recipes to go with the pictures, but most of my cooking is instinctive, improvised and driven by what I have found that day. Most of the dishes are quick and easy to make – I try to let the ingredients do the hard work. I also try to ensure that all non-wild ingredients are sourced as locally as possible – organic, home-grown or Galloway made. This hasn’t been too difficult considering the amazing range of food grown and produced in Galloway.
Most of the wild foods mentioned in the captions are described in greater detail elsewhere on this website – visit the wild food guide or use the search box to learn more.
Some dates are approximations, and sometimes I can’t recall everything that went into a dish!
View the very latest #dailywilds on Facebook.
June 10th: Monkfish roasted in chorizo oil, ayrshire asparagus, wilted frosted orache + roasted cherry tomatos. As a species “under pressure”, monkfish is a rare treat in our household – once or twice a year. This stuff was “semi foraged” as it was traded for wild greens with a chef friend!
June 2nd: Cep, chorizo, reedmace flour, noodle + sorrel stew. I was bivvying out in the Rhinns of Kells on a 2 day mountain walk. Light weight nourishment in 1 pan is what’s required so the last of my dried ceps and reedmace flour made sense.
May 30th: Boozy damson tart. Having drained the damsons from last year’s damson gin in March, they had been kicking about the fridge for too long when a kindly visitor decided to put them to good use in this very fine tart. Cheers Kim! Hic!
May 29th: Wigtown Bay gray mullet baked with sweet cicely, foraged spring zing sushi, salad of orache, gorse flower, sea radish. Grey mullet is delicious, relatively cheap, sustainable and local to Wigtown Bay. Filling the belly cavity with sweet cicely adds a fantastic aromatic aniseed flavour. I always cook fish on the bone where possible – so much more flavour.
May 25th: Smoked haddock + orache tart, Scots lovage pastry, hedgerow salad with nipplewort, ramsons, wood sorrel, sweet ciceley. Elderberry vinegar dressing. My Dad picked the orache! Overheard when buying tatties in Kirkcowan village shop: “Are these potatoes local?” “No. They’re from Drummore.” Drummore is 30 miles from Kirkcowan. Hooray for LOCAL food!
May 18th: Sandhead new potatoes with Alan’s hot-smoked salmon, wild water mint, sea kale, beet and sandwort. The first local new tatties of the season require a special celebration, and a forage on the shore by where the tatties grew yielded some of my very favourite sea vegetables. Some chunks of Carsluith smokehouse hot-smoked salmon pulled everything together with fantastic salty, fishy oiliness!
May 10th: Crab, parmesan and few-flowered leek tart, pink peppercorn pastry, foraged salad. A very happy coincidence of flavours. I love crab and it combined perfectly with the last of the season’s few flowered leek – one of the first spring wild foods to go off the menu.
April 29th: Spoots with cuckoo flower, ramsons, wood sorrel, sea veg. The low spring tides of April are the last chance to gather spoot clams before the summer spawning season. So we did – and had several memorable cook-ins on the beach. These spoots were very quickly stir-fried with orache, sea kale, sea beet before garnishing with peppery, horseradishy cuckoo flower, lemony wood sorrel and garlicky ramson flowers.
This is my friend Rachel eating raw, wriggling spoot with wood sorrel and cuckoo flower. Somewhere between shock, savour and ecstasy!
Its nice when you can pick your daily wilds still wriggling!
April 23rd Wild Salmon with smoked mussels, Wigtown Bay prawn bisque and sea vegetable
April 19th: Wild sushi made with nori, reedmace shoots, wild garlic, cuckoo flower. I served it with a wasabi substitute made from blitzed sea radish and wild watercress. (Sadly I have never found any wild horseradish in Galloway)
17th April: Baked lemon sole with steamed sea kale and sea beet – less than 15 minutes to make. Even less to eat…
We were in the frozen wilderness of the Yukon for the last week of March and the first two weeks of April. With a lot of snow on the ground and temperatures still dropping regularly to -20ºc, daily wilds were hard to come by! Here’s me drilling through 4ft of ice on Kluane Lake in the vague hope of some fish (they heard me coming!)
As the snow slowly receded it revealed these bearberries – or Kinickkinick in one of the First Nations tongues. They may look appetising, but they are dry and chalky. They get their name because bears eat lots of them to purge themselves of intestinal parasites!
Wild food can be found if you look hard and get lucky: We found this watercress thriving in a warm spring that bubbled up through the ice! Other than that, I mostly made a point of sipping a little of the sloe gin we took with us, and also developed a liking for chewing dried spruce resin.
I had resigned myself to nibbling a few sorrel leaves to keep the project alive during the 24 hour trip to the Yukon. So imagine my delight when the in-flight catering was made by “Wild Gourmet”! Their creamy porcini tagliatelle was actually pretty damn good – made with real wild porcini!
March 20th: Using stuff up night! Smoked mackerel with sweet cicely and japanese knotweed puree, some ramson hummus and a super-crunchy wild salad (including some wall pennywort and sea sandwort) and the ubiquitous elderberry vinegar.
March 13th: Sweet pickled herring on rye bread, wild garlic, lesser celandine, sea radish, elder vinegar. I love pickled herring and have eaten countless variations on this theme throughout the spring. It looks quite elaborate but takes less than 5 minutes to throw together – so long as your herring is already pickled.
March 15th: Open lasagne of smoked haddock and sea vegetables.
March 14th: Steamed hake with buckshorn plantain, reedmace and sorrel butter.
March 10th: Japanese knotweed and sweet cicely puree with greek yogurt. Two of the early arrivals at the Galloway wild food party are natural partners. Deeelicious – and very healthy too.
March 8th: Fishfinger and crap bread sandwich with nipplewort, hairy bittercress, ramsons and yellow archangel. If i’ve given the impression that I eat fancy every night, its a false one! Its a busy life sometimes, but no excuse for neglecting the daily wilds. All the greens came from our back garden.
A walk in the Cally woods in early spring can yield a lot of goodies – many of them common “weeds”. Reedmace, knotweed, nettles, sweet cicely, ground elder, willowherb, fiddleheads (these ones turned out not to be edible), saxifage, ramsons, lesser celandine and wood sorrel (the scallops were from a bit further afield in the Solway estuary). They all turned into…
March 18th: Scallops, wilted ramsons + nettle tops, reedmace, sweet cicely puree, wood sorrel, saxifrage. This is my ultimate early spring feast.
March 15th: Spaghetti with wild garlic pesto and sorrel. Foraged pesto is the ultimate quick tea ingredient – and absolutely packed with flavour early in the year. As I write, i’m realising that the ramsons are pretty much finished for the year and I haven’t “layed down” any emegency jars! I feel a trip to a really shady bit of woodland coming on.
March 5th: Wild spring minestrone, with reedmace, sugar kelp and bittercress. Nothing fancy here – just whang it all in and add dried flakes of sugar kelp to add body and seasoning. The bitterscress went in at the last minute to add extra peppery zing.
March 2nd: Coley steamed in ramsons with mash and lesser celandine. My daughter helped me cook this wee celebration of the start of the wild garlic season. I think i’ll hire her as a full time cook…
February 26th: Fish n chips with wild tatare sauce. We had a craving for fish and chips. The question was how to tie in some daily wilds. The last of 2011’s pickled marsh samphire with finely chopped nipplewort, dandelion and archangel through some mayo worked fantastically well. Who needs capers?
February 18th: Creamy smoked haddock with wild vegI can’t quite remember what went into this bowl of comfort, but I do recall loving it on a cold wintery evening!
I hope you enjoyed that wee romp through some of my daily wilds – I certainly enjoyed eating them (though as I write, a rather tough chicken of the woods mushroom is simmering away on our hob, trying hard to become pallatable! Can’t win ‘em all!). I hope that you may feel inclined to incorporate a few more wild foods into your diet – or maybe start a daily wilds diet of your own…?
I will be updating this page in a month or two – and you should see the seasons moving through the pictures. Keep right up to date with the daily wilds project by following me on Twitter or Facebook.