We were going to hunt off the land in Ray Mears' style
AS part of the events programme here at Stoke Park, I recently led a wild food forage. Something in which there is an increasing interest. I think the main reason could be TV programmes like Ray Mears' Wild Foods of Britain and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage series.
I have watched them a few times and to be honest it makes me want to jump out of the chair with excitement, get out into the countryside and have a go yourself.
However, the problem is knowledge or rather a lack of it.
Plant identification can be tricky. It is all very well watching it on TV but unless you have experience things can go wrong.
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With this in mind my guests turned up one evening last week excited because we were going to hunt off the land in Ray Mears' style.
As we walked along the roadside on the way into Stoke Park I stopped my guests and did an introductory talk about the legalities of collecting wild foods. For example it is illegal to remove wild plants by their bulbs. You must ensure you obtain the land owner's permission first and only gather what you need for a meal and no more.
We found a roadside plant called Black mustard, which grows on waste ground and road sides. The seeds are very strong so as I gave each of my guests a bag to collect some seeds to take home and showed them how to make their own mustard paste to add to cheese on toast.
I then explained that when identifying wild plants it is essential to understand the preferred habitat of the species. For example the meadow garlic or Crows Garlic will favour growing in long grass and will not grow in dense wooded areas.
We collected some of them and as the light began to fade we went into the woods and collected a few more edibles. We made a camp fire. I had brought some pigeon meat with me.
After preparing the wild salad the pigeon breast was slowly fried in blackberry sauce.
As we all sat around the camp fire there was an air of excitement amongst my guests. They had learnt a lot during the evening, enough to go off and find food the Ray Mears' way.
Steve England is an (RHS) horticulturist, amateur naturalist and chairman of the Stoke Park steering group. He lives in Lockleaze and has spent his whole life at Stoke Park from playing there as a boy to studying its history, wildlife, and pre historic past. Contact him at steveengland.co.uk or sign up to my firstname.lastname@example.org.