Friday, March 21, 2008
S is for Sorrel at the Wild Food School
This is the view from the cottage that we rent on holiday in Cornwall. A long narrow road winds alongside the coast. If we walk twenty minutes uplane we reach a farm selling its own organic meat. Twenty minutes down lane is a farm where we can buy vegetables and eggs. This is a world away from London.
Cornwall is the place where we first tasted Samphire but also our next S vegetable, Sorrel. In the back garden of a small cottage in a nearby town of Lostwithiel we took our first lesson in foraging. This is the home of Marcus Harrison who runs a Wild Food School. We were led into a long narrow strip garden round the back of the house. “This is like the herbology class at Hogwarts,” whispered Alex. It was full of giant weeds. But when you looked closer the weeds were lined up in ordered rows. Marcus' garden is an encyclopedia of wild edible plants, a living classroom. For two children who have grown up in an urban jungle, this was a whole new world. Freddie, who had already eaten dandelions, nettles and cactus, covered himself in burdock seeds, safely sampled petals, stalks and leaves under expert guidance.
A few weeks before Freddie had tried to taste a bulrush. I could see him featuring in one of those cautionary tales in Struwelpeter by Dr Heinrich Hoffman. ‘The Dreadful Story about Harriet and the Matches’ would be joined by ‘The Tragic Story of Frederic who bit into a Bulrush.’ Marcus has trained people from all over the world to survive on wild plants. First lesson for Freddie and Alex was all about caution. We moved out of the edible classroom into the Cornish countryside. He showed them watercress swirling in a brook and walked along a river bank where clumps of sorrel leaves were growing. We scrabbled along the bank, filling a basket with the sorrel. It had a sharp lemony taste. It is more of a cross between a herb and a vegetable and you can use the young leaves in salads. Having seen cultivated sorrel for sale at great expense in smart food shops, there was something satisfying about being able to pick it for free. Before we said goodbye to Marcus, he told us how to use sorrel in omelettes, quiches, soups and how to make trail food, sautéing it quickly with a little olive oil, a sprinkling of caster sugar,with some raisins, pine nuts and a dollop of crème fraiche or yoghurt. Sorrel is a pretty shade of green but once cooked it rapidly turns an unsettling shade of khaki. Freddie closed his eyes to taste the trail food. “If I had to eat it to stay alive I suppose I would,” he said.