There's nothing worse than someone pitching up to speak at the dovegreyreader tent and dovegreyreader not knowing them. They will know me because I shall be wearing my new dovegreyreader scarf, spotted at the Cider Press craft centre at Dartington on that miserable dripping July day when we went to see Hilary Mantel. And talking of the weather, how fortuitous is that... the jet stream chooses this very week to move back up north where it belongs, and we have uninterrupted high pressure heading in for the weekend.
So I have been watching River Cottage again just to be absolutely sure I know John Wright when I see him, though it will help if he is wearing his hat and carrying a basket nonchalently over one arm.
For those who don't know, John Wright is The Forager on Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's TV programme River Cottage, and John is usually grubbing around for pig nuts or plucking some wild garlic leaves for a garnish (with Felicity Kendal mind you...it's not all bad) while Hugh is off doing really exciting things like catching a shark for tea, or scooping up a roadkill specimen off the road, all of which is then presented for Sunday lunch or something. But I have been reading John's books and this foraging thing looks very exciting too, especially to someone like me who surely lives in the midst of the forager's land of plenty.
We heard on the radio the other day that all gardens should have a square metre of nettles, so with our square acre of them we are now feeling particularly righteous. When I hinted to Bookhound that I may be tempted to knock up some nettle soup he didn't seem very enthusiastic..
'Let me know what it tastes like...'
So perhaps John can help with a bit of conversion, because I have been reading his book Hedgerow and can see this could save us a fortune at Fortnum & Morrison's. The foraging can all start barely a foot from the front door with the Ground Elder apparently, and surely I have enough to feed the world.
'I think it is fair to say that Ground Elder is not a popular plant. It was introduced to these islands at some point lost to history by a perosn who would sap our strengthe and will...we have 'tomato blight' and 'pea root rot' but never 'Ground Elder wilt' or 'bindweed botrytis'...'
But it is edible. In the Middle Ages an ineffective treatment for gout, but collect the young leaves (before the flowers or you have a laxative on your hands) and you have a substitute for parsley... or cook them and have parsley-flavoured spinach... or make soup, or quiche...yes really, oh yes and one more use..
'If you keep guinea pigs it is well worth feeding them with as much Ground Elder as you can - it gives a lovely fresh flavour to the meat.'
I can see we are going to be laughing our socks off with The Forager.
If you think this might be a bit of a geeky, specialist book think again, because it is the most entertaining read. John, as we now know, has a wry sense of humour as he works his way through all the free food out there as well as a very helpful section entitled Poisonous Species..
'Alongside 'don't play with matches', 'remember to clean your teeth' and 'mind the cat', something that most children learn at their mother's knee is 'never eat wild berries or plants'. Childhood lessons are difficult to unlearn....'
They are indeed and thank goodness I now think I know what this is...
The lane was festooned with it last year, and though I doubt I would have thought 'Mmmm jam' without checking first, odder things have happened. Anyway I 'think' it is Black Bryony and we'd have known it if we'd spread this on our toast. Thinking you know and being sure you know seems to be the big issue here, so I have plenty of questions for John when we get to Mushrooms.
Many of you will have read about The Horse Whisperer author Nicholas Evans, and his family's terrifying and ongoing ordeal after picking and cooking what he thought were Ceps. It transpired they were the deadly webcap Cortinarius speciosissimus and worse still...imagine discovering the next day that you are in serious trouble because the side effects are about to cause renal failure and damage your spinal cord.
John offers very clear guidance about all this including several pages of advice and information about identifying a fungus as well as suggesting that the mushroom hunter never relies on one book alone for diagnosing his haul. Personally I'd need fifty books but even then I'd still be worrying about the dialysis, and I wonder if I am alone with that caution??
A quick straw poll...would you or do you, even with seemingly positive identification, eat fungi that you have collected in the wild??
But apparently John will take the fear out of all this so we'll see and before you know it I'll be cooking Cep, pancetta and thyme tart long with the rest of them, because each book in the series has a lovely recipe section.
There is Edible Seashore too...how to know your Dulse from your Gutweed and how to kill a crab properly but also, in all three books, fascinating information about conservation and the legalities of foraging and who owns what and where. By John's own admission this is a nightmare...
'I defy anyone not having a firm and comprehensive grip on the law to collect half a dozen different things from the beach for his or her tea without committing an offence. There are so many exciting crimes and misdemeanours to choose from...collecting Mussels in Hampshire east of a line running north/south through the Needles Lighthouse after 4pm during the Oyster season...or six prawns in Northumberland (though five is legal)...'
Oh yes, I can see another great session beckons in the dovegreyreader tent.
Sunday July 22nd at 2pm