Wild Food School ®

Go Gourmet... Fine Wild Food Fare

Ray Mears may recently have been discovering Britain's Wild Food in his wild food television series, but for my own part my interest stems back nearly 35 years; first sampling nettles in the summer of 1970 or '71 - and wondering what all the fuss was about - and then in 1977 picking up a copy Cameron's fascinating Wild Foods of Great Britain. First published during World War I, Cameron's work obviously offered a handy supplement to the then wartime diet, and a similar tome by Jason Hill circulated Britain during WW2.

Cameron's book still remains on the shelf, but these days my interest is more in teasing out information from medieval manuscripts and rare 16th to 19th century books, as I piece together the huge Wild Food jigsaw puzzle... being no longer content to accept the word of many 'authorities' who have simply repeated bibliographic echoes unquestioningly, sometimes through centuries.

Some Water Lily roots are edible A prime example of these 'echoes' is that of the Kalmucks eating water lily roots, as well as several other wild plants they supposedly consumed, and in the past I have slipped into this 'echo' trap myself. Now I look for REAL new sources that shed a new understanding on past plant usage where possible. For example, when you understand that the Kalmucks were/are a nomadic central Asian people - sort of mixed up with the Tartar tradition, and who bagatelled between Russia and the north west of China - things fall into place. In their travels the Kalmucks were presumably exposed to Chinese culture over the centuries (I think China claims to be the world's oldest continually running culture), and to Chinese cuisine which uses the seeds and roots of lotus water lilies, and possibly has for thousands of years.

Today the lotus lily is grown on a commercial scale in China, while there is actually a culture of 'medical cuisine' - as opposed to those familiar take-away dishes - one recipe being pork simmered with lotus seeds and lily. In countries like Thailand and the Philippines lotus lily stems are also thrown into the food equation. So what special significance do the Kalmucks have in the history of water lily roots as human food, when they have probably been in continuous use for a very long time in one of the world's oldest civilisations?

Much more rewarding for me are the hard-to-find, contemporaneous, anecdotal references such as that provided by John Josselyn who published an account of his travels in New England in 1672. There he refers to the local native Indians eating the roots of a yellow flowered water lily, having been 'long a boiling', further commenting that the cooked roots taste '...like the Liver of a Sheep'. Not quite sure where he got that one from! He also gives us an insight into the locals preparing an edible 'Oyl of Akrons' [acorns]. Incidentally, the source that helped me unlock the secret of safely preparing starch from toxic arum maculatum roots came from some correspondence published in the 1850s, the process being further refined for my added peace of mind. [See the 'trials with arum flour' link at the bottom of the WFS homepage.]

In much more recent times water lily roots have figured in the diet of the famine-stricken people of Malawi, while in flat plains of southern Sudan - and where wild foods are an important parallel part of the diet alongside traditional crops like sorghum - you find that water lily roots and seeds are quite commonly used, although wild foods tend not to be served up to guests but rather used within the household.

One very important consideration in dealing with water lily roots is that there are more than 50 species, and just because the roots and seeds of some species are edible that does not mean that all water lilies will have edible parts.

Gourmet Food - Oxeye Daisy Salad As you peel back the layers of history - hundreds, and hundreds, of years - you in fact find that a number of the plants that we now call 'wild' were grown and used for food, particularly in the days before potatoes and hybridized, high yield [some would possibly say tasteless], greens. What's more, some of these old plants are better sources of vitamins A and C than spinach, oranges and tomatoes, as are the young leaves of oxeye daisy pictured left - used as a salad, with a lemon and coconut dressing, and served with Thai-style stir-fry chicken.

Wild Food School courses are partly about helping people 're-connect' with some of these plants as well as exploring new food ideas, whether it's for gourmet fare or survival food requirements.

Gourmet Food - Wild Greens Spring Soup With experience you come to understand the physical qualities and taste characteristics of edible wild plant species, and how they can be utilized in more traditional food styles.

For example the Spring Greens Soup pictured left is simply based around a roux, stock, wild greens, and an egg yolk stirred in at the end. Those greens are the leaves of sweet violet, ground ivy, and wild strawberry, all picked in the first few days of January 2007. The violet and ground ivy leaves are good vitamin sources, while the egg provides protein - which must be a reasonably healthy combination.

Wild Pasta Primavera Pasta Primavera - wild greens style...
The spring greens are lesser celandine and primrose leaves [again picked in the first week of January], in a roux-based Parmesan cheese sauce.

There are very old references to the leaves of both plant species being used as food. In the case of primroses there are primrose leaf recipes from the 16th century - though not used in the same way as here [with an acorn-based tagliatelli].

NOTE: Primrose can cause allergic reactions in some people, and it is the LESSER celandine which is used, not the greater celandine, which is toxic.

Gourmet Survival Food For Outdoors' cooks there is no need for your wild greens to taste like boiled rags... With a little imagination and know-how a welcoming, tasty, dish can be conjoured up in the wilds; like the goosecrass / cleavers and rice noodle pottage pictured left.

Rice noodles require virtually no cooking and are therefore a handy carbohydrate source for folks in the outdoors', while goosegrass provides a vitaimin source. Again, goosegrass has a long, but largely forgotten, history as a human food item.

Chilli Beef & Blackberry And then there is the realm of the exotic and experimental with Wild Food School courses....

As, for example, with the stir-fry Chilli Beef with blackberry and apple, pictured left. The sweet fruit takes the edge off the chilli, while the beef could equally transfer to venison. And, of course, apples and blackberries are sort of country larder cousins.

Whether you are looking for unusual gourmet food ideas, or need hands-on
experience of preparing and cooking survival type foods for the Outdoors,
you will hopefully find a Wild Food School course to suit.

For your safety. Do not consume wild plants if you have
a medical condition, during pregnancy, or give to minors.

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