Ben’s Cornish Food Adventures

#2 Wild Food Cycling Day

In the second of his food adventures for Cornwall Life Magazine, Ben gets to indulge two of his passions: food and cycling!

What: Wild Food Cycling Day

Who: Fat Hen

Where: West Penwith

When: 17th May

Menu: Hedgerow salad, seaweed poached mackerel with a wild salsa verde, nettle and ricotta tortellini, brown butter and hazelnuts, carragheen seaweed pannacotta.

Review:

When I learnt that I would be attending a Wild Food Cycling Day, I could hardly contain my excitement. Along with food, cycling is one of my biggest passions; when I’m not in the kitchen I’m most likely to be found pounding the roads of Cornwall dressed in the dreaded lycra, or hustling my two boys along on a mountain bike trail somewhere.

Not even the slightly damp weather on the day of this event could quell my enthusiasm, which luckily was shared by my fellow cyclists and, of course, Caroline, aka Fat Hen.

Caroline Davey is a true foraging pioneer, and was plugging the benefits of wild food long before it became an almost essential component of any ramble in the countryside. A former ecological consultant, Caroline started Fat Hen around nine years ago. Based at her home near Penzance, the school offers a variety of courses throughout the year – from taster days to full-blown gourmet weekends.

The Wild Food Cycling experience began with a chat, a bit of food prep, and an introduction to some of the things we were looking out for in the hedgerows of West Penwith. We made a nettle puree and rolled our own nettle pasta, and soused and cured some beautiful mackerel.

Everyone got involved, and a lively discussion about cycling and food in general ensued – so much so that I barely noticed I had been presented with a cup of nettle tea rather than my usual strong coffee. I was dubious but tried it; it was refreshing and delicious, with delicate elderflower notes.

Meanwhile, Caroline was explaining how she was using carragheen – an edible seaweed – as a natural setting agent. Dried and reconstituted, she simmered this in a classic pannacotta mix (using it as a substitute for gelatine). I’ve never tried this before and was intrigued to find out how well it had worked when we returned for lunch.

We departed on our bikes, with bags of baked lava (another type of seaweed) as a handy snack to fuel the journey. Caroline has an incredible knowledge of edible plant life, and she knows the most beautiful places to look for it. We were soon travelling along picturesque backroads, lanes and footpaths – most of which were new to me despite having lived and worked in the area for years. When Caroline found something, she would stop and tell us about the plant and its uses, and let us try some.

We found a plethora of wild foods, some of which I’d tried before and others which were new to me. Our list of finds included three cornered leek, mustard flowers and leaves, nettles, pennywort, sorrel, knotweed and sea beet. We tapped into Caroline’s knowledge at every twist and turn of the ride, learning about foraging etiquette and how to avoid common errors. If you’re interested in learning more I really would recommend a course with an expert, not least because some very poisonous plants can be easily mistaken for common, benign species!

Other highlights from the day included trying crow garlic for the first time (the bulb was oniony and succulent), finding some wild horseradish, and sipping homemade elderflower champagne overlooking Sennen beach.

After the ride, we returned for lunch at Fat Hen HQ – see menu below. Each dish was distinctive and flavoursome; wild food really packs a punch! The pannacotta had set beautifully (carragheen gives quite a light set, and the resulting texture is more natural than that achieved with gelatine). It made me think about how I can use some of the ingredients and techniques in my own kitchens, for example using various seaweeds for seasoning and texture.

I would highly recommend the Wild Food Cycling Day. Caroline’s knowledge of the wild larder which surrounds us is immense, and travelling by bike means you get to see a lot more. I was pleasantly exhausted by the end of the day, having feasted on wild food and fresh air all day long!

The Wild Food Cycling Day is recommended for cyclists with a good fitness level, who can comfortably cover 20+ miles in a day. Other courses include Seaweed Foraging and Cookery, and Wild Italian Cookery. See http://www.fathen.org/calendar/ for details.