Caroline Davey, the owner of Fat Hen Wild Food Foraging and Cooking School (www.fathen.org), is used to helping witless 21st century cooks learn that food doesn’t have to come from plastic bags, supermarkets – or even a plain old veggie patch.
She explains that the delicate purple flowers in front of us are common mallow plants, which can be found along fields, on waste ground, in gardens and on path edges, and are a staple in Middle Eastern soups.
Hedgerows in Sheffield, railway banks in Rotherham and seashores on the east coast teem with edible leaves, flowers and herbs, Davey points out. The only difficulty is identifying them.
“What do you think that is?” she asks innocently, gesturing to a familiar-looking rural plant.
She looks worried.
“No, it’s hemlock and it’s deadly. You can, however, eat the leaves and the stems of cow parsley,” she adds cheerfully. “It’s known as wild chervil.”
The group nod wisely, aware they are at Caroline’s mercy.
“In general, be careful picking wild food from a cultivated area, as it could be covered in pesticides,” she adds, as we eagerly fill our woven baskets with the aforementioned mallow. “But I know the farmer here, so it’s OK.”
Suddenly the field transforms into an unlabelled outdoor supermarket.
We go on to pick alexanders leaves for a pasta dish, common sorrel, a citrusy, thirst-quenching leaf for use in our salad, and elderflowers to pop in our bread and butter pudding dessert.
Fancy a bit of foraging?
If you suspect your back garden is brimming with edibles, check out a course near you and learn how to do it.
North Yorkshire: Have fun in the great outdoors at Taste The Wild (www.tastethewild.co.uk). East Midlands: Take the family back to their roots with Natural England’s foraging events (www.naturalengland.org.uk). Manchester: Go back to basics with these hunter gatherer-style courses (www.basicbushcraft.org.uk)
SODA BREAD STARTER WITH WILD HERBS, PORK AND SAMPHIRE
(Makes 3 medium loaves)
1.5kg white bread flour or a mix of white and wholemeal
2 pints of buttermilk
32g bicarbonate of soda
Handful of oats
Mix of fresh seaweeds and/or wild garlic leaves, mugwort or wild fennel
Preheat your oven to 180C/Gas Mark 4. Sift flour into a wide basin-like bowl. Sift in salt and bicarbonate of soda. Mix thoroughly. Make a well in the centre of your mix and begin pouring in the buttermilk.
The trick of good soda bread is to just mix enough so it forms a nice pillowy synchronised mass in the centre of your bowl – enough to form a dough, but not too much for it to become stodgy. A wet dough gives the best results.
Add your seaweeds and wild herbs at this point and when you have the dough right, lightly flour your work surface and tip your dough onto it.
Separate the dough into three equal pieces and ever so gently make them into a round-ish form. Slash the top of each in a cross shape and place on a lightly floured baking sheet. Sprinkle liberally with oats.
Bake for 35-45 minutes. The loaves should look tawny brown and knobbly. Tap the underside of each loaf – it should sound hollow. Cool on wire racks and top with a tasty treat, such as pork rillettes and/or samphire.