This year Christmas dinner will be a festive meal with a twist. I’ve set myself the challenge of serving an almost entirely ‘foraged’ meal; sourced from the wild or home-grown on my allotment. Little food has been bought from the shops.
I believe passionately in “food justice”; good fresh food for everyone at affordable prices, whether it’s home-grown, given, traded or found. My half- plot allotment yields salad-greens, cabbages, carrots, onions, garlic, tomatoes, marrows and courgettes, broad beans, runner beans, peas, potatoes, herbs and edible flowers, rhubarb, strawberries and raspberries. From early May to the end of October my food comes almost entirely from my little plot; a place of hard work and peaceful contemplation. When I have a brew on my little bench, I can see Morecambe Bay and the South Lakeland fells.
From Easter until late October, I buy very little fresh food, enjoying home-grown veg and food foraged in the wild. Time spent foraging enables me both to enjoy nature and save money. As part of Incredible Edible Lancaster’s many community-based activities, I lead fortnightly forage walks through disabled-accessible Fairfield Community Orchard, on Lancaster’s southern edge. Everyone is welcome, and we usually end the short walk with a shared picnic of wild and not-so-wild food.
The seasonal progression is a cornucopia of “food for free”. In spring you can find young leaves for salads and ‘pesto’: wild garlic, Jill-by-the-hedge, cleavers and nettle-tops. Then the edible flowers bloom: creamy Queen-of-the-meadow, rose-petals, and elderflowers (for wonderful fritters and champagne). August brings the blackberry season, then plums, currants (black, red and white), apples and pears, damsons, elderberries, and nuts (first hazelnuts and walnuts and later sweet chestnuts). In late autumn edible mushrooms and fungi pop up.
Many of these wonderful natural gifts end up in the freezer as fruit purées, frozen chestnuts, blackberries and tomato sauce. My store-cupboard gradually fills with jams and chutneys, fruit liqueurs, wines and cordials, pickled blackberries, pickled cucumber, and honey (if I can beg some from a beekeeper friend).
So, this year’s Christmas menu: casseroled road-kill pheasant breasts; foraged sweet chestnuts and Brussels sprouts. Red cabbage, parsnips, spuds, blackberries pickled in red wine vinegar (in place of cranberry sauce) & foraged hazel and walnut stuffing. We may have to stray from the “rules”with Yorkshire puddings, but dessert will be a foraged blackberry-and-apple crumble, reminding us of summer and the foraging season ahead.