Written by Carol Hunt, Badger Bushcraft Blog Tuesday, 24 April 2012 16:18
We set off to the farm site for a good early start on what promised to be a gloriously balmy Saturday to prepare for our guests, a Hen Party of eleven ladies who'd come to Kent for the weekend in order to celebrate their friend's forthcoming wedding - and they'd chosen to do so in unusual style - by immersing themselves in a day of hands on Bushcraft and wild food foraging.
After setting everything in place for the action packed day ahead, we went up to the Village to greet them and reveal the surprise itinerary to the Bride to be, who had been kept entirely in the dark about just what they'd been planning for her!
A quick change into her special Bushcraft Hen Party outfit - a rather fetching cammo suit with matching forage cap and pink satin 'Bride To Be' sash - and Bride and her guests were ready to set off on their first challenge of the day, identifying and foraging wild edible plants.
After a talk covering potential hazards and safety guidelines the group stopped at the first port of call, a good sized stand of Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) and we got to grips with the features and uses of this aromatic and flavoursome potherb. Raw, its flavour is a little too pronounced for most palates, but once cooked the perfumed overtones soften and temper and the vegetable takes on a warm and pleasant spiciness which makes a tasty addition to a simple rustic style soup. Our first lunch ingredient taken care of!
Continuing our walk, pausing occasionally to admire and discuss the abundant yet largely unregarded spring bounty that lay in many cases just at our feet, such as scented violets (Viola odorata) and Nettle (Urtica dioica), we unexpectedly came across Steve Kirk, fellow forager and Editor of the Bushcraft Magazine who was about to release a yellow necked mouse (Apodemus flavicollis) from a humane trap. The group watched fascinated as Steve gently opened the trap to release it and the tiny creature made an instant dash for cover among the bushes.
Almost immediately we were granted another rather unexpected surprise as pair of Buzzards were spotted by Phil circling on a thermal high above the orchard opposite. This was a particular pleasure as although they are frequently seen in the West Country they have only made inroads into Kent in fairly recent years (the first confirmed breeding pair in the county was recorded on the North Downs in 1998). Watching these elegant and statuesque birds effortlessly riding the air currents added an instant special something to what was already turning into a very enjoyable day and after a brief interlude of impromptu bird watching we turned off into the orchard next to the churchyard and continued our search for wild edible goodies.
It's in this area that good strand of Ramsons, or wild garlic (Allium ursinum) weaves its way along and up the face of a shaded and slightly damp hedge-bank, providing the ideal combination of dappled light and moisture to really make the area a flourishing and abundant oasis of young growth at this time of year. Ramsons, with its delicious, pungent garlic aroma and flavour is a choice and much sought after wild spring edible and we certainly intended to make good use of it so into the baskets went enough for lunch.
Next came Red Deadnettle (Lamium purpureum), and Hedge Garlic (Alliaria petiolata), and we also looked at the features of Yellow Archangel (Lamium galeobdolon), comparing these and other plants with similarly shaped leaves to the stinging nettle which they grew amongst. It was also in this area that we encountered at Arum lily (Arum maculatum) and Dog's Mercury (Mercuralis perennis) both toxic plants that you need to be aware of and avoid accidentally picking when you are wild-harvesting.
A little further along the lie of the land changed, becoming level and much less shaded and we encountered Burdock (Arctium lappa/minor), common Dock (Rumex obtusifolius), Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) and beneath and inside a small wooded area an abundance of starry yellow flowered Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria).
Following the path around to the opposite side of the hedge and taking note of the very different habitat and much more limited array of plants that were growing there due to the drier and much sunnier aspect, we paused for a few minutes to harvest some lovely fresh green tufts of young hawthorn leaves for a wild spring salad, then continued the walk alongside an expanse of Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) a spiny shrubby tree much favoured for hedges and most notable for the making of sloe gin, but whose fruits would not available until the Autumn, sadly! Then following the pathway past a last few plants of interest including a Small Leaved Lime (Tilia cordata) which sadly had yet to unfurl its tasty soft spring foliage, the group walked back down to their cars and set off to the farm full of anticipation for the second part of their bushcraft challenge day.
Once there, the group rested and enjoyed a short break with coffee and tea and chose which recipes they would like to prepare. Phil explained the importance of correct knife handling and safety, then some of the party volunteered to try their hand at wild game preparation by skinning and jointing few freshly shot wild rabbits. So, with the ingredients now all gathered and prepared, they were ready split into small groups and cook!
Cooking over a campfire is not at all easy and you have to be even more watchful of things getting burnt than usual, but the ladies did fantastically well and between taking turns at target practice with bow and arrow, they produced Alexanders soup, Cep risotto, pan fried proscuitto-wrapped rabbit and a dressed wild leaf salad.
Finally, the perfect end to a perfect and very full day was provided by Phil in the form of Huntsman's Chocolate dessert, a deliciously sinful combination of melted chocolate and brandy steeped Damsons, and a salute to good health and congratulations given in the raising of few snifters of flavoured wild fruit steeped spirits.
We offer the Bride and her Fiancée our congratulations and wish them all the best for their future together.
NB - This Badger Bushcraft Blog article was authored by Carol Hunt who works with us on our wild food and foraging courses. Thanks Carol for taking the time out of you busy schedule to kindly write this fantastic and informative article! We would also like to extend our thanks to Chip for providing us with the freshest game possible and for delivering the rabbits to us at 02:00hrs on the morning of the Hen Party! Many thanks to Hanna and Clare for helping to plan and organise the event with us over the weeks and a host of emails in the lead up to the event. Finally good luck to Lizzy with her wedding and we wish her and her husband all the best for their future.
If you would like to expand you knowledge of wild foods Carol and Phil would be delighted to be you guides.