I was a bit poorly last week and so I've been lazing around a lot, keeping out of the heat and generally doing nothing too straining. But on Tuesday I had a date to keep and it ended up being the perfect tonic. My friend Mel had booked me and my crafty mutha mucker Erin onto a foraging course. In Northfield. If you know Birmingham you probably have an idea of Northfield. If you don't know Birmingham, think derelict housing estates, track suits and pound shops. I'm not being a snob here. I'm from Quinton - think track suits and not even pound shops! What I'm getting at is that Northfield, a relatively down at heel brick jungle on the edge of Birmingham, where the ghosts of Kalamazoo and the Longbridge car plant loom large, is not the first place you'd expect to go foraging for wild foods. It's not the first place you'd expect to find an ecocentre either. But we did.
Owned by the Quakers, The Northfield Ecocentre first opened its (presumably well draft proofed) doors in March 2009 and has 'developed a wide variety of activities designed to help individuals and organisations live and work in a more environmentally sustainable way.' They have an event on today: the Brazilian themed Big Lunch & Jubilee Weekend (11am-3pm) and also an Eco Fun Day on World Environment Day (Tuesday 5th June). They run courses throughout the year, including patchwork and quilting, preserving and pickling and some more eco driven sessions around renewable technologies and energy proofing your home. But it was the wild food foraging that we were here for.
The lovely Tom Baker from Loaf was in charge of this foraging foray. At some point around my 40th birthday I was on a waiting list for one of Tom's legendary bread making courses, but the list is big, and I'm not very patient. Do have a look at the Loaf website though, because they are expanding the organisation and moving to new premises soon so there will me much to tempt you I'm sure. Mel has promised to teach me the art of sourdough baking in the meantime, but we definitely needed Tom's advice when it came to foraging. I barely know a bluebell from a buttercup. I exaggerate for alliteration purposes, but I'd be hard pressed to come up with another plant beginning with 'b'. I do though, love food, and discovering new ingredients and flavours, and I'm also partial to a nice walk in the fresh air. And what a lovely, informative walk. Just a few minutes from the Ecocentre and we were alongside the River Rea, in pretty meadows filled with blossom and birdsong and Tom was uncovering horseradish roots, pignuts, meadowsweet and wood avens. We lingered and chatted, picked and tasted, before walking back to the centre for a delicious snack of cheese and crackers, provided by Tom and wild garlic leaves and common sorrel, provided by the wilds of Northfield. Food for free just has to be a good thing. And this was a very good thing.
When I got home, all rested and loved up with nature, I discovered my fridge freezer was on the blink. So began a mammoth cook off. I rescued the meat and fish by handing them over to a kind neighbour for safe keeping and started using up my vegetables and dairy produce. Starting with mango smoothies for breakfast, I then made a banana, mango and yogurt loaf (turned out a bit wet but still tasted lovely), Leek, broad bean and goat's cheese frittata, cherry pie and cauliflower and paneer curry. Finally, I used a spoonful of the wood avens, dug up by Tom at the start of our foraging adventure, chopped finely, in some shortbread. Tom's recipe uses the wood avens to add a faint clove like, mixed spiced sort of flavour to the beautifully crumbly, buttery shortbread. Yum.
And with my lungs full of fresh air, my belly full of good food and my strength restored I even managed to finish up a few hoops yesterday.