Foraging for the best new restaurant used to be as far as it went for Imen McDonnell, but now a whole world of outdoor adventure has opened up.Over the weekend I attended a terrific food writer's workshop at Brooklodge Hotel and Macreddin Village in the wilds of Co Wicklow.
As I weaved through the gaps and glens to reach the stunning location, I eagerly anticipated the gorgeous meal in Ireland's only certified organic restaurant that was in store for us that evening.
Even more exciting, I was looking forward to having a promised peek into their "forager's pantry" which is stocked to the gills with foodstuffs made from wild edibles found locally.
I have to admit that, before moving to the country, I wouldn't have dreamed of searching for food outside of a Whole Foods or similar supermarket. Foraging for the best new restaurant in town was the closest I came to being resourceful about what I was eating at that stage of my life.
Now, I can't seem to go more than a few days without twisting off the beaten path and getting lost in the branches and brush of a wooded boreen or thick hedgerow scouting for something tasty to take home and cook up. It's become a bit of an obsession of late, and anyone who has been held captive with me during an excursion will surely agree.
I've morphed into a a happy hunter-gatherer type. I can't put my finger on just when or how this happened, but finding a tree loaded with hazelnuts has become more alluring than finding a table filled with half-price Mui Mui bags in the sale section of Bergdorf's or Brown Thomas.
Within a three-kilometer radius from the farmyard, we can find a bounty of autumn sloes, bramble blackberries, crab apples, mushrooms, hawthorn berries, mountain ash rowanberries, wild mint, elderberry and rosehips to name just a few. Last week, I splashed out with a spiced crab-apple tarte tatin for dessert, which actually worked out quite well, as the symphony of spices counteracted the tartness of the tiny wild apples.
I also prepared a small jar of rosehip syrup along with a bottle of hawthorn berry ketchup, which, based on the scent of these concoctions, may not be to my liking, but my buccaneering spirit tempts me to be sure. With foraging, I have found that I prefer things that are not just "edible", but that are also culinary and packed with a flavour that beats a similar conventional food.
A good example is wild garlic, which I prefer to home-grown chives because of its lingering depth of flavour. My rule of thumb is: If you have to boil it twice or drown it in spices, it's not worth it.
In two weeks' time, I will be co-leading an afternoon foray for late-season sloes and other forest edibles with a group of international women. Afterwards, we will come back to my kitchen with our gifts of nature and make beautiful preserves and provisions together. It will be convivial and celebratory. And, it will be wild.
You can find my spiced crab-apple tarte tatin on the blog soon. CL
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