Friday, 20 June 2008

Cutting costs - free food

To be perfectly honest, it would be a lie for me to say that we are feeling the pinch. This is the first time either of us have had to worry properly about things like bills, food shopping, mortgage payments and the price of oil so we have no point of reference. Having just bought a house and under no illusions as to the amount of money I could make from writing, we were prepared for some serious belt tightening, credit crunch or no credit crunch. For all we know it would have been this way even if the world’s economy were still sitting prettily atop the crest of a tempestuous wave of credit.

In addition to this, neither of us has ever been particularly extravagant. Aside from having to curb an enthusiastic album buying habit which took hold with a disturbing voracity towards the end of last year, I’ve not really noticed any major upheavals.

In fact, there have been a few of unexpected bonuses – we eat healthier food (less meat, for a start), we drink less alcohol, we can read the hundreds of books that sit as yet unread on our bookshelf and we can power through a series of great DVD box sets that were bought frivolously some months ago and remain unwatched.

On the food front, things got even more interesting with the arrival of a pocket-sized book called ‘Food for Free’ by Richard Mabey. This wonderful little tome, originally published in 1972 offers a wealth of information on over 100 edible plants, berries, fungi, seaweed and shellfish that can be found in the British Isles.

Eager to try out our new guide, improve our foraging skills and attempt to eat for nothing we headed out last night for a walk; gloves, scissors and bags in hand ready to be filled with nature’s finest bounty. Or at least that was the plan.


Things began well when we came across an abundance of low-lying nettles, still a long way off flowering therefore still perfectly viable eating. I gathered half a bagful with the intention to make a nettle soup. We moved on and almost immediately saw a long line of elders complete with bunches and bunches of their recognisable tiny white flowers. I turned to page 66 in my little pocket book.

‘Elderflowers can be munched straight off the branch on a hot summer’s day, and taste as frothy as a glass of ice cream soda.’

Woah, this was good news. I love ice cream soda and I was starting to get a little parched from all that walking. What better way to slake my thirst than with some fresh elderflower? I snipped off a small cluster, took a tentative sniff and bit off a sizeable clump.

After a brief chew my mouth was awash with a bitterly unpleasant taste. I realised that I had been drastically mis-informed as to the deliciousness of raw elderflowers and my girlfriend failed to stifle a hearty giggle as I spat and attempted to clean my tongue with the back of my hand. After a few moments there was a mildly discernable hint of the taste I recognise as elderflower, but it certainly didn’t have the frothiness of a glass of ice cream soda. This Mabey chap should have his tongue looked at.


There was a flurry of excitement further down the track as we identified what we thought was chamomile and then sorrel. Sadly our woodland powers aren’t quite strong enough yet and a little nibble suggested that neither was what we thought.

Still, we had gathered enough nettles for a hearty and healthy soup and a bagful of flowers – enough to make a decent quantity of elderflower cordial or maybe even wine. And none of it had cost us a penny. Satisfaction indeed.

4 comments:

Zooey53 said...

That's awesome. I love finding wild food. I was so excited the other morning when I was taking a walk down the street and realized there were a bunch of mulberry trees right near my place. Now I pick some every morning.

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

Sounds fantastic! This is the kind of life we are building up to right now. But first we need to take care of getting finances in order and figuring out where we want to settle once we get a bit more traveling in. So hopefully this is us a few more years down the road!

Amanda at Little Foodies said...

Love foraging for free food. Come Autumn puffball mushrooms are a good one to look out for and probably the only mushroom I'd be confident enough to find, cook and eat. Not wanting to end our lives just yet with some rogue killer mushrooms.

Alex Rushmer said...

I can't wait for the puffballs. And you are right - you've got to be so careful with funghi. A rogue one can be quite fatal.