As the seasons transition from Summer to Autumn suddenly the hedgerows become abundant with fruit and berries.
I’ve always wanted to give foraging a go but, I have never known where to start and I wouldn’t want to eat something poisonous! 🌱
Lydford Gorge host the most amazing seasonal workshops and on a trip to Devon I joined the Wild Kitchen experience.
Here’s a look at my day foraging and cooking…
I love trying new things and when I saw this workshop I knew I had to book onto it. The added bonus is that it wasn’t far from where we were staying just across the border from Cornwall.
While I like having a well earned rest on holiday there’s also a part of me that wants to be doing, making and exploring. This experience ticked all those boxes and was totally new to me. And, isn’t that what travelling and holidays are all about? Doing something different?
The gorge is stunning, it’s so lush and green! There’s a two hour walk through it going past Whitelady Waterfall that many people come from far and wide to see.
There’s some hilly routes but there’s also an old train line runs though the gorge, which is a great flatter route.
This was one the of the places I visited with my new National Trust membership. Since being a member it’s opened so many fun opportunities up to me – I’m really loving it!
It was a ticketed member event though, so it did cost me a little extra but, I’m so glad I went – it was a brilliant day out.
The Wild Kitchen included foraging and soup and jam making and was over the best part of a day.
At the top of the walking trail is a little cabin and a clearing where there was a fire and some tables set up ready for the day.
It’s here where I met the team that would be leading the workshop and the other people on the course.
We started things off by peeling loads of vegetables and using the time chit chatting getting to know each other. This really reminded me of Christmas morning when you’re in the kitchen with your family peeling vegetables for dinner later in the day – there’s something really great about cooking together!
Then we put a big saucepan on the fire and put the vegetables and a bag of lentils in so when we came back from foraging there would be a tasty lunch ready to eat.
WARNING: Before I start, please be aware that I’ve never foraged before, we went with expert foraging guides and you should NEVER eat anything out in the world that you cannot clearly identify. This post is NOT a guide to foraging and should NOT be used as such – I’m not responsible if you choose to eat something you’ve picked up foraging. Learn to forage from experts and always check what you’re picking in foraging books.
Once the soup was on and introductions had been made we spent a little time looking through some foraging books. The two ladies running the course ran through a couple of the plants we’d be looking out for on our walk.
Our guides also gave us the best advice, which I’ve just given you, one to take notice of if you plan on going foraging yourself.
If you’re not sure if you’ve identified the plant correctly just don’t eat it!
It’s better to be safe than sorry.
We then grabbed a basket and went to the hedgerows to start with some blackberry picking. This is definitely the easiest thing to identify when you’re out foraging and probably you’ve done since you were a kid. It’s still one of my favourite things to do, simple but so good!
There were so many on the hedgerows that it wasn’t long before the whole groups baskets were full of juicy little berries that would be later turned into jam.
We walked over for over an hour and a half around the gorge being shown incredible edible leaves and berries. We found lots of potential food but lots of things were poisonous or would give you a very upset stomach, so it really is important to listen to the earlier advice.
Here’s a few of the edible plants we found…
After the blackberries, the next most abundant plant we found was Navelwort, known for its round leaf and little stem dimple that looks like a belly button. We found that the smaller, younger leaves are the tastiest.
It’s fond of growing in small gaps in walls or on rocks, it likes the shade and damp conditions, so the gorge was ideal! I found lots growing in and around moss, and on the wet woodland walls.
Ok, so the next couple of things we found, I’m struggling to remember exactly what these were. The names aren’t that catchy and we found lots of things on our walk.
Sea Beet or Wild Spinach
I think, I’m really not sure, that this was Sea Beet also known as Wild Spinach. All I remember is that this tasted like beetroot. I hate beetroot so this definitely wasn’t for me!
I think, again I was with a guide who helped me, that this was Wood Sorrel, if I remember right, it tasted sour and like lemons. I also think I remember that our guide said not to eat too much of this because it has something in it that inhibits the absorption of calcium, and consumed in large quantities is not good for you.
Can you tell that I’m worried that one of you might treat this post as a guide and eat something you shouldn’t? Please don’t do that!
We didn’t forage for mushrooms on our walk, we found plenty but our guides treat mushrooms with even more caution and decided to give them a miss with first time foragers.
I don’t blame our guides at all, apparently they are much harder to identify and it’s far easier to incorrectly identify them.
Homemade Soup for Lunch
As we walked back up the hill to our camp, the smell of the delicious soup hit me!
The colours and smells were so autumnal, it was the perfect way to kick the season off, and after a little wander I was ready for this soup.
We added some of the Navelwort, the one that tastes like peas, to our soup and it added a lovely little crunch and additional flavour to the soup.
We’d picked so many blackberries to turn into jam, and our guides had even sourced some locally grown apples and elderberries to add into the mix.
Back at camp, we got to work…
Our group made short work of peeling the apples, cleaning the blackberries and picking the elderberries from their branch.
All of our ingredients were added to a pan and left to simmer away, with the addition of sugar. We checked the temperature every now and then to make sure it reached the right temperature to turn it into jam.
Then we stirred…
Then we split the mix into four…
Then we added additional ingredients into each, like chocolate!
And then we stirred some more…
There was an awful lot of stirring, until your arm ached and then some, it’s also quite difficult over an open-flamed fire because it’s so smokey.
I’ve never made jam before and I’d certainly never thing that you could put chocolate into jam. It’s delicious by the way and hands down my favourite of the four we made as it was so different to anything I’ve tasted before.
To check the jam was ready we did the plate test, a totally new concept to this first time jam maker! Apparently you put a little jam onto a cold plate, let it cool a little and if it is thick and wrinkles when you push it with your finger, it’s ready.
We made four flavours in total…
- Apple, Blackberry and Elderberry
- Apple, Blackberry and Dark Chocolate
- Apple Blackberry and Cloves
- Apple and Blackberry
We even were allowed to pick our favourite jam, to fill a jar up and take home with us. I picked the chocolate one and Henry picked the spiced jam.
At the time, the jam tasted normal but, since it’s set and we’re now home, you can definitely taste the smokey flavours from the fire. It’s the most unique and delicious accent flavour and something I’ve never had in a jam before.
I really loved the Wild Kitchen workshop, foraging and making lots of jam and soup, at Lydford Gorge. It was such a wonderful day with lovely people and our guides, two ladies and a man (sorry I’ve forgotten their names, but they were very much appreciated!) were absolutely incredible.
Our guides really made the experience and were just the right level of helpful to allow everyone a bit of freedom to join in or not depending on what people were comfortable with.
It was a brilliant induction to foraging and I’d never made jam before, so it was lots of firsts for me. I love learning something new and had the best time pottering about in the woods picking and making things.
Opening the jam when we were back home has been such a treat and a delicious reminder of our day out.
A big thank you to our guides and the National Trust team at Lydford Gorge who made this a magical day for everyone.
Now it’s time to replicate the wild kitchen at home!