There has been much talk of foraging this year or perhaps my reticular activator has simply been on a foraging focus!
Whether it’s been brought on by the recession and the idea of free food, a wish to support British business in this Jubilee year or simply us all wanting to reduce the impact on the environment and eat seasonal, I’m all for it and have been keen to learn more. So when I was invited to a day of foraging with Chef Toby Gritten I was very excited!
Toby is Chef Patron of The Pump House in Bristol and owner of The Bird In Hand at Long Ashton. You may have seen him on Jamie’s Great Britain teaching the infamous Mr Oliver how to get the most from the local produce on your own doorstep.
Our small group drove to 50 Acre Wood on the outskirts of Bristol – a mere 15 minutes drive from the centre. Toby first took us through the basics of foraging which really were quite simply to pick foliage, fungus, flowers and fruit and seek the landowner’s permission for anything that needs digging up.
Then we set off in search of St. George’s Mushrooms which Toby wanted to use for cooking later. Along the way, we came across Jack By The Hedge (Alliaria Petiolata), Wood Asper and Wild Raspberry bushes
I also loved this pine which Toby explained was edible. It tasted amazingly citrusy.
And these Fiddlehead Ferns were rather fascinating too. Toby advised they have a nutty flavour and the best way to prepare them is as theydo in France – soak in a simple salted water brine and then cook them over charcoal.
Toby was very good at explaining each edible we came across. Stopping to show us the detail and taking questions.
The mushrooms we came in search of were elusive. Toby showed us how to examine them for maggots which get into the stalks and eat from the inside out. So it is common for a perfectly good looking specimen to end up in the bin.
We did come back with a large basketful but it took some time to find them hidden under foliage.
When Toby was happy we had enough, we headed back to 102 Cookery School to cook lunch!
102 Cookery School is the first UK cookery school to be opened by Samsung. It’s in affiliation with the kitchen appliance retailer, Nailsea Electrical and is set in a beautiful converted church. The kitchen space is light and airy with state of the art equipment from Samsung, Nailsea and Nisbets.
There are eight cooking spaces and what I really liked is that they are set up in blocks of four so you can face each other and get to know your fellow cookery students.
Our lunch was going to be Steamed Cornish Cod with St. George’s Mushrooms, Wild Garlic and Wye Valley Asparagus.
Toby had already prepared the cod by covering it in sea salt flakes for about half an hour and then washing it down and rolling it up in this cling film. The salt helps the flakes to really hold their shape.
Under his watchful eye, we prepared the freshly foraged ingredients.
As our fish went into the oven on steam setting…
… as we prepared the sauce – simply cream with mushrooms and wild garlic.
Toby plated up our lunch as we were created to wine from the lovely on site selection.
I don’t know if it was because we had spent the morning foraging for some of it, or just the simplicity of well thought out ingredients but lunch was utterly stunning!
I thoroughly enjoyed my foraging lesson and cooking class with Toby. It was relaxed, interactive and I now feel confident knowing what I can and shouldn’t pick when out foraging. As a fish novice, I’ve come away with some excellent tips from a great chef. Toby is calm and attentive as a teacher and it was lovely to meet him and learn more about his style of cooking.
This course along with a huge range of other courses featuring chefs from the Bristol area is available to book via the school’s website. The next Foraging with Toby course is on the 8th July.