Foraging for your dinner, by Peter Bradley


One associates foraging with mushroom freaks, or restaurants that want to be trendy and add token wild food to the menu!  This was my preconceived idea. I hope to change this with my blog.

The Verulam Arms, St Albans, exteriorI fancied to go foraging, so I Googled “foraging in Herts”, and up popped The Foragers, and The Verulam Arms pub, in St Albans.    I regret that I never discovered them earlier!  They run foraging walks, with a banquet to follow, from March through to September.

We were given the location two days before the date, and duly met at Redbournebury Mill, on a lovely autumn afternoon.

Sixteen would-be foragers were led by Jay from the Woodway Bushcraft company (he was a specialist forager) and our hosts from the pub, Richard and Gerard. Not only did we learn what was good to eat, but, perhaps more importantly, what could kill you!

Jay, our Bushcraft specialist, not only gave us foraging tips, but we learnt some bush craft: for instance, how to treat nettle stings.  Surprisingly, we also learned that elderberry trees are good for insect repellents!

Richard and Gerard, from the pub, would keep disappearing on the walk and come back clutching ingredients for the restaurant and our banquet.  Gerard  is a home brewer and a bit of a mixologist.  I was lucky enough, after the banquet, to take home one of his bottles of pine-needle syrup, which is fantastic for mixing with whiskey, and using with game recipes.

I am looking forward to experimenting with it.

Bloody Mary mousse with crispy cured pork loin and wood sorrel

Bloody Mary mousse with crispy cured pork loin and wood sorrel

Not a mushroom  in site, but wild water mint and wood sorrel – a key ingredient in a number of dishes – were put to good use. There was a lot of banter about roadkill, and Jay mentioned he had a colleague with a freezer full of squirrels and could give us recipes on how to cook them!

Even the humble nettles were going to be taken to another level: they were not made into soup, but I will tell you about it later.   We were also told about hogweed, a member of the carrot family, and another ingredient used in the  banquet. However, I will leave foraging hogweed to the experts, as hemlock looks similar and can kill you!

Now for the banquet, which was a post-foraging taster menu arranged by the head chef Tom Forrester, who, at 26, is the genius behind the menu –  a real gem of a find and a gastronomic rising star!  Definitely one to follow!

I showed the menu to my wife after the banquet when I got home, and she said there was absolutely nothing on it to suit her tastes. She would not choose any of it.   How wrong she was!   The descriptions may or may not sound appetising, depending upon your attitude to new taste experiences, but the execution was amazing.

The banquet consisted of six courses; and it’s hard to pick out my favourite: they were all good, and as each course arrived, they got better and better.

Larch Bolete mushroom

Larch Bolete mushrooms

If I had to pick my two favourites, they would be the “Sautéed lamb sweetbreads, smoked pigs cheeks and Dorset snails with smoked parsnip purée, pickled walnuts and Larch Bolete mushrooms” which was sensational, closely followed by the “Dark chocolate blackberry and hazelnut posset”.

I mentioned earlier the humble nettle.  This was made into filo pastry parcels with hogweed and Feta cheese, served with a tomato and cucumber salsa, finished with a wild  marjoram and balsamic dressing.   It was magic!

I normally don’t like spinach and feta cheese parcels, but these were out of this world.

I must also mention the pan-roasted pigeon breast with three corner leek mash, served with wilted watercress and pickled blackberries.

We finished the meal with a shot of Gerard’s wild cherry and wild herb Schnapps. What superb and lovely way to end our foraging banquet!

Sautéed lamb sweetbreads, smoked pig cheeks and dorset snails with smoked parsnip puree, pickled walnuts and larch bolete mushrooms

Sautéed lamb sweetbreads, smoked pig cheeks and Dorset snails with smoked parsnip purée, pickled walnuts and larch bolete mushrooms

Pan roasted pigeon breast with three corner leek mash, wilted watercress, pickled blackberries

Pan roasted pigeon breast with three corner leek mash, wilted watercress, pickled blackberries

Pan seared hake, Verulam Arms, St Albans

Pan seared hake, with a vegetable and pernod broth, wild watermint and wood sorrel

Nettle, hogweed and feta filo pie, served with a tomato and cucumber salsa finished with wild marjoram and balsamic dressing.

Nettle, hogweed and feta filo pie, served with a tomato and cucumber salsa finished with wild marjoram and balsamic dressing.


Dark chocolate, blackberry and hazelnut posset

Dark chocolate, blackberry and hazelnut posset

Wild cherry and wild herb schnapps

Wild cherry and wild herb schnapps

With each of my blogs, I like to include a recipe that you might not have thought about, or tried.  Whilst talking about elderberries, Jay produced a small bottle of  elderberry vinegar.  It tasted amazing – a cross between elderberry cordial and balsamic vinegar.   I was amazed how simple it was to make.  Click here to go to the recipe.





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