Eclectic Foragers & Spaghetti Seaweed
Posted by Rachel - 1 July 2012
Let me magically transport you to our heavenly experience of Gourmet Foraging & Dining this Spring on the Isles of Scilly.
Travelling from various areas of the UK, I met our group of foragers & diners to experience a unique side of Scilly; foraging for our dinner with a rather large dollop of style, luxury & exquisite food. Staying at www.hellbay.co.uk a luxurious, relaxed & friendly Hotel on the sparsely populated Bryher Island makes this trip an extra special time. Oh, & Hell Bay also accommodates an enviable art collection.
It has to be said, we were an eclectic group & unlikely looking bunch of budding foragers of 10 adults, spanning 40 years between us. I’m sometimes a little nervous meeting a new group & this was one of those times, though I just had to put my trust in the adventurous spirit of everyone & the seductive skills of the wild plants themselves. I’ve watched thousands of people get hooked on foraging, telling myself, there’s no reason why these people can’t too! I’m rarely disappointed – watching people ‘get into it’ is a joy in itself.
Our three days of half day foraging adventures were buffered with continental breakfasts (though not much wilds) of plenty of fruits, fish, toast, cereals & juices. I love breakfast, it really is what gets me through the day, feeling refreshed to set off on our island tour (a different island each day) where we collected a variety of hedgerow, coastal & heathland plants. Though I love it all, my favourite day has to be when we focus on the seashore…
Foraging for seaweeds is tide dependent & on the islands it is also dependent on the times of the boats. On our final day of foraging we got the boat to St Martins. A sensitive juggling, this wasn’t the first time we’d got dropped at the opposite end of the island to what I expected & planned for! A low tide is perfect for seaweed foraging, though not for mooring boats – oh well, we got to the island, were wellied up, well some of us, while others dared it with bare feet or trainers. Thankfully the coastline of St Martins came up with the goods.
It amazes me that pottering around just one collection of rocks enabled us to forage for a wide range of seaweeds to accompany our dinner. My ‘shopping list’ of 7 seaweeds were all discovered along the aisles of sandy beaches, rock pools, paddling expeditions & a little clambering, looking under kelp forests & getting faces up close to the splish, sploshing water around us. Those who chose to, watched from a distance, enjoying the sun while the wellied ones paddled out to find the freshest finds. We laid out are proud findings on the rocks (who ever took photos – I’d love a copy!) before revising their names & bundling them into our baskets before heading off to lunch.
As our adventure unfolded, conversations, laughs & quiet times were shared along coastal paths & over dinner. Often everyone disappeared after our day’s outing, to either walk more, reflect on the day’s events or to take advantage of the Hotel’s heated out-door pool, sauna or jacuzzi. Appearing again later, refreshed, ready for pre-dinner drinks, canapes & the presentation of that evening’s menu. The evening’s menu was always greeted with satisfying ooohs & aaah & all the excitment you would expect from a special dinner party. I love that part – although we forage together, I like to keep the evening’s menu a surprise. It’s like revealing a new painting – we’ve worked creatively behind the scenes – myself helping design the menu & advise processes, then leaving the chefs to create 5 bespoke courses with a range of colours, textures & visual arrangements. Like art, food comes down to personal taste, so I always hope they’ll be enough variety & skill to please everyone…
Some dishes were a hit, while others had a mixed response that might be expected from more experimental cuisine. Personally, Sea Noodles (Spaghetti-like seaweed) with Grilled Turbot & pangretta with sea lettuce & the Rice Pudding with crystalised Alexander stems were hits with me. Though some disagreed! Other’s loved the hogweed seed biscuits that accompanied Cornish cheeses – for me, I was completely satisfied already & had no room for anymore. All created within the style & quality you expect at Hell Bay, thus, I feel, presenting some of the best foraging experiences available in the UK (though I am unashamedly biased!).
I could list all the dishes of each evening, though just as a taster, here’s the menu we enjoyed on our second evening after foraging on the Island of Tresco & an afternoon free to enjoy the Tresco Abbey Gardens.
- Sorrel & Wall Oxalis Soup
- Fennel Tempura Fillet of Hake, dressed White Crab Meat, steamed Rock Samphire,
- Pan roasted fillet of Venison, Nettle Gnoochi, Frosted Orache, Three-cornered Leek puree, Chocolate & Yarrow Jus.
- Gorse Flower Creme Brulee with Blackberry Leaf Sorbet
- Cornish Cheeses with Hogweed & Alexander Seeded Biscuits
And the weather? Well, it has to be said that good weather can make foraging a lot more of a pleasant past-time. I often think it’s not much to ask for – a few hours each day of good weather – for some reason the weather gods usually listen. Apart from the winds (thank goodness for those sheltered spots) we were incredibly blessed with the weather, just one afternoon of rain, which started after we’d finished our morning’s foraging & were heading to lunch. I always think a bit of rain is good for the spirit – we are outside after all & it would be a shame to miss out on that warm, dry, cosy feeling afterwards!
As our break came to towards its end, I felt sad to see the group part. While 3 days is a great length for an activity break, it also meant we were only just starting to get to know each other. I’m just glad I always make my stay a little longer, so I get to enjoy & see more of the islands each time – welcoming it all like an old friend. My nostalgic side often creeps in, as I reflect on how grateful I am for our time together, the staff that make it all possible & proud of those budding foragers, going home with their memories, skills & hopefully, satisfied stomachs. While I reflect on the journey of our first steps out with empty baskets, our numerous meals together & eye-opening explorations around the nooks & crannies of the islands.
Foraging is just an easy & enjoyable thing to share if you know how…
The next Gourmet Foraging & Dining Breaks are;
- Sept 21-24 2012
- April 17-20 2013
Included in the break are return Helicopter Flights, transfers for arrivals & departures, boat trips to specified islands, b&b, 3 foraging walks on 3 different islands, entry to Tresco Abbey Gardens, evening meals incorporating wild ingredients foraged from the islands, summary sheet of all the plants covered over the 3 day break.
For full details of the breaks & to see previous menus go to; www.wildwalks-southwest.co.uk/hotel_breaks
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