"See you outside the gate at 8.30," says Robert. He means in the morning, and I'll have to get up at 7am, on a Sunday... Sigh. I book the car, pack a few fire making kits (just in case), swapping out the small, mingey King Alfred cakes for larger ones.
Come the morning though, it's a beautiful day. Sunny and lush. And I get to the gate about 8.40am, just before Robert. Unfortunately it's locked.
Robert arrives a few minutes later in his 4x4, with girlfriend Lara. We stand around scratching our heads, trying to come up with another way in. I can see he's brought a ton of kit for this session.
Luckily a park ranger arrives and kindly lets us in.
Fire lit, and kettle on.
We unpack near the site. Robert's brought a wheelbarrow. It still takes about 7 trips. Water. Cooking utensils. Pots. Cutting boards. Tea and coffee. Tables. A lot more than for our fire making classes.
I put the fire grill together. "Can you get the fire going too?", says Robert. Ok, I think, already sweating in the heat. Cotton wool, matches, some thin dry sticks and bigger bits of wood. Everything's so dry, it lights pretty easily.
Fire lit, I head off down to the big House to greet the guests. We're expecting ten. Most of the participants are already waiting. Isobel's there. And Pip. Simon. A different Robert arrives smiling on his bike. Branwen pops out of a car. Sunny, Liz, Tatiana too. Andrew is running late.
We walk back together, via a path in the woods. Up at the site, Robert and Lara have worked wonders and everything is set up, with flowers on the tables. And water boiling on the fire.
Everything's set up for this wild food cooking masterclass
We start in a circle. Everyone says their name and their foraging experience, which ranges from complete beginners to a few who've done quite a bit. I lead a short meditation. The sound of the birds. The feel of feet on the ground, and air on skin. It's a way to arrive.
We're going to begin by making nettle pesto. First, we need to collect the nettles. They're a British superfood - the young shoots are best, and there's a good spot to find some nearby. "Grasp them firmly from underneath, show them who's boss," instructs Robert, "and you won't get stung."
We try... and we all get stung. A little bit.
We all get a little bit stung picking nettles
Luckily there's some dock leaves around, and Robert shows us how to get the juice out of them. It works surprisingly well.
We gather the nettles in baskets.
Back at the site, we stand round the tables Robert has set up. First job is to chop the beetroot as it takes the longest to cook.
Next: steep the nettles in hot water to remove the sting. It only takes a few minutes.
Then strain, and keep the juice - it makes an amazing tea, and we all have a taste.
Outdoors cooking class
We're going to make a wild food feast. Robert explains what to do at each step. The sun is shining as we work on the meal at our own stations round the table. It takes about an hour or so, and when we're done with the prep, the cooking is surprisingly quick - and then we eat... it's delicious!
Can't wait to try it!
A Forager's Feast
The full menu is nettle pesto, wild pigeon medallions, beetroot chips, followed by elderflower fritters. Here's the method and recipes for all the wild food we prepared, cooked and ate:
Get 2 or 3 beetroot each. (Shop bought, not wild)
Chop coarsely, then par boil in a saucepan of water over the fire.
Fry in hot oil on the fire til done.
Dry the nettles in a tea towel
Steep freshly picked nettles in hot water for a few minutes.
Strain and dry the nettles in a tea towel
Chop finely, and put in a bowl
Add garlic, nuts, Parmesan - all finely chopped
Drizzle oil, lemon juice, and salt to taste
Pound until you get your preferred consistency.
Wild pigeon medallions
(The pigeons were bought from a local ranger.)
Give thanks to the pigeon for it's life.
Lay it out on table
Open the breast, and peel off skin.
Make an incision along it's chest and carefully cut the breasts off
Check liver to see if the bird is diseased in any way. If there are spots, pitted skin, discolouration - you'll need to discard the whole bird.
If all is okay, wash the breasts, then
Cut them into smaller medallion size pieces
Fry in big hot skillet over the fire - it only takes a few minutes.
Carefully slice open the pigeon
Pick young fresh elderflower flowers straight from the tree.
Fresh elderflowers, straight off the tree
Baste in batter ( flour and water)
Drop head down into frying pan
Leave for a few minutes
When golden pull out
Add honey or icing sugar
Eat - delicious
Drop in batter, then fry over the fire. Delicious!
Author & Curator
Nigel Berman is the founder of School of the Wild.