Sunday, October 12, 2014

First time foragers

Summer has officially ended, and gone are many of the delicious things to be found in the wild. I spent the last two weekends foraging with the Dutchman (Nootje always comes along of course, in a handy backpack) in the sand dunes of The Hague.

First we went to Westduinpark, easily accessible by tram 12 or bus 22 directiom Duindorp. Armed with a children's nature guide, we spot some duindoorn berries, which cluster thickly around spiny branches. They are high in vitamin C, but ridiculously difficult to pick. Maybe we were too late getting to them as well, as the berries were quite soft and tasted overripe. They are extremely sour but with a yummy aftertaste (can imagine it as a marmalade!). I ended up snapping off two small branches to experiment with.

We looked mostly for nettles. The first time I got stung quite a fair bit, so I came armed with leather gloves the second time around! Dutchman remarks that I've become quite the nettle connoisseur, as I only snip the first four or six leaves off a small plant, and they must be of a certain shade of bright young green as well. I read somewhere to pick only the best when you forage to eat, and I am taking this advice rather seriously.
I wash the whole bagful of nettles thoroughly, toss to dry and I dehydrate them in the oven at 50 degrees. It takes three batches to dry everything. We've eaten them stirfried and mashed in stamppot but my favourite way is to make an infusion (pour hot water and leave for 6-12 hours, or overnight to simplify things) together with elderberry flowers and rosehips.

The first time, we also discovered dauwbraam or dewberries. They look like blackberries, but are smaller and less sweet. The dewberry plant also tends to creep horizontally rather than arch upwards into a bush shape, like the blackberry plant. Perhaps symbiotically, dewberries grow in between nettles, so there were many untouched berries right under our noses, in the leaves. These I washed, picked out any stems and leaves, and froze in plastic boxes.

Rozebottel or rosehips grow in abundance in the sand dunes. The Dutch variety is more round rather than elongated. The red flesh is mostly bland and very slightly savoury when eaten raw, and most of the fruit is made up of seeds and hairs. I dry these on 50 degrees in the oven until semi dry, before cleaning out the hairs and seeds. Dry them further until they crumble.

Not bad for a first time forage, and i learned the second time around to lay out the goods after foraging to let all the wood lice and other bugs and worms escape before I inadvertently cook or freeze them. Though we couldn't find our coveted elderberries, next summer I'll be prepared early in the season for all kinds of berries, and try my hand at making my own red raspberry leaf tea as well!

Free superfoods for the picking

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