Monday, 27 September 2010

Surf and turf. The law of secret places.

There's an unwritten code among the foragers I know. And that's to respect someone else's patch. If someone takes you somewhere to show you something it's a priveledge that should never be abused. It's a trust thing. Why not? It's all about the effort you put in to find the goodies. Often it's more than the reward. But when you hit the jackpot it's all yours. As long as you've left enough for nature to continue to produce this wonderful harvest, fill your boots. Or your basket.
It's like that with surfing. Secret places are few and far between these days and we treasure them. And if you get taken down the steep and winding path that leads to a secret break, it is your job to 'forget' everything you learned along the way. You can talk about it but you can't give directions. Trust is everything. If I tell you that I surfed this place (above) last week with just two others you might fancy taking a look along the coast somewhere north of Sligo. But please don't ask me any more.

So I was very happy when Freddie's chanterelle patch sparkled with the heads of some very fine mushrooms recently. I was passing on my way to somewhere else and stopped off for a peek. He showed it to me when I was writing the Camper Van Cookbook. We went down there to take a few pictures and sample the delights of mushroom foraging. It was my first fungal foray so it was marvellous to do it in the company of someone who knows what he's doing. Of course lesson one was a simple affair: chanterelles. Not much apes it so it's a pretty sure bet.

Anyway, I phoned Fred to say that the mushies were there. 'Go for it' he said, 'I can't get away and the cows won't milk themselves.' Fair enough then. Rules is rules and we weren't about to break any. So we went back the next day and had ourselves a mini feast.

Much to our delight we found a new patch on a walk a few days later. It was right under our noses but it wasn't until we were ambling that we noticed them. We picked a load and took them to Freddy's. As a gesture of thanks.

After all, it was he who set us off on that road. He gave us the knowledge to know what we're looking for and the confidence to pick it. It seemed only right to share the spoil, now that we had found our own patch.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Welding, making and the simple things that make life great


This post is devoted to hero worship. More specifically to my neighbour, Paul, who, with his bare hands, created the monster in the photo. For him, someone who mends engines, bashes out dents and resprays panels for a living, it was a walk in the park. It's second nature. Normally I wouldn't give this mechanical mindedness and dexterity a second thought (apart from when it comes to getting the van through the MOT) but when it got applied to something I really wanted to try for myself, Paul caught my interest and admiration.

Paul lives in the house in which he was born. He has caught and eaten more lobster than anyone of us will ever taste in our lifetimes and was brought up next to the best shrimping beach on the North Devon Coast. He goes out at low tide and fetches it if he fancies it. Lovely stuff.
So when Paul made his smoker I was astounded. We had been chatting about smoking fish in the pub and I was happily banging on about the once in a lifetime chance I had to visit Arbroath recently. I had learnt how to make the famous smokies and would soon be making a smoker for myself - especially since I had learnt all the tricks .

All I had to do was catch some fish and make it. Well, sure enough, in late August the mackerel came in. Amazingly I caught one before Paul did. Of course this was a red rag to a bull so, not to be outdone, Paul proved himself ever the coastal dweller by catching 30 the next day. And with too many to freeze, bake or fry he set to work with his welder. As you do when you can. A few hours later he had himself a smoker. And some fine oak smoked mackerel fillets too.

Some days later at the annual village party Paul's smoker puffed away merrily as my friends and neighbours gathered around it. Like gannets waiting for the sardine run we hung about, waiting for a first taste. We all knew it would be brilliant, simply because it was simple. Smoked fish, caught by rod and line and smoked at home in a home-made smoker. What more could you ask? A welding course perhaps?

Monday, 6 September 2010

Oh September! How we love you.


June is nice. We have great swells, lovely sunny days and a few fresh greens from the garden. This year I ate chickweek and sea beet, samphire and rocket.

In July we also had some sunny days. Hot sunny days. I ate fresh garden spuds with home grown mint and butter. I love those.

August was ok. The kids were off school and the roads were a bit busy. It rained a little. But you know. That’s ok. The fresh garden peas and lettuces were good this year.
But we soon forgot all that.
September crept upon us with clear starry skies, dewy mornings and late evening surf sessions.
I don't know anyone who doesn't love September, especially among the surfers. The waves, which have whimpered for a couple of months, return with a bang as hurricane season kicks in on the other side of the Atlantic. Long range groundswells invade our beaches with tall, powerful waves. The sea temperatures are the best they will be all year. With a couple of months of warm days behind them, they will stay that way long into the Autumn. Cold feet walking down the beaches at dawn find a steaming, late year Atlantic oddly warming. The beaches, now abandoned by the summer hordes, are deserted. Rockpools heat up quickly, so our kids are happy on beaches they can call theior own again.

September, oh how we love you.

The mackerel arrive at last in late August, drawn in by the promise of large shoals of sprats to push onto the shore in giddy mats of shimmering silver. If we are lucky enough to bring our bucket a few will beach themsleves onto our plates. A little flour, a crack of black pepper and a pinch of chilli flakes is all it takes.

Occasionally the mackerel take my bait too. This year we've had the chance to experiment. Usually it's just garlic, butter, bish, bosh, bash and then they are done. It's a good sign that we've fish to spare. And it's not about my fishing skills. The sea splashes and boils with joyful gluttony.

We've had mushrooms too. If only we'd been a few days earlier we might have had the full crop. But someone got there first and left us a just a few little ones. Until we went a little further off the path and found our own secret stash. Chanterelles on toast. Beautiful, especially when you've gone just that little bit further to find them.

Then there are blackberries. Apparently, there are hundreds of varieties, each with its own unique taste. I found a bush whose berries tasted like apples and blackberries. Odd but delicious. And another that was so sweet we picked the lot and ate them all. None left for pie or jam or vodka this time. We came home with happy, juice-stained lips and faces.

Never mind, it's September. There's plenty more where that came from.

Making dreams come true: another slow road adventure.

When did you last make time to dawdle? Can you remember what it was like to do nothing more than meander, pootle or bumble along? A...