Monday, 9 February 2015

Tastier than Bear's

It is quite fun watching Bear Gryll's torturing teaching celebrities on an adventure in the wilderness. But really for someone so experienced in the great outdoors, the food he provides looks really disgusting! Take a look at the crunchy worm omelette he prepared for Zac Efron in his "Running Wild with Bear Grylls" series. (it is at 22 mins in)

Apart from the fact that the birds eggs could have been old and rotten, just the thought of eating wriggling worms is vile, (Remember wormy spaghetti in 'The Twits' by Roald Dahl?). Surely an adventurer with Bear's experience could provide a better meal from the wild than that?

Anyway, as I walk my dog through our little woods and muddy fields, I see all kinds of edible goodies, so I am convinced I can do much better than Bear does at eating from the wild. And so the challenge begins......

I am going to cook myself a meal each week that comes solely from food I have foraged that day and the challenge is to make it tastier than Bear's. I have a few books to guide me on what is edible or not. All I need is for you guys to be the judges and luckily for you I won't be asking you to taste mine or Bear's dishes! You can base your judgement on how appealing each meal looks and which you would rather eat...... if you had to.

Please feel free to join in with ideas, foraging tips or try the challenge too and send me descriptions of your meals to share, or post them on your own blog and I will re-blog them here.

It is tempting to use nuts foraged back in autumn or frozen fruit picked last summer, but it wouldn't be a fair comparison as Bear won't have those to hand. If I were Bear I would carry a few emergency sachets of salt with me, so I am going to allow myself salt and water to cook with, but other than that it is just what you can find on the day. Bear's wilderness probably has a lot more wild stuff available than my semi-urban locality, so I am probably at a disadvantage.
Being February, winter in the Northern hemisphere, this is going to be challenging. That is why this weeks challenge is up against wormy birds egg omelette. I think it would be fairly tough finding anything more disgusting than this, so I am hoping for an early win.

So yesterday I headed out into the little woods behind our house to see what I could find. Jelly Ear mushrooms was an obvious first choice because they are really abundant. They grow on the dead wood, and are very difficult to mistake looking and feeling like a human ear. I have picked them before, but never got round to cooking them. The texture is really very odd, and it is difficult to know what to cook them with. But any mushrooms should add some flavour and substance....I am hoping.

There were also plenty of stinging nettles starting to grow, so I carefully snipped off a few of the young heads, as a healthy spinach alternative. I was hoping to find something else, but our woods is not very old which means there is not a great variety of species. Apart from loads of poisonous Lords and Ladies springing up and seeing a few snowdrops, it was a dead loss.

The field next to it did have some dandelions around the margins, so I dug up 3 or 4 big ones, so that I could use the roots and the leaves. Even the young flowers are edible apparently. There were also daisies, their dark green rosette of leaves are edible according to my books, and looked quite tasty.

I headed down to the brook hoping for something to add some flavour growing on the embankment. I found some yarrow, which is supposed to be good for tea, some rather discouraging looking plantain, some young white deadnettles and finally some common sorrel.

Thoughts of a lovely green salad were circulating in my mind by now. But I still wanted some more substantial roots. Silverweed roots are reported to be tasty, so I checked out a few spots that are packed with them in summer, but there was no sign at all. The roots must still be there, but without the plant to guide me, I wouldn't know what I was eating.

It took a fair while to sort through my haul and wash all the mud from them. The greens looked quite delicious....... until I tasted them! Below clockwise from the left are white deadnettle, daisy, yarrow, common sorrel and young tips of cleavers.

The daisy leaves were vile and went straight in the compost bin. The dandelion leaves weren't great either, but then the leaves looked old. The common sorrel did have an interesting acidic taste, and might act like a squeeze of lemon. The young cleavers tips or sticky weed as we call it, was actually quite a nice fresh taste, and the deadnettle was a fair spinach like taste. It made me wonder why I didn't just pick the deadnettles instead of bothering with the stingers?

First I made a pot of yarrow tea. It was quite a nice flavour, although a bit weak - I need to pick more next time.

I started a soup by adding the chopped dandelion roots and jelly ears to some boiling water.

After 20 mins simmering, in went the nettles, sorrel and dead nettles for 10 mins. Then at the end I threw in the sticky weed and seasoned with salt. Ta dah!

It really didn't look too bad, and the first few tastes of nettle didn't taste too bad either. The dandelion is not a great flavour, but it did add some texture and felt filling.

But the jelly ear was definitely not the texture I was hoping for. It was still very firm and didn't seem to have softened much at all. Maybe I should have cooked it longer, but John Wright describes in the River Cottage Handbook on Mushrooms, how he boiled it for 8 hours and it still had the same texture! Ignoring the texture, it just had no taste whatsoever. So much for imparting a nice mushroomy flavour!

After all my careful washing of leaves and roots, the soup was still a bit gritty and earthy. Adding salt and more salt made no improvement to the taste. I tried to imagine it with a dash of soy sauce and some egg swirled in and managed to eat a third of the bowl, but it tasted worse with every mouthful so I gave up and had peanut butter toast instead. It was very nutritious and if I was starving I probably could have eaten more. But then maybe worms would look tasty if I was starving.

Ok...eating from the wild is not so easy, or at least not in winter. Part of me thinks this was a stupid idea, but then I am already planning how I can do better next week! What do you think?


  1. Half a day's work to produce an inedible soup, maybe you should market it as the latest fad diet!

    1. Great idea! I did grudgingly think that I could have baked a carrot cake in that time and it would have tasted so much more delicious!

  2. Judy, I love that you have set the bar so low with Mad Bear Grylls. Cunning for your first experiment. You are marvellously brave, especially with the mushrooms. I would really like to find out what local mushrooms are edible. I would really like to find a knowledgeable friend so I don't kill myself..
    I could go foraging on my own lawn and pick daisies (not in summer though), but I could pick dandelion, sorrel, nettle, plantain and cleavers (yes, we call it sticky weed too!) right from my own garden. Makes foraging easy, being a lazy gardener:) I love the idea that you are going to make use of all these things. Maybe I will start adding some of those leaves to salads. Save on weeding:)
    As your other commenter mentioned - the world's most elaborate diet. Hilarious!

    1. Thanks Jo. I keep forgetting it is supposed to be a contest. Which would you prefer wormy omelette or jelly ear soup?