I’ve been inspired by John Lewis-Stempel’s “The Wild Life“, to resurrect my fascination with wild and local foods. Although I haven’t actually foraged much further afield than Borough Market, I am currently preparing a pot of slow cooked, wild, rabbit stew. I might not have shot it myself but I was rather perturbed when I noticed bunny fur remaining on the quartered carcass. De-fluffing the tea brought me a bit too close to the harsh realities of our carnivorous lifestyle but that can only be a good thing.
I’m not sure I’ll be able to persuade any one else to join me for a serving so I’ve taken the precaution of preparing a backup leek and potato soup.
Back to the book, John committed a year of his life to eating wild produce hunted or foraged within the grounds of a derelict farmhouse that he and his wife had bought to renovate. It sounds like a hell-ish challenge. He started in game season so he had plenty of meat to hand but had to grub around for meager offerings of greenery. He managed to poison himself more than once by over-reliance on dubious quality produce.
His ingredients list for February reads:
Pigeon, rabbit, squirrel, dandelion, corn salad, nettles
He was pretty strict about the source of his food and so beyond the stuff he gathered or shot on a daily basis he would have to rely on foods he’d managed to preserve or dry such as nuts, oils, rosehip syrup and copious quantities of alcohol.
I think I was particularly inspired by his ability to keep himself stocked up with daily supplies of alcohol as well as his ability to stomach some of the concoctions brewed. Home brew wine is rank at the best of times and I don’t think oak leaf wine would fare any better than the usual culprits. Dandelion and Burdock beer sounds delightful though and I was impressed to discover you can turn the brew around in about a week.
The book is illustrated with many historic and authentic hedgerow recipes which must have taken some time to unearth. We have Chickweed soup, Stuffed Bistort Leaves, Fat hen pancakes with horseradish and as I’ve seen them lined up next to the rabbits at Borough Market, perhaps this one will do for next weekend:
Herby Squirrel Burgers
1lb/450g lean minced squirrel
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp hedge garlic, chopped
2 tsp equal parts wild thyme and wild chervil
Mix together the egg, meat, herbs and salt in a bowl.
Shape into flattened patties and fry in goose fat. Serve with a green salad.