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4 Days In Dumfries & Galloway

Those of you that have read my earlier posts will have seen that in April 2014 I journeyed to the Lake
District to meet, Mark Williams of Galloway Wild Foods (see earlier postings). My reason for doing so initially stemmed from a desire to get about more, meet various folk from the wild food community to learn, share skills and generally do some networking. I deem this an important facet for my own professional development but have since found it to be more deeply enriching than I could ever have imagined.


One of the views from Marks house
Anyway, back to the bones of this post. In October Mark sent an email asking would I like to come to Dumfries & Galloway with another wild soul, Andrew Macfarlane (For info on Andrew visit: https://acuvital.wordpress.com/) and spend some time foraging and working on his permaculture garden. Given the inspiring time I'd spent with Mark in the Lake District my answer was a resounding 'Yes!'. And so it was that the most full on four days of wild food foraging, feasting, drinking, fun and adventure I've experienced to date began.




Wednesday
Mile High Wild Pie
I arrived at Marks house shortly after Andrew, I was warmly welcomed and asked 'hot drink or beer?' - need I verify my answer? With drinks in hand, we sat comfortably, amiably chatting about various foraging related stuff. After an hour or so, Mark invited us to the dinner table. We started with wild watercress soup and bread (sourdough I think), bursting with flavour and sublime intensity, a true wild culinary delight - forget cultivated watercress, wild is where it's really at! This was followed by what was truly one of the most sensational centrepiece pies I'd ever laid eyes on and had the pleasure to sink my teeth into, 'Mile High Wild Pie'. All the ingredients were lovingly hand foraged and homemade and the rustically exquisite wild fungi pastry decorations with which Mark had adorned the pie added an extra element of artistry and theatre - absolutely delicious! (I think this recipe is on Marks website)



McFarlanes Mead
While indulging in this fabulous wild food fayre, plenty wild drinks were freely flowing, including various cocktails - Mark is quite the cocktail maestro and his supply of handmade liquid accompaniments; shrubs, syrups, alcoholic infusions and indeed his cocktail recipes, in my opinion, rival and exceed that of any 'watering hole' specialising in this niche.
Accompanying the cocktails, herbal infused meads, lovingly and artistically crafted by Andrew, aka
 'Mead Master McFarlane'. If, like me, your only experience of mead has been regulated to the sipping of over-priced, over-sweet commercial brews, then your experiences so far have unfortunately been akin to a limping horse instead of a powerful and majestic thoroughbred. Andrews Meads are astounding - rich, complex, bold, gutsy and thoroughly delightful. Andrew has his own hives which he tends to and harvests sympathetically and responsibly and then, in true artisan style, gracefully crafts the honey into meads while utilising his knowledge of wild herbs and plants to infuse his brews with their herbal magic.


Thursday
Mutated Scarlet Caterpillar Club
A plan was devised for the day, we would explore the local vicinity; fields, hedgerows, woodlands and swamp, before heading off in the afternoon to some coastal spots. So, dressed to impress and kitted up with baskets, bags and snacks off we set. Some 200 metres from the house, the first fungi find of the day, Cep (200 metres from Marks house!), as we continued our walk toward town we discovered, Trooping Funnel (Clitocybe geotropa), a meaty mushroom, jelly ears, waxcaps in various forms, mutated scarlet caterpillar club and a variety of wild greens including; Sweet Cicely, Ground Ivy, Chickweed (of monstrous proportions) etc...




We purchased snacks in town, scoffed them and we then continued our journey. En route to the swamp we visited a couple of Marks favourite haunts and stopped to pick
up Coconut Scented Milk Caps, oggle a vast patch of Yellow Staining Mushrooms (not for our pot), Crimson Waxcaps and Noble Fir. This was my first meeting with a Noble Fir - it will not be my last!- 
it's needles have a deep and delightful aroma akin to grapefruit - fantastic infused in vinegar, sugar and salt to which it imparts it's aromatics exceptionally well. It has become one of my, 'when in Leeds seek it out' trees,  Another first for me was spotting a Red Squirrel, a lovely encounter. Anyway, we finally reached the swamp and it's array of wild, delectable edibles including watercress, water-pepper (or arse-smart??) and large bitter-cress (think wasabi!), all these have a hot, pungent edge with regards to their taste effects (we would return here in a couple of days, at night, I cooked a starter on Saturday night and the above mentioned were required for a salad).

At the coast. Rain set in.
All hail the swamp!










After bimbling about the swamp Mark suggested we hit the coast for the last hour or so before sunset, so to the coast we headed, picking up sea aster, sea purslane, buckshorn plantain, sea plantain, scurvy grass and sea radish, among many. Another night of wild feasting ensued... Watercress Soup, Venison Stew and Wild Cocktails, followed by a viewing of a TEDX talk by, Paul Stamets  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cwLviP7KaAc

Friday
Braving elements in search of Pepper Dulse
After breakfast we headed along the coast to check on a pepper dulse spot. We were greeted by high winds and a crashing sea, scaling the rocks we located the infamous pepper dulse, a seaweed highly esteened for its, yes, peppery qualities - once tasted you will know why this exquisite maritime number is well prized - we used dried pepper dulse to season our early morning eggs and even grazed some fresh from the rocks.

Young Mussels





The pepper dulsing was a brief affair and, after consultation, we headed to a woodland little known to Mark (I think he was itching to exercise his foragers curiosity for exploring new territory...). The wood was a plantation of mainly spruce and pine - often good hunting grounds for a range of species - unfortunately we didn't discover much however, the find of the morning was the Wrinkled Peach fungi we found, a new one for each of us, this stirred our excitement and the specimen was well photographed and tweeted about.

Wrinkled Peach
Wrinkled Peach










We called time on the plantation and decided to stick with our fungi theme, Mark knew just the place, an enchanting little woodland, complete with an idyllic, fast flowing stream and a very simple rickety bridge to test the nerves and balancing prowess, towering pines, oak, birch and other fauna abounded and it had a distinctly high moisture content to boot - classic fungi territory.

Mark takes the test.
Young Honey Fungus



We discovered a variety of edible and interesting fungi while tasking through the woodland; Cep, Chanterelle, Saffron Milk Cap, Hedgehog Fungus, Honey Fungus, Bay Bolete and woodland ecto-plasm!






Woodland ecto-plasm?
Basket of fungi

                                                 

Again, sticking with the fungi theme we visited another woodland after that one...

A huge Fly Agaric & Mark
My 1st Snaketongue Truffleclub













My 1st Jelly Tooth.
Old Cep & it's mycelial carpet











On our return that evening we met, Ben. Ben had contacted Mark and Cara (Marks partner) via WOOF (At the time of the visit, Mark and Cara, were members/hosts of WOOF. More about WOOF here: http://wwoofinternational.org/).

Saturday
Ashen Chanterelles
Saturday was garden day; preparing raised beds for vegetables/fruits, reinforcing raised beds, removing an unwanted Laurel tree and various other maintenance tasks. Now, we were supposed to spend two days helping to get the garden in order but, Cara, the worlds best gardening boss by far, decided that we had done enough in 3-4 hours and gave permission for an impromptu afternoon forage, which we did, who were we to argue - thanks Cara! Squeezing into Marks car off we set, this time in search of Winter Chanterelles and various swamp greens for my salad on Sunday evening. While out we picked up a very fresh roadkill rabbit (that went into Sundays stew along with partridge and venison), along with some giant specimens of our fungi quarry. Another first for me while out was the Ashen Chanterelle. Saturday was a most memorable evening indeed, Mark firstly introduced us to the hands on delights of sushi making and then his take on wild mushroom risotto accompanied by 9 separately cooked fungi species, with honey fungus voted as the favourite by all!. Another great day topped off by another excellent evening of feasting and socialising, the mushrooms went down well as did Marks excellent and extremely entertaining recital of Tam O Shanter!

Ready to roll
Intro to Sushi making










Ready!
Mushroom Risotto




                                                              








Sunday
My head was fuzzy and it hurt... too much booze and not enough sleep! We were all a bit weary on Sunday and it took a while to get going, hours actually. A hearty cooked breakfast and copious amounts of coffee helped but was by no means a cure - what was to transpire in a couple of hours certainly did the trick!

Breakfast on the veranda
Some time after breakfast everyone started milling around, filling rucksacks - not with pack ups or foraging equipment but towels and spare clothing! I heard someone say, 'river, swimming', hmmmm.... Water is great, in particular the ocean, I love the ocean, especially when I'm on dry land. Being a particularly weak swimmer (25metres officially) and entering a domain I feel under-evolved for, ie lack of fins and gills, fills me with a feeling of mild fear - though I have partaken of a spot of wild swimming in the past and on returning to dry land of my own accord have reflected positively on the experience. The main thoughts floating round my mind were; I'm in Scotland, it's November, it's cold, I'm thin - hardly conducive to a positive, pre-swim, pep-talk. Half an hour later we were deep in the countryside and parking the car up. After nipping across and down some fields we approached the River Fleet. The river begins life in the mountains and therefore by its very nature is clean watered and very cold, not even a long hot summer can warm the waters adequately enough to prevent bodily numbness in under 5 minutes, as I was soon to discover... Anyway, I floundered on the river bank while Mark, Andrew and Ben promptly stripped to their underwear (Mark actually stripped down to his birthday suit - a true Scot to the very core!) and one after the other they jumped in. Their reactions on entering the water did little to convince me that that could actually be good fun, in fact it added extra weight and confusion to my decision not to. Yet, I felt that I was missing an opportunity - when would I be here again at this exact moment, in these exact circumstances, with these fab folk I had spent the last 4 days with, I wouldn't, so I thought let's go for it and go for it I did. I stripped to my underwear, clambered down the waterfalls edge and threw myself in... 
 
The very chilly River Fleet!
Ben takes the plunge
I have never ever experienced cold quite like I did that day. My fingers numbed up within 2 minutes, my breathing heaved with the shock, I wondered how I would clamber out or even if I'd make it to the side but I did and it cured my hangover :0)




We left the river and headed to the coast to watch the sunset.

         



                                           




                       
                           










I love cooking, I love eating and had so far been treated to some extremely sublime, nourishing and rustic wild food feasting. I mentioned to Mark and Cara that I'd really like to make a starter on Sunday, partly as a thank you for their hospitality and generosity shown so far and also because I like cooking for others. Shortly before heading to Scotland I'd made the acquaintance of a game dealer, bought some ducks from him and had made plenty confit duck which I took with me. The final evenings meal consisted of: Starter: Confit duck with Chanterelles cooked in homemade seaweed butter and a wild salad of Chickweed, Water-cress, Large-cress, Sorrel, Gorse petals, pickled samphire & ceps with a Sweet Raspberry and Hazelnut infused oil Vinaigrette. Mains: Roadkill Rabbit, Venison and Partridge Stew with Roast Garden Grown Squash and something else that I forget. Dessert: Elderberry Ice-Cream on Seaweed Meringues :0)




Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures of the rest of the meal. Hopefully I'll be able to add some after asking Mark and Andrew if they have any - if you're reading this guys...

                                                  





So concludes, 4 days in Dumfries & Galloway. A very wild and magical time, spent in the company of very wild and magical souls, in a very wild and magical place. Special and eternal thanks to Mark & Cara for their unwavering, generosity, hospitality, kindness and friendship throughout.

For more details about Galloway Wild Foods: www.gallowaywildfoods.com 
For more details about Acuvital - Andrew: https://acuvital.wordpress.com/


Comments

  1. It was a blast mate! Such a pleasure to hang out, forage, learn, eat, drink, drink, drink and jump in rivers with you! Thanks so much for the shift in the garden too :) Where will we assemble this year??

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hey (Mushroom) Mark! Where will we assemble indeed! I'll put ma thinking cap on n will fire some ideas yours n meadmasters way :0)

      Delete

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