Recently I celebrated my 40th birthday. It has been a fun time (why does nobody congratulate you on making it through 4 decades? I just got lots of sympathy as if there was something wrong with me). Anyway we went on a fabuous trip to Stockholm for the big day & my wonderful sisters & brother in law gave me a trip to Cornwall for a foraging course – it was fantastic. I have to say my family are great gift givers – for my 30th I got dinner at the Fat Duck, I really am very lucky.
More on the trip to Stockholm when Becky gets her computer fixed but today I want to share the wonders of Cornwall & the Fat Hen wild cookery school. Foraging basically combines my two favourite things, cooking & nature so I was in my element. Cornwall is the most stunning place, I didn’t realise how wild it is, especially in the west. I stayed near Lands End & you are never more than a few miles from the sea. I thought that the area would be very touristy with hotels everywhere but I was totally wrong. It was farmland & national parks meeting turquoise coastlines – gorgeous!
My day of foraging was the highlight. The Fat Hen cookery school is run by Caroline who is friendly, enthusiastic & highly knowledgeable about plants, especially seaweed. She has a background in ecology & so understands classifications of plants and how to identify them. I found this very useful as I am a slightly nervous forager. I know that not many things can actually kill me but it is not a risk I am willing to take. It was great to learn about families of plants which are safe and how to spot them. Conversely I am glad I not know how to spot the potentially dangerous hemlock varieties – basically we should keep well away from anything which looks like carrot tops or parsley. Some of those plants are apparently lovely & some will cause paralysis leading to suffocation as your respiratory muscles fail – good to know!
Our day started with coffee & flap jacks with elderberries and blackberries – not too shabby! Then we did a little cooking before leaving for some foraging. The day was called forage, cook & feast which is why my sisters chose it. There are lots of foraging courses around but they do not offer the quality of food & ingredients that you can find at Fat Hen. We started with dessert, a panna cotta made with seaweed. Caroline forages carageen from the coastline, dries it out & uses it like gelatine. She soaked it in some water & we brought milk & cream to the boil with some vanilla & lemon rind. The soaked seaweed is added & the mixture simmered for a few minutes. Then it is drained, poured into moulds & put in the fridge for later.
We also prepared some nettle pasta for later & Caroline showed us some confit rabbit legs which had been slowly cooking overnight. The rabbits were shot a couple of fields over from the school – proper local food. By the time we left I was well excited to get back for lunch. We left Caroline’s chef, Andy baking bread, smoking the freshest mackerel I have ever seen and making other preparations for our feast. I have to say having a chef on hand really made the day special, it elevates this above many other foraging courses.
We headed out to the coast to gather salad leaves & blackberries for lunch. On our way to the beach we found an incredible number of edible plants. Caroline has 2 categories of salad leaf; delicious pick them now & end of the world salad which should be left for emergencies as it is edible but not delicious. We found pennywort, sorrel, nasturtiums, rock samphire, wild mint, wild mustard and several other tasty leaves whose names I have forgotten. There was also lots of sea beet which is like spinach only saltier & has a firmer texture – I loved this, if I lived by the sea I would never eat regular spinach again.We also had an introduction to the wonders of seaweed. This was particularly interesting for me as I have stared to really love Japanese food & they are experts at using seaweed. It turns out we can make lots of the same flavours with local varieties. Caroline makes dashi using local kelp, lava can be made into nori sheets and sea lettuce is perfect in miso soup. I found myself trying to remember where the nearest coastline is to my house so I can make these things at home. Seaweed is extremely nutritious and is a very versatile ingredient as Caroline demonstrated with our meal, it featured in every course.
Lunch was the best meal I have eaten in ages. The starter was a fishcake made with seaweed and hay smoked mackerel with fresh mussel sauce & marsh samphire. It was wonderful, perfectly seasoned & tasted like fresh sea air. It was the first time we were all quiet since we arrived (we had a lovely chatty group of people). After that we made the ravioli for main course with the confit rabbit leg & nettle pasta. It was fun to have a break & make things and everyone got involved.
I really loved the day at Fat Hen. Anyone interested in foraging & cooking would love it. They run a range of courses and even bespoke trips, you can find out more Fat Hen. West Cornwall is a bit remote & it takes a while to get there but it is worth it. There are fantastic places to visit & the coastline & beaches are the best I have seen in England. I had a whale of a time visiting ancient ruins, farmers markets, the heritage coast and the Minack Theatre where you can watch a play overlooking the sea while the sun goes down. St Ives is close by & is a lovely town full of art & galleries.
Basically west Cornwall has tons to offer & it is small so you can travel around quickly & easily (except, I imagine in the height of summer season). I stayed in a tiny hamlet called Brane which has its Iron Age ruins (Carn Euny) which even inspired me to get up to see sunrise. Here is the link to the cottage where I stayed. It was cosy & well equipped so I could cook a little with the beautiful local ingredients.
I would like to thank my sisters, Andrew & everyone at Fat Hen for a perfect birthday treat. We have not received anything for writing about the course I just wanted to share what a wonderful day it was.