Foraging and Wild Cooking in Anglesey, North Wales
Kieran Creevy // Photography: Liz Seabrook
This is the first in a new foraging and wild cooking series exploring different landscapes and ingredients within the UK. To follow the routes and for more ideas, visit Viewranger.com.
Sun dried pine needles and twigs crackle underfoot as we step off the trail and into the undergrowth. Hints of vanilla and coconut scent the air on this unseasonably hot April morning; on the far northwest reaches of Wales it can only mean a large swathe of gorse. Carefully teasing the bright yellow petals away from spiny barbs we drop handfuls of the tropical smelling flowers into our canisters.
Already in our packs we have rock samphire and wild garlic from yesterday’s hunt further inland, along with the strong earthy scent of freshly butchered racks of spring mountain lamb, sharp tangy ewes’ curd, and the first of this season’s asparagus. We have a planned hike ahead of us, exploring the forest and coastal areas of Newborough, Anglesey, but at this moment we are savouring the thought of sitting by the fire at the end of the day sharing a meal and moments with friends.
We keep our eyes peeled for additions to our dinner as we head deeper into the forest. Birdsong changes its character in response to our intrusion into their domain. Scanning the floor, undergrowth, and trees we chance upon an already flowering blackberry bush. The smell is too subtle to add much flavour to the meal, but the splash of bright colour will enliven our plates, subconsciously reminding us that, hopefully, summer is not too far away.
The forest thins as we come towards its edges, but the tang of pine resin increases. Out come the steel canisters once more, collecting tiny pine buds, along with stashing some of the dried kindling into our packs. Subtle changes in the landscape along with scents of iodine, salt, and undertones of decay hint that we’re on the edges of a tidal marshland.
Newborough Forest and Beach
Duration: 3 hours
A low level costal and forest walk along well defined tracks. Starting and finishing close to Newborough, this trail mixes sandy beaches, marshland and pine forest to great effect, never straying too far from views or the smell of the open sea. Though busy beaches are close by, it’s possible to enjoy quiet trails and hunt for easily identifiable wild edibles.
Breaking out of the forest we’re hit with a fresh breeze. Hot, bright sunlight, pours down upon us. Faces instinctively turn upwards, eyes closed we breathe more deeply and ease bunched muscles.
Breaking out of the forest we’re hit with fresh breeze. Hot, bright sunlight, pours down upon us. Faces instinctively turn upwards, eyes closed we breathe more deeply and ease bunched muscles. Packs down for a moment we each divide, as if by telepathic consent, to explore the dunes, to get closer to water. Being close to the sea brings out the giddy child in the most sombre of adults. Memories of happily digging in wet sand, trousers clinging to salty-wet skin, without a care. Back on the trail we come to a sudden halt at a passage of salt-, sand-, and wind-scoured trees that appear petrified, and bright yellow sand and worn-smooth pebbles and rocks. Memories of various mythological and cultural landscape references bubble to the surface and the discussion turns to alien landscapes from the Original Star Trek series and recent scenes from Game of Thrones.
Closing in on our destination, talk turns to meals eaten on various beaches and holidays as kids – sand-gritted sandwiches, slightly-flat lemonade, and proper ice cream if we were good. Now however our tastes and skills have matured and expanded, but we still experience the same joy from being battered by salt-laden wind. Wrapped in a cocoon of fleece and Neoshell we can stay out way past bedtime, cooking on an open fire with wild edibles and amazing local ingredients like organic mountain lamb, ewes curd and spring asparagus.
With almost fifteen thousand kilometres of coastline between the UK and Ireland, a detailed look can reveal a treasure trove of wild edibles, from the multitude of seaweeds, to beach greens like rock and marsh samphire, sea purslane, and seabuckthorn. Further inland, elements like wood and sheep sorrel, wild garlic, pine buds and nettles appear, enticing us to explore further, linking disparate habitats together in our minds and on our plates.
Mountain lamb, marsh samphire, wild garlic, charred leek, asparagus, ewes curd, candied pine buds and bilberry balsamic
Ingredients (serves four)
2 lamb racks (roughly 1.2-1.4kg)
2 handfuls of wild marsh samphire (100 to 150g), cleaned and trimmed
1 large handful of wild garlic/ramson (100g), cleaned and trimmed
1 large organic leek
A large bunch of asparagus
2 cups of ewes curd
1 handful of pine buds
1 small cup of bilberry balsamic
Salt and pepper
1 cup of sugar
1 cup of water
Lightweight steel grill and small pot
1 square of greaseproof paper
Set the grill over the fire and season the lamb with salt and pepper and leave to one side. Place the sugar and water into a small pan and bring to the boil. Whilst it’s coming to the boil, place the greaseproof paper on a dish and scatter the pine buds. Reduce the sugar syrup by half and then pour it over the pine buds and allow to cool.
Place the lamb racks on the grill, placing them strategically so they char slightly but don’t burn. When the racks are cooked rare, trim the asparagus and leek, add them to the grill and cook for 5 minutes.
Clean the pan, add a good knob of goats butter and bring to a foam. Add the racks and asparagus to the pan and cook gently in the butter for 5 minutes spooning the butter over both.
Briefly char the leek on all sides directly on the embers. Remove the lamb rack, asparagus and leek from the heat, divide into four and and place onto the places alongside the wild greens. Spoon the ewes curd over the wild greens, scatter the candied pine buds on the curd and the gorse flowers over the lamb and dot the plates with bilberry balsamic. Sit back and enjoy.
Most land is under private ownership or owned by a state body, ask permission before foraging on someone else’s property. Familiarise yourself with the law regarding wild plants as some species are protected due to being rare, fragile, under threat or form a vital part of the ecosystem. The Theft Act 1968 outlaws the picking for commercial purposes of mushrooms, flowers, fruit or foliage from any land not owned by the picker.
Identification and Knowledge:
1. Know which plants, fruits and nuts are edible and how to correctly identify them. Do not consume unless you are 100% sure they are safe.
2. Only harvest if you can correctly identify the plant and the surrounding area is not contaminated.
3. Many plants are highly poisonous and can cause death if consumed. Many have poisonous look-a-likes.
4. It’s important to know which parts of each plant are edible.
5. Some plants are only edible after careful preparation e.g. cooking, washing, and removal of sections.
Sustainable Foraging: Where, When and How to Forage:
1. Only pick when a plant is abundant.
2. Use sharp scissors for preference, or a sharp knife.
3. Only harvest in patches, as you need to leave plants for regeneration and its continued survival.
4. Try not to remove flower or seed heads unless sourcing these specifically. Plants form a vital part of the eco-system, and many animals, insects and other organisms rely on them for survival.
NEWBOROUGH WARREN – YNYS LLANDDWYN
Newborough Forest and the surrounding area is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Please remain on the network of way-marked tracks and paths to avoid disturbing nesting birds or other protected species. Before removing or pruning any plant (or plant remains including tree, shrub, herb, moss, lichen, fungus, leaf mould or turf), consent must be sought from Natural Resources Wales.
COOKING ON AN OPEN FIRE
For the full experience, try to cook these dishes over an open fire or on a barbecue. If you’re making an open fire in the outdoors you need to follow a few very important rules:
1. You either need permission to have an open fire or have checked with local regulations.
2. You only need a small fire (dinner plate size) to cook these dishes. Any larger and you’re just using extra fuel for no immediate gain and you may exhaust usable wood in that area.
3. Make sure the wood you’re using isn’t going to impart an unpleasant taste to your food. Apple, Ash, Beech, Birch, Crab-apple, Chestnut and Oak are good options.
4. Only use dead wood, driftwood, or wood that has already been felled. DO NOT cut branches from living trees.
5. Make sure the wood is completely dry, inside as well as out. A simple test is to try and break a twig with one hand. If the twigs snap cleanly with no effort at all, it’s bone dry. If however it bends a lot or requires force to break, it’s still wet – even if the bark feels dry.
6. If you’re cooking over an open fire, moderate the heat under the pan by allowing the wood to cool to coals or by adjusting the height/distance from the heat source.
For in-depth fire making skills, read one of Ray Mears’ books, or check out one of the many bush craft courses available in Ireland, the UK, and around Europe and the US.