Monday, 9 February 2009

Found Somewhere Nice To Eat?

With everyday prices rocketing higher than a red bull fuelled sparrow, belts around the country are collectively being tightened, and shopping trips are becoming more and more menacing. The mention of anything going for free in Britain’s current situation is music to anyone’s ears. Food bills especially are universally increasing, with students and parents finding that open mouths are costing more and more to fill. Jamie Oliver’s arch nemesis, junk food, therefore seems like a cheaper, easier option to slap on plates, fuelling obesity, which ultimately creates the cycle of eating more, and costing more. There seems to be no hope.

When it’s game over, return to the start. The answer to food expenses could be simply returning to nature: foraging the forests, reaping the rivers. Nature can provide more food than any McDonald’s menu could ever dream of – healthy, easy food for free. Of course, it’s not going to be as easy as sitting in your armchair ordering a take-away. But there is only so much Korma a man can take.

Here in Cornwall, we are gifted with three sides of the county being kissed by the ocean. Conveniently the sea has an almost identical mineral balance to the human body. Any fan of the Chinese menu will know seaweed as the crispy, greasy starter. Seaweed from the beaches though has all the minerals from the sea, with very few toxins absorbed, making it perfect for the body to top up any imbalances. Different types of seaweed can be dried out, boiled, and even uncooked, depending on how you want to use it.

Crab is often associated with expensive restaurants and people who can afford to spend the time picking the rich fleshy meat from inside the shell. But having such a pricey source of food on your doorstep for free is more than inviting. “With increased prices in fuel for boats, the cost of crab has increased.” says Arwenak Fish of Falmouth. “For handpicked Cornish crab, you’re looking to spend a minimum of £17.30 a pound.”
Scattered along the shores of all the world’s oceans, no permit is needed to take crab, as long as it is under fifty a day, not carrying eggs and are over 4 1/8 inches wide. Using pots are obviously the easiest and perhaps most effective method, but without them it’s a case of risking your fingers and diving for them.

Falmouth is abundant with fish, mainly due to the port being the third deepest in the world, is rich in variety. “This time of year, bass seems to be the most popular fish we are selling.” Arwenak say. But at £6 a lb, equating to £24 on average per fish, catching and cooking your own seems the clever option. Just off the Prince of Wales Pier in Falmouth, you can expect to hook pollack, mackerel and flounder: all a very good source of Omega 3, which seems to be getting as much media coverage as ITV reality TV shows.

If you prefer not to get wet however, foraging through forests could provide an endless bounty of food. The season for mushrooms is just coming to an end: it starts in September, but only lasts a few weeks. Obviously, some varieties are going to play havoc if you eat them, so the best idea is to fully research the mushroom you’ve picked. There are numerous B vitamins in mushrooms and also contain a powerful antioxidant. Locally, the best place to spot them is in grassy areas beside beaches, in woodland areas and in fields and parks. Remember to thoroughly check which mushroom you’ve picked before you eat it. Could turn out to be the last one you eat.

Very few times is there a possibility to eat something that you feared as a child. Unless you had a very irrational fear of say, cucumber. But nettles, which contain 40% protein, are the original super food. In fact, you’d have to eat a sink full of kale to get the same amount of protein from one serving on nettles. Lyn Pollard, of Courtyard Deli, Falmouth advises to “treat nettles like spinach: although a totally different taste, they are great as soup, in quiche, with cheese or as drinking tea”. To get rid of the sting, boil or steam them, which also unlocks their nutty flavour. Count yourself lucky though – at the Nettle Eating World Championships contestants have to eat nettles straight from the plant, which turns their tongue black.

Bravery may have to play a part in the final menu idea. Garden snails. If you haven’t run a mile at that thought, then it is a good idea to feed your freshly caught molluscs on fresh vegetables, or even porridge, for a few days to flush any potentially harmful toxins and contents of their stomach. To cook them, plunge them into boiling water, wine or cider and removed from the shell. If you fancy serving them in their shell, boil them separately, and then perhaps stuff them with a flavoured butter and return the flesh to its former home.

The key to foraging is eating the right things. There is no fun in going home with a twisting stomach, puking up what you’ve spent all day trying to find. If in any doubt as to the suitability of a food, “Food for Free” by Richard Mabey will tell you what’s going to do more good than harm.

For the brave and hungry, the outdoors provides an endless menu full of versatility and nutrients. The satisfaction of finding your own food, cooking it and eating it is a feeling matched to none. And it’s a sure fire way to impress friends and family. So the next time you go out for a meal, don’t take your wallet. Ray Mears would be proud.

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