Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Wild gourmet

I suspect that most wives don’t get asked to lend a hand with their husband’s day job other than perhaps taking a quick glance over a PowerPoint deck or enduring a nonsensical dry run of a presentation on a subject matter of which they know little, and care even less.  Given my husband’s line of work usually involves copious amounts of mud or guts and quite often both together I usually treat any requests for help with a high degree of suspicion.  On this occasion however, he was preparing for a ‘Woodland Banquet’ - a high end dining experience in the woods with a five course menu based solely on wild, local and seasonal produce. Sounded delightful.  “I need your help”, he says in a tone of mildly rising panic, handing me a tattered piece of paper with a long, list of wild ingredients scribbled on it. Now usually he is, to give him his dues, impressively well prepared for his events, and I am rarely called upon to assist. However, matters had somewhat overtaken us this week what with the excitement of finally finding the leaking pipe that has been pissing water all over the place since we arrived at the rate of 3 litres an hour (we worked out that’s over 25,000 litres a year equating we reckon to over £500). This discovery did come at a price though as my husband, rookie digger operator that he is, accidentally managed to sever the mains water supply to the house in the process. You know those geysers in Iceland….? Yep another ‘you couldn’t write this stuff’ classic.  A panic trip to the farmers mart at high speed (well, high speed for the Landrover – i.e. 33mph) to purchase essential widgets and luckily the tide was soon stemmed: we now have a fully operational, non-leaky water pipe providing us with the purest, Welsh water at, we hope, a fraction of the price that we were paying hitherto. Just as well, as I think we are going to need every spare penny given that the architect we had round this week to discuss our grand plans spent nearly three hours urging us to “think big” and “consider the master plan” as we attempt to bring our ideas to fruition. Three hours that should have been spent in the kitchen preparing for this soi-disant banquet.  Anyway, the upshot of all that was that my services were called upon to help.

Finally! Found the leaky pipe

A quick scan down the list revealed that we did in fact have all of the wild ingredients and I was pretty sure that I could pinpoint their whereabouts on my new mental map of the place. That wasn’t the hard bit. The hard bit was trying to collect all this stuff with the kids in tow. Trying to coax my now ‘threenager’ into her wellies and out of the house took over twenty minutes. I then felt like the Welsh rugby pack against the monstrous Fijians trying to gain precious yards of ground towards my hedge lines using whatever tactics I could to move her slowly in the right direction, i.e. lobbing toys and current objects of her affection (dog lead, plant pots, slightly freaky plastic baby – which travels through the air surprisingly well) to get us to the right place. Once there, I was picking berries and leaves like a maniac before she was off again and onto the next field. Goodies gathered, it was back to the house, I thought for a rest and a nice cup of tea. Oh no. This small favour ended up with me still in the kitchen at 11.30pm at night, sweating, knackered and a little bit tipsy*. I’ll tell you for why…

*actually quite hammered

First off I was asked to prepare the fresh horseradish root which, if you’ve never had the pleasure, is a pretty potent substance and needs handling like one of this wanky molecular gastronomy chefs using dry ice – gloves, glasses, protective coats and everyone to stand well back. This stuff could melt the tarmac from the roads. Hence we only needed a tiny bit to mix into the crème fraiche to go with the smoked trout canapes. Once I had finally mopped up the floods of tears from the floor and wiped the rivers of snot streaming down my face (nice), it was onto the dressing for the wild pigeon salad. At last we have found a use for our rowan berry gloop, which actually tastes pretty nice, if a little bitter and earthy. Perfect for this occasion. Meanwhile my husband is stood next to me, meat cleaver in hand, with an assortment of dismembered animal body parts in front of him on the kitchen worktop. And on the wireless we have not Radio 1 Dance Anthems but find ourselves instead humming along to Desmond Carrington’s easy listening classics. Oh how my Friday nights have changed.  

I think it was at this point that we decided to crack a bottle of the red cooking wine and have a “wee taste” just to check that it passed muster for the sauce to accompany the venison steaks. “Mmmm, I think that’s ok, let me just have another little check…” You know the way. It was our Friday night after all.

Marinating and vacuum packing done, hubby then disappears behind clouds of flour as he starts preparing the dough for the nettle flatbreads. I have never seen or heard such a performance coming from him as he worked up a sweat kneading, knocking back (correct lingo he assures me), folding and repeating the process over and over again. Who the bloody hell did he think he was? Paul sodding Hollywood. That Great British Bake Off has got an awful lot to answer for…

By this point, the red wine was flowing quite nicely, albeit down our gullets rather than into the stock pot. So nicely in fact that we decided to have a little taster of the sloe gin, again just to check it was up to scratch for the sloe gin chocolate truffles, which was my next (rather exciting) task. Actually, I realised we would have to finish the bottle as I needed the berries to add into the mix (although it was only half (ish) full to start with before you get on to AA). Glug, glug.  Chopped up the berries, melted the chocolate (had a little taste), added the cream and the butter, (had a little taste), rolled them into balls (had a little taste), and dipped them in hazelnuts and icing sugar (had a little taste). I haven’t had any caffeine to speak of in over five years. Dark chocolate apparently has 150mg per 100g. I think that’s quite a lot. It’s certainly more than I’ve had in a while. I felt like someone had injected me with jet fuel. I suddenly became a lot more efficient, frenziedly beating the living crap out of the toasted hazelnuts for the blackberry cranachan with a ten inch meat tenderiser. Without doubt the most culinary fun I’ve had in a long time. I suspect the kitchen worktops might beg to differ.  

All in the name of lending a hand...

Time to turn our attention to the all-important elderberry sauce.  Accompanying the main course, this was to be the star in the banquet, the glue holding the rest of it together. Now elderberries are what I like to think of as a ‘tier 2’ wild ingredient (clearly a hangover from a previous life spent working with call centres and helpdesks). You’ve got all of your ‘entry level’ wild fodder, like blackberries, nettles, dandelions etc. which are unmistakable and I’m pretty confident about what to do with them. Elderberries are a bit more of an unknown quantity in our house. We’ve made a few potions with them over the years and suffered them in hot water as a tincture for colds (quite successfully) but using them in sauces and gravies is a bit more of a voyage of discovery. And so it was that we found ourselves cackling away like Macbeth’s witches as we stirred a bubbling cauldron of steaming black liquid full of elderberries, roasted meat bones, red wine and juniper, tasting and adjusting the seasoning until we created something really quite special. We thought. Although by this point I think it would be fair to say that our judgement may have been a tad impaired…

As it happens we needn’t have worried. On the night, apparently our banqueters also partook somewhat enthusiastically such that I suspect the subtle piquancies of the different flavours may have perhaps been slightly overlooked. That said, I'm told that the whole banquet turned out to be a very special occasion, illuminated only by candlelight and accompanied as it was by our story-telling and harp-playing friends.  I look forward to many more (although given the time it took me to recover from preparing for this one, perhaps not too often!).

It'll be alright on the night

No comments:

Post a Comment