One of the things I have noticed since I started hosting supper club is that I use the supermarket less and less…not just when sourcing for suppers but for all of my everyday purchases. Okay, there are some things I struggle to get elsewhere, or at least for a competative price, but the majority of the food that now enters my house is locally produced. As a result of this we as a family eat better, have great foodie contacts and are no longer drowing in a sea of plastic (since I stopped supermarket shopping my plastic recycling has been cut by two thirds). Carbon footprint successfully reduced!!
This weekend was the epitome of local. Hosting a harvest supper club made the most of everything local and seasonal…from the Nantmor wild mushrooms, to foraged blackberries and Bramley apples. Vegetables came from Moelyci as usual and extras from Hootons home grown in Anglesey…while over that way I bought sea salt from Halen Mon, arguably the best salt I’ve ever used and well worth the drive over (or the order on the internet). The chicken and dry cure bacon came from my usual Butcher Willams & son and the extras I used for experimenting with vegan dishes from a local whole food shop in Bangor.
We entertained a group of seven (one person was unable to join us on the night) with one vegan guest and two having travelled over from Chester (a good hour away!!) traeting them to five courses of hearty harvest fare.
The menu was as follows:
Margarita cocktails and Focaccia
Surprise Tatin with mixed leaves (another winning recipe from the Ottolenghi cookbook, although I changed the goats cheese for feta cheese on this occassion)
Chicken with dry cure bacon, wild mushrooms and marsala (a recipe I have made for supper club previously, but since it is wild mushroom season I thought I’d reprise it)
Mushroom and Leek risotto (adapted from a recipe in an American Vegetarian book I was given years ago as a present called Fields of Greens) , buttered Kale
Blackberry and apple crumble with home made vanilla custard (the crumble was perked up with some mixed pumpkin and sesame seeds, pine nuts and flaked almonds and a hand full of rolled oats)
Local strong cheeses (Golau Glas, Caws from Rhyd y Delyn and Black Bomber) with apple chutney and spiced courgetter chutney) and coffee
Although we were entertaining a relatively small number, we ended up a bit stretched this time and I had a bit of a panic over the main course, which required me to have two sets of hands to keep everything stirred, turned and evenly cooked. The teen was still on crutches, leaving Sean to do the bulk of the running about, but she bravely worked on (her choice, I did tell her she didn’t have to but her desire for pay outweighed the pain) and she did her best. She finally conked out after dessert, collapsing in a heap in the lounge upstairs.Pain got the better of her although I also wondered if the Margarita’s she’d mixed on the sly had contributed.
The Ottolenghi tatin was amazing, even if I say so myself! I was so impressed at how well it turned out I had to take it out to show the guests. One said ‘wow, it looks fantastic’ and I replied ‘sorry, you can’t have it it’s not vegan’. She looked totally crestfallen, until I told her i’d made her some individual chick pea blinis with tomato and lime salsa which cheered her up again.
With the main course I realised that cooking too many things on the top of the stove at the same time was a monumental error. It almost led to the risotto spoiling, but mercifully with lots of shaking it stayed nice and wet and only stuck to the pan a tiny bit. I served the vegan portion before ladling in the butter, which added to the richness along with the wild chanterelles, shitake and chestnut mushrooms.
Dessert was a good old fashioned blackberry and apple crumble with some added nuts, seeds and oats in the crumble mix served with fresh vanilla custard. I wasn’t keen on using the vegan butter alternative. I’m sure it doesn’t taste as good and it feels like a bit of cheat sometimes so I contacted Emma at Earth kitchen for some ideas on making vegan mousse, whips etc. She sent me a recipe for Anglesey Delight; a vegan, raw food dessert using coconut oil and Agave syrup as thickeners and sweeteners. I did a bit of experimenting and substituted slowly cooked blackberry and apple puree for her Avocado and Mango. The coconut oil, melted by warming in a bowl of hot water, whilst still in the jar, certainly thickened the fruit mixture and made a lovely smooth whip, but although it was nice tasting I thought the coconut overpowered the fruit taste too much. To tone it down I made a simple blackberry and apple compote and marbled the two together. I explained to our vegan guest that it was an experiment and if she wasn’t sure about it she could just have some compote. Thankfully she liked it. She liked the undertones of the coconut and said that it gave the dessert a creaminess that you obviously don’t get with a simple compote.
Later, while the others tucked into cheese (well those who still had enough room) Debbie, the vegan enjoyed her own little individual red pepper, almond and garlic pate.
Lessons learned. Don’t let the teen make Margaritas; don’t try and cook more than three things, on a four ring domestic cooker all at once and make sure any experimenting is done well in advance to avoid shredded nerves on the night!
The following day, instead of having a nice Sunday lie in, I was up bright and early and off to spend the day wild food foraging with Simon Maskrey, the Ray Mears of the Welsh Mountains. My hope was that in addition to spending a sunny day in the fresh air, I would learn more about edible wild plants and where to find them. In particular I wanted to learn more about wild mushroom habitats.
Anyone around these parts that likes food and foraging, and knows where to find wild mushrooms, especially chanterelles, tends to shroud their knowledge in a veil of secrecy! Dare to ask anyone where they get chanterelles and they will turn quickly away and tell you in no uncertain terms to go find your own patch. I have tried both stealth and innocence when attempting to ascertain the best location, “oh look at them, where did they come from then?” with an innocent look on my face usually has little success…so you can imagine my surprise when Rosie (one the other course attendees) happily chatted about the chanterelles she’d picked and when asked where she found them proceeded to give me the location of ‘her’ patch. I didn’t hint at my excitement. A little later Simon started to talk about mushroom foraging. He too explained that most people refuse to tell others about their secret locations. It was at this point that Rosie turned to look at me, the penny finally dropping as to what she had done. After staring long and hard she finally said “of course, you do realise I will have to kill you now”?
The course gave us the opportunity to find and pick a variety of edible wild plants, the type that I wouldn’t have usually thought of using and at the end of our collecting I made salad for my lunch. Most foragers are well aware of the usual finds; blackberries, damsons, plums, crab apples, sloes, ramsons (wild garlic) and even sorrel. But I always thought for example that yew berries were poisonous; it’s actually only the stone that’s poisonous, but to be honest I’d have to be desperate to want to eat them as they have the consistency of slug slime and snot. We did pick a variety of plants and herbs (sorrel, bitter cress, fat hen, chickweed and something I’ve forgotten the name of but it looks like a navel!!). We also found burdock (the root can be used in the autumn for dandelion and burdock and of course all parts of the dandelion can be used) and got very wet feed searching for wild mint but unfortunately found no edible wild mushrooms.
The most important lesson I learned was that the best time to pick plants is according to the growing season, for example, in the spring the plant puts its energy into producing new growth, therefore in the spring pick the fresh shoots and leaves, in the summer it’s the flowers and in the autumn and winter the fruit, berries and then roots.