I don’t know if it was deliberately difficult to attend this event, but after finding nothing about it on either the Vaults’ or Wyldheart’s website, no-one behind the counter at the Vaults having heard of it and there being no actual tickets, we managed to get our names written down on a piece of paper and get through the door last Friday night. Encouraging the dedicated personality of the forager, perhaps.

We started with a glass of blackberry-spiked local champagne (from Bridewell, where they have therapeutic gardens tended by people with mental illness). I had just had a pre-event Negroni, thinking I might need to be fortified in case we were the only people who had made it. I felt quite giddy. We managed to sit next to a couple I worked with for a few months circa 2003, strangely enough. Becky does not eat nuts and Jamie does not eat cheese, so the starter of wild herb soup with hazelnut pesto bruschetta was greeted with ambivalence; I liked it. I later found out that the wild herbs were young dock leaves, nettle and something called jack-in-the-hedge, although the flavour of those was fairly matched with potato in the soup. I don’t mean that as a criticism – I think it’s very possible to overdo the taste of nettle.

Main course was a venison stew with a sort of champ-like mashed potato thing and salad. I remember the menu advertising it as containing rowanberry jelly, but I don’t know if it did. It was nice all the same. I ate as much as I could but had to concede strategic defeat in order to manage what turned out to be a pretty generous portion of crumble. Accompanied with, and this for me was the highlight of the meal, sloe gin custard. Not only did it turn the custard a pretty shade of creamy violet, it infiltrated the crumble with an extra warming hit of sweet booziness. Very good. And reminded me I need to go on a sloe foraging trip soon.

In between mains and pudding, Sophia, who runs Wyldheart, the organisation which put on the event, talked to us about her mission to reconnect people with the wild. She spent some time in Australia with Aboriginal people and this underpins her philosophy; the rightness of traditional ways of life that interdepend in a careful and respectful way with the natural world. We watched a clip of a film about an Aboriginal elder, Bob Randall, who was taken from his family and put into a Christian institution (these Aboriginal children, forcibly removed from their families between 1869-1970s, are known as the Stolen Generations).  It was very moving – if you thought you were only interested in the foodie aspect of the wilderness, this was inspiration to look deeper.

To finish, Sophia passed round a selection of leafy bits and pots of hot water for us to make our own herb teas. I went with water mint, which was actually delicious – slightly sweeter and gentler tasting than real mint. It felt like a very civilized end to a very wholesome meal. Wyldheart also run foraging walks, which I intend to go on as soon as I can.

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