I used to be a Scout. Not only that, a veritable Rachel Berry of Scouting who represented his troop at the 18th World Scout Jamboree.
Oh yeah, I could build a bivouac, chop wood and cook a three-course banquet on an open fire for a patrol of six. I could even lash together a set of pioneering rods to make a camp dresser.
Fifteen years later, now a seasoned commuter, I've regressed.
I've become a seriously hesitant cook. When a recipe calls for simmering, I have to get a second opinion to verify exactly what 'simmering' is. I'm not exactly a pioneering allotment owner either. Any veg I don't quite understand I leave to rot on the plot rather than eat (see the Bright Lights Chard entry). I haven't put up a proper shed yet because I'm not sure I'd know how or where to start.
I thought it was high time I reconnected with the outdoor life of my youth and simultaneously re-grew a spine in the kitchen. In short, it was time to go foraging for my own supper (or some of it, at least).
That's exactly what I did last weekend. My partner (Mr XMTP) and sister, were my companions on a rain-sodden, mud-slide of a trip to Hadleigh Country Park to forage for nettles. The end game – nettle soup with smoked fish from The River Cottage Fish Book.
Armed with scissors, CSI latex gloves and a picnic (ha, how naive!) we only needed half a plastic bag of nettles. An easy entry for first time foragers. Or so we thought.
Sister XMTP started by collecting something that looked like nettles but wasn't (I don't know what it was... where is Guy Grieve when you need him?). Wellies got stuck in the mud. The rain whipped down from every conceivable angle, and nettles, so infuriatingly and painfully abundant, at every other other time of year were in short supply. (We were, perhaps a little enthusiastically early... it's not even spring yet). But when we finally discovered a rare patch, a beautiful kelly green in the dun coloured undergrowth, we snipped at leaves so gingerly it was if we were cutting thread for petit point embroidery.
Two hours later at the Salvation Army café, damp and tucking into the picnic, we had half a carrier bag of green gold. It would have been easier to have foraged for a bag of spinach down the high street but that wasn't the point. Food should take time, not just in its preparation in the kitchen or growing vegetables on the allotment but sometimes sourcing it too. Slow food can sometimes mean getting stuck in the mud in pursuit of dinner. And while foraged nettles might not taste any different than a bag of shop-bought spinach, it will always be more memorable, and that's what meals should be.
It might not look it, but the soup tasted good... and I had a warm glow, which wasn't just a stinging cold face, as we made it back to the cosy flat (I think it might have been pride). And even if nettles aren't destined to be a regular feature on the dinner table, it feels like the beginning of a more adventurous spirit. Baden-Powell, I'm sure, would be pleased. I am.