This week we were lucky enough to have a few visitors come to stay with us. I'll briefly introduce the characters for this week and then continue with the story...
We had Sami Tallberg visiting from Finland as he had been over for a short stint at Bistrotheque last week. Sami used to work in London and some of you will no doubt have worked alongside him. He made a number of contributions to Miles' book and was very helpful in the early days taking time and experimenting with the wonderful ingredients that we would send up to him in the post. Now Sami is a pioneer for the use of wild ingredients in Finnish cuisine and takes walks and talks, consults and is working on a couple of books to add to his existing publications.
Our second guest was Thomas Laursen who is a Danish forager. He is well known for being the man who collected and sent the ants needed for the Noma pop-up at Claridge's during the Olympics. Thomas does a whole host of things as well as foraging as he explained to us in a team meeting: he is a teacher and a cook as well as a forager. You can find out more about what he does on his website but you might need to brush up on your Danish.
Finally, we have Avery MacGuire visiting us from the Nordic Food Lab. This is Avery's second trip to spend time here at Forager so we must have done something right the first time round. It's great to do some knowledge sharing as our work and theirs often has a good deal of overlap. She will be with us for the next few weeks before going back to Copenhagen to prepare for this year's MAD Symposium.
We're always very keen to have visitors and enjoy learning and sharing what we have learned with others. One point that Sami made when he spoke to us all was that he thought that many chefs would benefit from coming to spend time with us (he wanted to stay for another fortnight at least himself). Way back at the start of the year that was an offer that we extended to all of our customers and it seems that now is a good time to bring it up again. So if you'd like to come and spend a day foraging or looking around at what we do then please drop us an email or talk to one of the sales team to arrange a trip down.
So on Monday morning Miles, Sami, Thomas, Avery and myself took a trip down to the local marshes to spend a little time foraging and catching up. We saw all kinds of things as we went and nibbled on immature fruits and chestnuts whilst thinking about and discussing the boundaries of when something is and isn't ready to be eaten. This echoes some of the recent newsletters where I have been musing about where the point of ripeness or maturity lies and where we can shift those boundaries to make our seasons longer. We made our way through to the marsh and after a slow journey across (generally a walk with 5 foragers through fertile ground is pretty much the slowest walk on the planet as each one stops to inspect the next plant) we finally reached the water's edge. We had already looked at the current line of products, Sea Purslane, Sea Blite, Sea Plantain, etc. and Thomas had remarked at how beautiful our marshes are and how abundant some things are compared to Denmark. In front of us was a nice little patch of Marsh Samphire. I started to tell them how we had now stopped picking it because the base of the plant had a woody interior and both Sami and Thomas looked a little shocked. Sami started to tell us how he would serve it, the whole plant on the plate with a simple dressing and that the point would be for people to pick it up and use their hands. Thomas agreed wholeheartedly and later in the week said again how amazing he thought it was and that chefs in Denmark would be biting his hand off for such beautiful samphire.
It was funny because at the point when we stopped harvesting Marsh Samphire I had remarked in the sales meeting that I personally really enjoy stripping the flesh from the 'skeleton' of the plant with my teeth. There is something of a ceremony about it; you grip the base of the plant and start with the tender tips, nibbling your way down until you meet the first 'woody section' and then you start to strip the succulent flesh away by putting it between your incisors and gently pulling the plant away. There are probably a whole host of reasons that this appeals to me. On first reflection I was thinking how it connects us once again to our food. If given the chance I will generally eat with my hands and I find it more enjoyable and more familiar as I spend a lot of time picking food and putting it into my mouth. It also reminded me though of when I was a child how I would savour certain things by eating them piece by piece; an early form of deconstruction. The one I recall best was the Kit-Kat. I would start by eating the chocolate off of either end so that I could hold it without getting my fingers sticky, then I'd take the chocolate off of the sides where it was usually thickest. Next step was to try and remove the thinner layer of chocolate from the top and bottom of the biscuit. Finally if I'd managed all of that I would gently break the layers of biscuit apart eating them one by one. The great thing with the Kit-Kat was that I would get to do this 4 times over - four-fingers of finger food! Frequently I find that food is not just about eating but also about evoking memories and for me it's wonderful that a piece of Marsh Samphire can take me back to my deconstructed Kit-Kat.
So this week we decided to harvest our first batch of Marsh Samphire complete with 'woody' centres. We're quite excited about it. First of all we were thinking that maybe people wouldn't want to get stuck in with their fingers but then we started to think of numerous examples where you do just that. Miles pointed out that Globe Artichoke is one plant where you have to do exactly that. When we were in Brazil last year we had a fantastic dish at Alex Atala's restuarant DOM; it was simply a Globe Artichoke where you used your hands to lift each segment and strip the flesh with your teeth, then there was a nicely presented bowl of lavender water to rinse your hands. We thought of some other finger foods; corn on the cob, lobster, crab, oysters, toast and the humble sandwich among others. As is often the case what we think of as standard etiquette here could be considered very rude elsewhere in the world. There is a good article in the New York Times called 'Mind Your Manners - Eat With Your Hands' which looks at other cultures where eating with your hands is an essential part of connecting with your food.
So this week we're encouraging you all to get stuck in and use your hands. Ultimately this means a little longer that this delightful seasonal vegetable can remain on our plates as we follow it through the season.