Foraging: food for free

Some of our foraging spoils

Some of our foraging spoils

As I mentioned briefly in my last post, I’ve been getting quite excited by the idea of becoming more self-sufficient. I want to grow my own veg, brew my own beer, make and repair my own things. I quite want some chickens too.

It feels good doing these things, it’s amazingly cost-effective (it’d be nice to spend less time having to think about making money and more time having fun, no?), and it’s good for the world if you cut down on things like transport costs for food, screwing over of farmers, that kind of thing.

I’m no revolutionary. And I don’t know much about much of these stuff. Many of my ideas have come straight from Tom Hodgkinson of The Idler and also Carolyn Steel’s Hungry City, which I’ve mentioned before.

Because of this newfound excitement about such things (maybe it’s just a phase, I hope not) when I read this article in Leeds Guide a month or so back, I decided I had to do it. Incase you haven’t clicked the link, it’s a piece about Food For Free Foraging Works in Leeds, a guided walk around parts of Leeds teaching what grows in the parks and woodland in Leeds, what you can and can’t eat and how to pick it in a way so as not to damage the wildlife.

I did this walk earlier today. And it was excellent.

Our guide, Mina, was effusive and clearly excited by the possibilities of foraging (she gets most of her food through foraging and freeganism) – you should have seen her excitement at finding osyter mushrooms – and she took us round Meanwood Park (which is simply stunning, look at the picture below) showing us some choice selections.

Meanwood Park, ahhhh

Meanwood Park, ahhhh

It’s amazing just how much you can pick and eat. Mina pointed us in the direction of the obvious (nettles, camomile, water cress) to the more obscure (jelly-ear mushrooms and hairy bitter cress) showing us how to identify plants and mushrooms, how to check they’re not going to kill you, and how to not deplete the area of any plant (ie never take something if you can’t find it twice in the area).

The key finds, other than the aforementioned osyter mushrooms were wild garlic (which is all over Meanwood and is a long-leaved plant that smells just like garlic) and chicken-of-the-woods mushroom. The latter was half way up a tree, required some climbing and is amazing. It smells, looks and tastes like roast chicken. And it’s quite ugly look:

Chicken of the Woods

Chicken of the Woods

After a good three hours of strolling, picking and tasting, Mina serves up an amazing picnic of quiche, pie and cake, made using ingredients found from foraging. Plus, she cooks up some wild garlic and oyster mushrooms that we picked just an hour ago – no more than one food mile there!

It’s a fascinating walk, and it’s left me itching (not literally, although I did get a few nettle stings) to get back out and do some foraging of my own. I’ve already got a wild garlic pesto in the fridge from today’s finds, and a third of that chicken-of-the-woods mushroom to boot.

As a final note, all the proceeds from these walks go to a very good cause, a non-denominational education centre in Kenya (more info here: www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=34548307757&ref=mf) run by Mina’s family.

If you’re interested in doing the walk yourself, contact Mina at minamoo@gmail.com, and she will get in touch with the next dates

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ReetGood Rides the Zeitgeist: Thornbridge’s Halcyon

Thornbridge's Halcyon

Thornbridge's Halcyon

My blog ain’t usually at the forefront for beer related news, or reviews of the newest concoctions, bottles or brewing methods. It’s more just me occasionally rambling about stuff I’ve drunk, when I get round to drinking it.

For example, I’ve not yet reviewed Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch, when every other bugger has. I will drink it some time and review it then, but I’ve not got round to it yet.

But this time I’m writing about a beer only a matter of days since everyone else has. Which is novel. Zak Avery wrote about it here, Real Ale Reviews kind of did it here and HopZine did it here. Others have banged on about it too.

What is it (if you haven’t followed the link yet)? It’s Thornbridge Brewery‘s Halcyon. Why are people writing about it? Well, because 1) it tastes good, 2) it smells good, 3) it has a nice attractive bottle (look at my photo) and 4) it’s quite novel in terms of brewing.

Most beers dry hop (i.e. used dried hops for hop flavour/nose), while Halcyon is hopped with fresh hops (from Mr Capper’s farm, Hertfordshire, no less). This method probably does all kind of smart, chemically things to the beer to make it taste good, the main thing for me though, is that this beer tastes fresh, the hops taste ripe, vibrant and, because I can’t think of a better word, zingy. It’s dry, bitter and also has a long, lurking fruitiness that picks up on about every tropical fruit you could ever desire. Plus a lovely warm, refreshing pineyness.

Which is all very nice.

As Zak pointed out in his lovely video blog, this beer isn’t quite perfect, there’s quite a lot of, erm, “gunk” in it from the hops. But then I’m not a massively discerning individual. The gunk don’t bother me, and I can deal with it for making such a great tasting beer.

Finally, I should mention why I decided to pop this bottle open in such a timely manner. It’s not to be newsworthy, or interesting. It’s because I figured it’d be a lovely bottle of beer and, therefore, a bloody great way to celebrate LEEDS UNITED GETTING PROMOTED TO THE BLOODY CHAMPIONSHIP! HOORAH!

Beery Goings On At North Bar

A quick note here and my usual plug for the day job.

North Bar, in Leeds, is probably my favourite drinking in den – and one of my all time favourites. They’re great. Friendly staff, quality music, and best of all, a brilliant assortment of quality beers from around the world.

They’ve got some special stuff going on at the moment.

Firstly, there’s a Belgian Beer Festival from 1st-15th April. In anticipation I had a special tasting of the Drie Fonteinen Kriek and Smisje Wostyntje Torhouts mustard bier (yep, mustard beer, it’s loads nicer than you’d think).

Read all about that here: http://www.leedsguide.co.uk/review/boozeflash/north-bars-belgian-beer-festival/13931

They’ve also got a rather nice art exhibition on too. I didn’t write about it, but the great Sophie Haydock – our art editor – did. Read about that here: http://www.leedsguide.co.uk/review/preview/charlyghundoos-skewiff-/13859

Sheffield Taps: Meet The Brewer – Thornbridge

I went to a meet the brewer event at the Sheffield Taps last night. I drank more than I should for a school night, have a slight haze in my memory, took no notes, took no photos and now can’t really write much.

So here are a collection of thoughts, in note form about the evening in general. It’s not going to tell you much, you could find out loads more by reading Mark from Real Ale Reviewsfar more proper post.

1) My primary drinking companions Mark from Real Ale Reviews and Rob from HopZine are thoroughly good chaps, and a pleasure to go out drinking with

2) Sheffield Taps is a GREAT pub. It looks amazing with its wooden panneling and old tiles,  and the beers, just row. Loads and loads of ale on hand pull, some great world beers on tap and one of the best bottle selections you’re likely to see

3) It’s worth a £9, 45 minutes train journey to visit Sheffield Taps

4) Thornbridge make some truly great beers. Kipling and St Petersburg  especially

5) Take away cartons of beer are a brilliant invention

6) Taking away beer on the train when you’re already quite drunk is NOT good for a hangover

7) Skate kids like getting free beers from brewers

8 ) The smell of hops never gets old

9) Having a pub on a train station doesn’t help make sure you get your train. Oops.

10) (last one) I should have listened to the brewer more, and chatted less. Oops again.

The Ship Inn Forecast (A micro-brewery in Newton-by-the-Sea)

I’ll start by apologising for the pun. Sorry.

Assuming you’ve forgiven me and are still reading, I’ll tell you a little bit about one of the nicest pubs I’ve ever visited.

It’s called (as you’ve probably guessed) The Ship Inn, and it’s in Newton-by-the-Sea, which, you may or may not know, is on the North East coast, north of Alnmouth and Amble and south of Berwick. It’s a stunning, and much under-appreciated area. Miles upon miles of coast, unspoilt, bordering on rolling sand dunes and masses of countryside, lovely old buildings and them lovely Geordie folks. It’s also, so I’m told, in the least rainy and sunniest county in England. Awesome.

My girlfriend and I love the North East coast. We go there a fair bit, despite the almost 3 hour drive, and love walking along those amazing beaches.

You’re probably not here to read about all that though, you’re here for the beer, right, and the North East coast has a proper gem hidden amongst the dunes and beaches. The aforementioned Ship Inn.

It’s part of a small U-shaped terrace of houses from pre-1700, now owned by the National Trust, with a lovely grassy square in the middle. The pub has functioned as an alehouse since the 1700s.

The Ship Inn is run by one Christine Forsyth and her daughter Hannah. Christine decided she wanted a change in her life, fell in love with Newton-by-the-Sea (well you would, wouldn’t you?) took a risk, bought a pub, did it up and gave it the TLC it needed.

She then decided to make her pub a home from both great food and quality, micro-brewed ales brewed in the building itself.

She’s done good.

The food is reasonably priced look here, and great, with loads of lovely, locally produced grub – I had locally caught crab salad and it was stunning. The beer though, is even more impressive.

They got the equipment second hand, found a brewer in the shape of Michael Heggarty and started brewery 6 or 7 regular beers. In two visits (one for a restorative half during a walk, and one for dinner) I tried a  few. The Ship Hop Ale is a light golden beer with a nice, fresh hop character, the Dolly Day Dream is a lovely ruby ale rich in flavour and, best of all, is the Sea Coal, a dark wheat stout with smoky notes sat alongside rich chocolate and slightly tart raspberry flavours. I mainly drank that.

Really, you shouldn’t need the motivation to visit this stunning pub and try their great beers to come to the North East coast. Take the pub away and I’d still happily go there once a month for the scenery alone.  But come up (or down) walk, soak up the rugged beauty of the place then, when the night draws in, head to this glorious pub, which makes the coastline even more perfect than it already is.

If I can retire near here one day, I’ll be a very happy man.

It May Be An Oldie, But It’s a Goodie Too: Durham’s Evensong

Durham Brewery Evensong

Durham Brewery Evensong

You expect the Durham Brewery to be situated in some idyllic monastery. Their bottles come with a nice cross logo with some intricate Celtic twirls around. You can see what I’m talking about by looking to your left right now. However, if you follow this link here, you’ll see that it’s actually in a rather natty looking industrial estate – ah well.

Their olde worlde schtick is aided by this bottle of Evensong I’m drinking as I type. It’s brewed to a recipe dating backing to 1937 (that’s over 70 years hence).

It’s an old recipe and it’s a damn good one – the ruby-tinged darkness hints at the fruity notes alongside the smokey-coal-like, flavours of a stout or porter. It almost flits between flavours of a mild and a stout, picking up hints of both and melding them together into a rich, densely flavoured winter beer.

Perfect for when the sun begins to set.

Do Molson Coors Make Better Beer Than Marble?

There was a bit of a furore on Twitter over the weekend.

No, not a furore, a heated debate.

No, not a heated debate, an exchange of opinions.

Ok, there was a discussion.

The tasting note maestro Baron_Orm aka The Ormskirk Baron decided to declare King Cobra, brewed by arch-beer villains Molson Coors (boo hiss!) as better than two beers by everyone’s favourite independents Marble Brewery and Thornbridge.

No really, he did, look here.

This upset a couple of people who couldn’t believe that a beer aficionado could prefer the product of  a big corporation to that of a small, independent company.

I’m falling on the Baron’s side here. While anyone can see the benefits of supporting a small independent company, surely good beer is good beer. I’ve not had King Cobra yet (feel free to send me some Molson Coors folk), but if I genuinely thought it was better than the likes of Raging Bitch or Jaipur, then I’d happily say so.

After all, while these big companies may sometimes be evil (driving others out of business, trying to dominate a marketplace) surely every brewery starts up wanting to be succesful and surely, brewing for these big companies are brewers with a passion and a talent for it – otherwise they’d never get a job making beer in the first place.

So, that’s about it. In summary, in my book good beer is good beer, regardless of where it’s come from.

NB – I should point out that both myself and The Baron do love the beers of Thornbridge and Marble, the point was merely raised because The Baron rated King Cobra 5/5 and some Marble and Thornbridge beers 4/5 (although he did give Jaipur the full 5/5)