Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Forage for Free

When you’re on a pretty tight budget, life can often seem a little same-y. We are always having to watch our money, never get to splash out on anything fancier than a falafel, and we’ve bought the same four vegetables at the supermarket for months now, because they’re cheap and keep well. The other day we got an avocado because they were on special, and it felt like a birthday or something. 

To combat the drudgery, we forage. Finding Free Stuff is our new favourite pastime, and it can come in many forms. Foraging for food is (obviously) the best, but when I found a complete outfit on the street in Berlin one evening I nearly exploded with excitement. I’m still not entirely convinced that someone hadn’t just taken it off to indulge in a little sneaky street-streaking and that they weren’t  a little annoyed and incredibly inconvenienced by the fact that I had taken it. Oh well, looks great on me. 

Travelling around the beautiful countryside of south Germany has afforded plenty of foraging opportunities, so we thought we’d share some of our best finds and favourite recipes with you. 

A bowl of nettle-y goodness
We’ll start with one of the easiest - stinging nettles. They’re highly nutritious, containing minerals like iron, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and A, C, K, and B vitamins. They’re delicious, and easy to find because they grow EVERYWHERE! You’ll need gloves to harvest them, but if you don’t have gloves, tongs work pretty well!. Look for young plants without flowers, and cut just the top few leaves so they’re not too tough. Once you’ve given them a thorough wash (especially if they were at dog-pee height!) blanche them by putting them in boiling water for a minute, then drain and put them into cold water to stop them cooking any further. Squeeze all the water out, and then you can chop them up and mix them into anything, like you would use spinach. 

Nettle Saag Aloo (serves 2)

1 large onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Nettles (prepared as above)
2 large Potatoes, cut into small chunks
wholegrain mustard 
cumin seeds
lemon juice
garam masala

Parboil potatoes.
Fry the onion and garlic in oil. 
When the potatoes are ready, drain and add to the onion and garlic.
Add a teaspoon each of cumin seeds, mustard, turmeric and garam masala, and a tablespoon of lemon juice, and mix well. Add enough water to form a sauce, and simmer until the potatoes are fully cooked. 
Stir through the nettles, and season with salt and pepper.
Serve with rice.  

All you need for a good plumble!
The Black Forest turned out to be amazing for foraging, as we were just in time for the start of the wild blueberry season. They’re pretty small, so it took a while to harvest enough to do anything with, but we found a few patches of wild strawberries and bulked our haul up enough for a decent dessert. Even in urban areas there’s the opportunity for foraging - all around the wagenplatz in Tubingen were plum trees, and after battling some serious brambles we gathered a bag full and made what will forever be known as ‘Plumble’. (Or ‘Blumble’ if you’re using blueberries. I know, the fun never stops.)


Nuts and seeds (optional)
Vegetable oil
Fruit - apples, rhubarb, plums, blueberries, blackberries…whatever you have really!

If you are using soft fruits you can just prepare them by washing and removing any stones or pips, cutting them into small chunks and putting them in the bottom of your oven-proof dish, with a little sugar if they’re a bit tart. If you’re using harder fruits like apples or rhubarb, you can stew them a bit first, by cooking them in a little water until they start to go soft. 
To make the crumble, mix the flour, oats and sugar in a bowl (the amounts depend on how big your dish is, so start with a few cupfuls of flour and oats, and a few tablespoons of sugar and see how you go!) Then add a good glug of veg oil and mix together until it’s breadcrumb-y in texture. If it’s too dry add more oil. Add any seeds, nuts or spices you want (cinnamon or nutmeg are good ones), and sprinkle over the fruit so that it is evenly covered up to the edges of the dish.
Bake in the oven at 180-200C for about 20 minutes, or until the crumble starts to turn golden brown. 

Just a small section of the mammoth mushroom find!
Now, mushrooms can be a little tricker - let’s face it, no one is going to drop dead if you’re just picking apples. So definitely have a book or two, use the internet and make dead sure (pun intended) that you know what you’ve got. We got lucky and found a shit-ton (which is a technical mushrooming term) of a delicious mushroom known as Chicken-of-the-Woods growing on a dead tree right next to the path we were walking on. We weren’t even trying (when we do try we never find anything anyway!) This one is pretty easy to identify and we’ve had it a few times before, but we were feeding other people at the time, so we made extra-specially sure! It looks exactly like cooked chicken, has a delicious mild mushroom-y taste and stays firm when you cook it, so it’s an incredible meat replacement. 

Foraged Forest Pasta

Onion, diced
Garlic, finely chopped
Chicken-of-the-Woods, finely sliced
Nettles (prepared as above)
White Wine
Nutritional Yeast
Olive Oil

Heat oil in a large frying pan and fry the onion and chicken-of-the-woods (this mushroom needs to be well cooked, so if you are using it fry for at least 10 minutes). 
Add the garlic and nettles, fry for a few more minutes and then add wine, mustard and nutritional yeast until you’ve made a creamy sauce.
Season with salt, pepper and herbs like rosemary or thyme, and simmer gently.
Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling water. When ready, drain and add to the sauce. Mix in thoroughly.
Serve with a drizzle of olive oil.

It’s amazing what you can find once you start to look. In almost every town or city that we’ve visited in Germany there are boxes of free stuff on the street. It’s mostly books in German or crappy crockery, but every once in a while you find a gem. An entire outfit for example, or a new pair of trainers. Be curious and check every box, because the universe has a funny way of providing just what you need just when you need it. In Brighton we found a European Road Atlas not long after we started planning this trip. All the laminate flooring in our van came from a skip around the corner from where we were working, and if we hadn’t already been given all of our insulation for free by a friend it wouldn’t have mattered, because it was just lying around everywhere, we were practically tripping over the stuff wherever we went. 

Free shops are another great resource. Berlin has a great one (mentioned in this post) and both the MM community and the wagenplatz had an area of things for people to help themselves to, where I scored a couple of books in English (finally!) and an awesome pair of snow boots  for winter. They’re probably not that common, but if you find one in your area, support it with donations. Any chance to function outside the cash economy is awesome, and trading some of your old stuff for some new old stuff…well, that’s like shopping and decluttering and living on a shoestring all in one. 

For me, the best part about foraging, whether its for an extra exciting ingredient for dinner, or finding something I need that someone else has thrown away, is the reminder that not everything we need or use has to be neatly packaged and provided by a corporation. Tesco doesn’t own food. If you only shop on the high street, you will only ever have what can be found on the high street. If you think outside the box (or look in every one you see) you can find something different, something you haven’t tried before. And for every item you find, rather than buy, less money goes to corporations and less things go to landfill. Which means you can have your Blumble and eat it too. 


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