Thursday, 22 May 2008

Supper # 20 - Hadrian's Wall, Northumbria

I stumbled upon a forager at the Eat! Festival in Newcastle at the weekend. There he was, surrounded by tranches of brawn and jars of chutneys. I went in for the kill and pitched the supper party concept to him. "Are you squeamish?" he asked. "Hell no" I retorted defiantly, wandering what kind of squelchiness I might be witness to.

I drive up from Sunderland, through the 5pm traffic round Newcastle, along to Hexham and up to Hadrian's Wall. James is there all ready with his gun loaded and his camos on. He lives in a bungalow set amidst pure Northumbrian wilderness. A copse of trees save it from total starkness in the winter and it is to these that he looks for rooks to shoot and sell. He hands me a plastic tray for our foraged findings and advances into the garden with his hunter's stance on.

Every few steps we squat down and munch on some new leaf or shrub. We pick lemony Beech leaves, Hairy Bitter cress, Red Dead nettle and English Carraway. Our big fingers fumble awkwardly with the minute daisy leaves and the peach scented Gorse flowers hide nasty spikes. At the nettles I'm shown how to de-sting them before eating them and how best to pick them. You've basically got to show them who's boss. I launch my pincered fingers purposefully at them and kind of do it right but my fingers are soon pulsating with rage.

Then we move on to the field where James goes very still, his dog poised next to him, two sharp cracks and soon enough Rippit is pattering past us trying to snaffle the bunnies for himself.. They really are small when all stripped down and chopped up. Little morsels laying out on the tray adorned with salt and pepper. James sautees them with onions and wholegrain mustard, tosses around the nettles, mixes it all into a wild leaf salad and crowns it with some very good crispy bacon.

It's delicious. Very lemony and full of great, peppery goodness. We sit down in front of the telly and drink Norfolk stout and watch Fergie slumming it in Hull. I've barely seen any TV on my trip and am surprised by how gripped I am. This is only really background though and we talk about all kinds of fascinating food facts, like how there's only one Michelin starred restaurant in the whole of the North East and how James thinks finding his first cep was better than losing his virginity.

He is an excellent host and insists on making the night's pud. "You can't let someone else cook if you're a chef - it's not allowed" he instructs and bounds back to the stainless steel kitchen to create the yellowest, fluffiest, most perfect drop scones ever. I make a chocolate sauce with Venezuelan Black and we pour it over the pancakes and sprinkle them with toasted almonds. Proper comfort food and almost all procured from a few metres away.

After a night cap of sloe gin (it's becoming a bit of a theme) we almost fall out over who's going to sleep where. I'm fine on the sofa I tell him. "Oh no, my mum brought me up properly - you must have my bed". So I grab my sleeping bag and head on through, falling asleep watched over by three Pointers hanging on the wall.


David Hall said...

Beats chasing Cerys up and down a sand dune eh!? What an adventure! Brill.


Anonymous said...

We can't wait to see you up in Inverness come on hurry up Petra we want CHOCOLATE!!!!!!!