Saturday, 28 September 2013

all is safely gathered in

Come all you gallant poachers that ramble void of care
That walk out on a moonlight night with your dog, your gun and snare
The harmless hare and pheasant you have at your command
Not thinking of your last career out on Van Diemen's Land

Me and five more went out one night into Squire Duncan's park
To see if we could catch some game, the night it being dark
But to our great misfortune we got dropped on with speed
And they took us off to Warwick gaol which made our hearts to bleed

Then at Warwick assizes at the bar we did appear
And like Job we stood with patience our sentence for to hear
But being old offenders it made our case go hard
And for fourteen long and cruel years we were all sent on board

We had a female comrade, Sue Summers was her name,
And she was given sentence for a-selling of our game.
But the captain fell in love with her and he married her out of hand
And she proved true and kind to us going to Van Diemen's Land.

As I lay on the deck last night a-dreaming of my home
I dreamed I was in Harbouree, the fields and woods among
With my true love beside me and a jug of ale in hand
But I woke quite brokenhearted out in Van Diemen's Land.

So come all you gallant poachers, give ear unto my song
It is a bit of good advice although it be not long
Lay by your dog and snare, to you I do speak plain
If you knew the hardships we endure, you'd never poach again*.

Okay, it wasn't exactly a moonlight night, more a sunlight day. There were five of us, though. 

The previous evening, we sat with colleagues after Mrs Dave's meeting with her Book Club and, inevitably the discussion turned to what we were all doing for the weekend. And, of course, we weren't doing anything normal by anyone else's standards. We should have been driving up to the Lake District to spend the weekend drinking walking with friends. However, far too knackered to even entertain that idea, we chose to spend it at home but go out on a half price foraging course for the day. As soon as you mention such an experience, it's assumed that you're going out poaching. Or, inevitably for English teachers, "are you going to live off the fatta the lan'?"** No, we're going foraging.

Wherever you are in this green and pleasant land today, I'm assuming that you probably enjoyed the continuing last gasp of Summer. We had an absolutely gorgeous day on the Suffolk/Essex borderlands. The amount of mushrooms - which became the main focus of the day - were almost overwhelming. I did manage to bag up enough sloes and crab apples to do something useful with them. Well, sloe gin, for instance.

We found wild hops, blackberries (which we ignored because of their ubiquity), horseradish and all sorts of things you can't - or shouldn't eat. It was entertaining as well as healthy and, of course, instructive. All of these things were the intention of the day. 

After a good few hours wandering, we went to Carl's kitchen unit (he was running the course - a Michelin
they live like pigs you know
starred chef) and refreshed ourselves with tea and bread and jam. Off for another walk. On the land Carl's kitchen unit is housed were a herd of wild boar. Evidently, after seven generations wild, domestic pigs return to their natural state - these vicious animals. Don't fall over in front of these devils. They'll eat anything. The scenery was stunning at times but our focus was really on what we could (literally) bring to the table. By the time the afternoon was over, we had managed to bring rather a lot to the table.

I was surprised at how quickly Carl was able to magic up some home-made pasta. I'm not pasta's number one fan, but it was quite magnificent. With a bit of muntjac deer thrown in, we gorged on home-made soughdough bread with fresh watercress and water mint salad along with the various edible fungi we'd managed to find.

By the time we got home, we were ready to rush down (all right, saunter) to the pub for a well-earned pint of Adnams bitter. We have a fridge with unusual (for us) mushrooms and bags full of crab apples and sloes - sloe gin day tomorrow - and a thirst for getting back out there and finding some stuff to pick.

We had reservations, please be aware, about today's jaunt. However, we are now much more ready to get out there and look for some more esoteric fruit than we normally would. I guess you're never sure who or what you're going to be presented with. Carl and our fellow travellers were very pleasant and very good company. We will be more than happy to go on similar jaunts. 

I will personally be far happier to pick some (SOME) mushrooms now. Oh, and eat them. The future will include casting a far wider net than the usual sloes, rosehips, blackberries and . . . er, well that's about it isn't it? 

I'm not about to go out with a gun and start bringing home muntjac deer for Mrs Dave to skin or myxomatosis-laden rabbits. I'm not going to risk our lives by picking things that may vaguely look edible. I'm not going out poaching and I'm not worried about the jeers and slurs of less adventurous people. What I am going to do is to continue entertaining myself and getting out there in the woods. I'm going to feel smug occasionally that I've found edible stuff that has been around for centuries and try it out. 

So, a day from this weekend has been well-spent. We've recharged our batteries as well as gained some useful knowledge (not to mention some very useful natural foodstuffs) and readied ourselves for the onslaught of the week ahead. I'll be more than happy to drink to that. Cheers. Now, what shall I make with all these bloody mushrooms?

* Lyrics from the Shirley Collins version on No Roses. My favourite version is by Terry Woods on the Gay & Terry Woods album Renowned. Terry lewdly changes the lyric about the unfortunate girl being transported for "a-playing of the game" and suggests "she gave us all good service boys on the way to Van Diemen's Land". Or Tasmania as it's better known today. Good old Terry - ended up in the Pogues.
** A John Steinbeck "Of Mice And Men" reference. You couldn't move for English teachers.


eeyorn said...

No elderberries?

Can't beat home made mushroom soup, IMO. Glad you enjoyed your day

Dave Leeke said...

Bloody hundreds of elderberries - we're going to have to go out just to gather them. Cordial beckons, I guess.

Good to be back and writing drivel - thanks for keeping up. How about the "Van Diemen's Land" ref,eeyorn? Are you aware of the song?

eeyorn said...

Wot? No elderberry wine?

The words seemed familiar and I'm sure I must have known the song, either via Stevenage Folk or from the Shirley Collins No Roses album.

Currently immersing myself in his Royness's new offering 'Man and Myth'. Highly recommended

Dave Leeke said...

Or wine.

Roy Harper seems to have become a National Treasure all of a sudden. Perhaps because after everything, he survived. I think for some people he's always been a sort of Ancient Mariner character.

I will listen to the new album soon - Linda Thompson has got a new one out soon, too.

eeyorn said...

Yes, just ordered it as well her others. And off to see Roy at RFH tomorrow - yay!!!

eeyorn said...

Yep just ordered it, she's sounded great on recent clips I've heard