Foraging is hot. Literally. It’s also all about expecting the unexpected.
In this picture we are picking coastal spinach at Gore Bay in North Canterbury, where we found edible berries buried beneath the leaves, in safe seclusion from birds.
As well picking pretty (and edible) flowers, we spent a steamy day in the South Island sunshine foraging along sea shores, roadsides and farms for food to eat.
The event is now in its fourth year and is the brainchild of local food lover Angela Clifford, who co-owns The Food Farm, Tongue in Groove wines, is a full time mother and organiser of Forage North Canterbury. Her mission is to show how food and wine relate.
It’s easy to get what she’s talking about when you’re sent out on a team to forage.
For a start, it’s impossible not to notice the vast vineyards, the wild fruit trees and the prolific number of local rivers, all, apparently, teeming with fish. This year’s catch was more significant than last year’s, which was why chef Alesha Bilbrough-Collins’ dish of kahawai and tua tua was so impressive, particularly with the wine match of the 2017 Terrace Edge Albarino; it may be an experimental grape (Albarino) in New Zealand but its tangy crispness was ideal with the sharp tang of beach mustard that Alesha cleverly incorporated into the dish. This was offset beautifully with slivers of foraged fresh pears and zesty exotic sumac; one of the biggest surprises to the forage team that I was part of. If you haven’t seen sumac in real life before, it’s a treat to hold and to behold for the first time. It’s velvety floral exterior is a delicately woven layer of spicy seeds, usually ground into the spice mix we see in supermarkets under cover of plastic. The real life version is so much prettier, not to mention mind blowingly tasty.
Our forage team was assigned to fields and verges, which is trickier than it sounds. Where do you stop a car safely on New Zealand’s narrow country roads, for a start? Luckily, most of our foraging was done along the stinking hot shores of the drop dead beautiful Gore Bay where we found sea figs (also known as succulents), edible aloe lookalikes and coastal spinach, along with the odd bucket or five of wild plums, wild edible berries and flowers. But first, we visited an organic vegetable farm on a chilly clifftop above Gore Bay.
We stood there in a field of colourful cardoons, eating wild strawberries and drinking the weirdest tasting orange juice I have ever tried. Apparently, it was the distillation of organically certified vegetables growing on this farm, and its unusual flavour was eclipsed by the story of the man who made it – Michael Voumard, who lost the love of his life last year to cancer. He smiled, as he told us about their dream project – the wild food farm we were standing on. Thanks to the WWOOFers helping him on the land, the farm is still running and his clients (also known as his neighbours) are growing in number. Those WOOFERS volunteer their work for him in exchange for food and accommodation.
Forage North Canterbury is a not for profit annual event, which Angela Clifford and invited chefs and local wineries all give their time, wines and venue (the outstanding Pegasus Bay Winery restaurant) to each year.
The best part of foraging
The best part of foraging is the discovery. To describe foraging as inspirational is to wildly understate how thought changing, and potentially life changing, an event like Forage North Canterbury can be.
When people think about wine, it is usually about the vineyard but Clifford wants to show us something altogether bigger, and wilder, at Forage North Canterbury. She wants to us to see the purple berries along the seashore and to taste the salty tang of beach figs; to savour the flavour of uncultivated porcini mushrooms and the sweetness of fresh organic eggs; the green taste of wild water cress and the tannic crunch of elderberries.
It’s the second time I’ve been to Forage North Canterbury. I hope it won’t be the last.
It’s humbling to realise we are, quite literally, surrounded in food, if only we know where to find it.
Thank you, Mother Nature.
Facts on Forage North Canterbury 2018
The forage teams
Fields & Vineyards
Fields & Verges
Fishing the Rivers
Truffieres & Hives
Organiser Angela Clifford pays credit to local foragers Kate McMillan and Melany Wright for the event.
Bellbird Spring, Black Estate, Crater Rim, Greystone, Mount Brown, Pegasus Bay, Terrace Edge, The Boneline and Tongue in Groove.
Alesha Bilbrough-Collins (BearLion), Alex Davies (Gatherings), Bob Fairs(Roots Restaurant), Hector Henderson (Gatherings), Simon Levy (Inati), Teresa Pert (Pegasus Bay), Jonny Schwass (Botanic Gardens/Ilex Cafe), James Stapley (Kika/Francesca’s Kitchen), Giulio Sturia (Roots Restaurant) and Dave Verheul (Town Mouse/Embla, Melbourne). They were assisted by Carlos Rodriquez (27 Steps).