Thursday, July 22, 2010

It’s all a bit River Cottage round here at the moment

Which could possibly double as code for ‘I’m procrastinating over housework in any way I can, and yet trying to look busy at the same time’. This is no slur on the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall way, I don’t need much encouragement when it comes to procrastination and the lure of the outdoors in the summer is hard to resist (though in all honesty a lot of my foraging takes place in Waitrose which isn’t exactly the same as a small holding or allotment whichever way I look at it).

As hoped and hinted for, though to be fair he didn’t need much encouragement, Dad took us fishing. The weather was amazing, the fish (on this occasion) were biting, and although I spent most of my time sitting back and watching, I did get slapped around a bit by a mackerel which I think counts as taking an active role in proceedings. Dad’s current boat is best described as a fixer upper and it’s perhaps fortunate that we only discovered that the steering was totally knackered after we got back to dry land – but it adds a certain frisson to the memory and we didn’t come to any harm. My father who is a wise and talented man (who reads this) can count cooking amongst his many accomplishments, so almost before I’d managed to extract myself from the boat (low tide, high pier) he had the fish cooking.

Mackerel caught cleaned and cooked within the hour have to be one of the best things you can ever eat (Dads mantra is ‘It’s just a drop of olive oil some salt and pepper’ which is true as far as it goes, but he has that just cooked thing going on which suits sea food so well, and which takes a fair bit of practice to do properly). As today has been a day off I’ve spent a good chunk of the afternoon perusing ‘Sea Fishing’ (River Cottage handbook 6) and reliving last week’s excitements. I’ve written about this book before and am unashamedly a fan of the whole series but ‘Sea Fishing’, ‘Edible Seashore’ and ‘Mushrooms’ (soon to be followed by ‘Hedgerow’ which I am ridiculously excited about) are particularly special. I’m almost inexpressibly impressed by the combination of practical information including countryside lore - and law, recipes, and foraging/fishing tips, personality, and personal convictions.

We caught some young cod which were sadly too badly damaged to throw back (leaving behind some hungry and disgruntled gulls) and delicious as they were cooked with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper (there was a theme), from a conservation point of view they should be left well alone. ‘Sea Fishing’ is commendably clear on this point. I have a few natural history titles – descendents I think of ‘Ring of Bright Water’- where earnest men go out and experience the wilds; they swim in lakes, sleep under stars, admire great flocks of birds wheeling against the twilight sky and write about it in increasingly irritating lyrical prose. There has been a definite fashion for this sort of writing over the last few years - the other end of the spectrum is Collins excellent New Naturalist series, which I will admit is generally a little too specialist for me to read with unalloyed pleasure.

The middle ground - and I hope the future of popular natural history is River Cottage handbook territory, or at least that’s how I feel every time I read, buy, recommend, and give these books. I also think it’s worth mentioning that it’s Bloomsbury who publish these titles because credit where credits due.

The looking busy part of today’s (by now I have to say entirely successful) bid to avoid the hoover took place in the Scottish one’s garden, half hearted weeding was replaced by whole hearted cherry picking. Last year we got 4 cherries off the tree, today I managed to get about half a kilo before sending him up a step ladder to make it a kilo which I think you’ll agree is a far more useful quantity. Tantalisingly plenty of cherries remain just out of reach but I value the Scottish one above jam (or maybe a pie, or perhaps ice cream...) so wouldn’t let him get the long ladder out. At least the blackbirds will be pleased some are left, and I get to indulge my River Cottage fantasies whilst I decide what to do with the crop I have got.


  1. Hayley despite being full of dinner and it being nearly bedtime my tummy is rumbling at the thought of mackerel fresh from the sea and delicious cherries! Yum yum yum! Sadly I am too citified to enjoy foraging in the countryside - I'd kill myself by picking deadly nightshade or something - but I admire such a lifestyle from afar!

  2. I have to admit most of my foraging is done in farmers markets and the like, and deadly nightshade does have the most tempting looking beries but I too admire the lifestyle, especially from afar!

  3. What will you do with those cherries? Jam? I've never made cherry jam - could be good though. Cherry cake is delectable though.

  4. Hayley, those mackrel are so beautiful, I have a cousin that is an artist and he paints a lot of mackrel, I have never eaten mackrel within an hour of catching but am now inspired to put it on my bucket list mmmmm delicious

  5. Hayley, loved the comments, you forgot however to mention the squeeze of lemon in the pan.

  6. Hannah, the fish was amazing, I only wish I could take credit for it, Tam don't wait - go to the seaside and eat fresh mackerel forthwith!

    Dad? Guessing it's you using my name! Was to involved with a cup of tea whilst you were cooking, so thankyou for the lemon reminder:)