Tasting in Technicolor

IN

Imagine a 360 degree timelapse of your local landscape over 365 days. If you stand on the exact same rock throughout the year, everything will change around you. As the landscape changes visually in colour and texture throughout the seasons, so does the flavour.

As a forager, I am always hungrily searching, my eyes explore the land as much as my feet do. A walk is not just ever a walk, it’s an optical feast. Recipes are imagined and mental snapshots are captured. I’m logging a moment in time and making links to found flavour. 

In the distance it’s the joy of viewing a tapestry of colour in the hills and mountains. The oranges and dusty pinks of the Ericas, greens of bracken, an array browns and golds from the grasses and a light purple from the recently flowering Indgophera. Up close, passing by my dusty boots is a micro safari of botanicals on display, each one more beautiful and detailed than the next. 

More often than not these mountain meanders become a meditation of sorts. Flashes of forgotten conversations are remembered, ideas and inspiration pop up. A peace, clarity, and the freedom to just be sets in. A feeling that cannot possibly be captured from being indoors. Sometimes you just have to get out into wild open spaces to really free your mind.

Tasting, exploring and working with the cycles of an edible landscape, you soon start to notice the subtle changes that take place. If you rush past, it seems like little happens, but if you slow down enough to the rhythm of nature, you might discover that there is an ever changing hive of activities taking place. Wild food has micro-season that you need track and tune into. Tendrils unfurling, seaweeds growing, berries ripening, the intoxicating smell of jasmine being pollinated at night by moths. 

And the exciting thing about this slowing down and sinking deep enough to become a curious observer, is that that more you learn, the more there is to learn. Multiple doors of nature‐inspired questions unlock as your interest expands and the keen desire to find out more about the different cycles and circles and marvels of our wild environment blossom and grow.

In summer at the tip of the Southern Peninsula in Cape Town, a South Easter wind can blow persistently for up to two weeks at a time. The local vegetation ‐ a biodiverse rich heathland like scrub called Fynbos, boasting 9000 different species ‐ is well adapted to our harsh Mediterranean climate, poor sandy soil and a fire driven ecosystem. Fynbos are commonly characterized by thick, waxy and/or hairy leaf surfaces, designed for them to survive and thrive in this tricky environment.

Right now, however, we are in the middle of Autumn ‐ the secret season. No wind. We get warm and absolutely wind still days which feels like a layer of familiar sound has simply been stripped away and you can hear for kilometers all around you. Sharp and clear, in‐between the birdsong and busy late season pollinators, the silence is deafening. As the sun sets, the frogs, owls and crickets take over the autumn symphony night shift. When the wind eventually does resumes, it feels like coming home from a long holiday.

Autumn – the secret season

The day before our official South African lockdown, with no holidays or roadtrips in sight, I picked a bunch of wild garlic, Carissa berries and wild mint to use with kelp, regular garlic, sweet spices and horseradish for making a wild flavored vinegar. This would steep, soak and eventually be strained and mixed with honey to create an oxymel, which is a time old traditional recipe, many cultures seeming to have their own blend.

Oxymel translates directly to Acid (oxy) and Honey (mel) and is a rich healing tonic, used to treat coughs, colds, sore throats, respiratory ailments and as a natural immune booster. Herbs are infused into vinegar over a few weeks to a month, after which the acidic tonic is then strained, honey is added and blended.The healing properties of the herbs and ingredients used remain amplified in the vinegar and the sweetness of the honey balances the acid beautifully. This health giving tonic can be used in both culinary preparations (salad dressing, sauces, marinade etc) or a spoonful as a daily medicinal dose.

It’s an incredibly surreal time living in a world with Corona virus. Everyone is experiencing this change globally. We are all in the same sea of crisis together, but riding the storm in different boats, on different waves. The tide pulls and pushes wildly and we have to learn to go with the flow, giving over to a shift in feeling, thinking and doing. Now is a time for both exciting innovation and pensive introspection.

Personally this is a time of a dramatic slowing down. But life carries on – the sun continues to rise and set, the seasons change ‐ nature can be relied on. The last of the sourfigs need to be picked and preserved. Acorns to leach and roast. Weeds to be picked for soups. Flowers for health and happiness.

Inside my house, as the weather cools and the food gets warmer, the levels of dried seaweeds collected in the summer and stored in glass jars in my pantry shelves lower. Soups, broths and stews are served up on the old wooden table that I had in my childhood home, in the kitchen my husband grew up in. Old recipes books and photo albums are unearthed from previously dusty book shelves in bursts of re arranging the house. Food memories are triggered and suppertime becomes a history lesson.

Today I ran up the mountain. As soon as I’m out in the wild, my labels of mother, wife, and work float off and away like petals of an old dusty rose. The higher I climb, more free I feel, my usual worries diminishing as I shrink smaller into the vast open space.

There is a large flat rock in hues of mottled grey that has sucked up the afternoon sun and makes the perfect spot to sit on. I like it here and start to feel relaxed and sleepy, so I lie down and close my eyes. I try to meditate but little thoughts keep slipping into my mind. Eventually I let in an everyday question that everyone usually has at some point in the day…what should we eat for supper? My surroundings nudge me towards a kelpy broth with herbs, wild greens and veg. Something warming and nourishing, just like lying here.

I open my eyes and look out across the valley. Storm clouds are building in the sky to the south, the Atlantic peeps out from between the mountains in the East, a gentle breeze starts up from the North.

It’s going to rain. But without rain, there will be no flowers.

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