Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Speeding up to slow down; speeding up to mow down; the first reflects one of the terrible ironies of the modern world; the second, one of its tragedies: Roadkill.

The concepts of both tragedy and irony are rich seams for creative inspiration to chip and forage away at in the search for nuggets of truth. As a forager who, since the beginning of April, has been attempting to live the entire year on wild food, I have been forced to explore this dreadful irony. In fact, this particularly exhausting irony is more finely nuanced than you might suppose, as its juxtaposition of opposites has some particularly annoying friends: got to hit rock bottom before climbing back up; you can only completely appreciate a full belly of food when yours has been entirely empty, and other such variations on the theme of apparent contradiction. In fact, I'm coming to realize (not that it isn't completely obvious) that living in the modern world with a regular job, and all the other clutter of modernity, postmodernity - or whatever you wish to call it, is virtually impossible if one wishes to forage for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That, in itself, is a full-time Mesolithic job. And so, in my hectic rush to slow down these past three weeks, only one thing has allowed me to do so. The moment came last week after meeting Adam, the creative explorer of roadkill tragedies (and so much more) at his show, Roadkill: The Last Supper. All his pieces are brimming with painful nuggets of truth - the truth of tragedy and, yet, also the truth of opportunity; the opportunity to change. Look deeply at his works and you may be struck so intensely that you breakdown, burst into tears, as I did, or even laugh hysterically in opposition to your deeper feelings. But, playing positively with the dynamics of contradiction, and looking deeper still, the horrors that cause such passion breakdown into more basic parts: love and compassion, friendship and laughter.

So what led me to react the way I did, to have such a strong emotional reaction? Well, the answer lies in the resurfacing of a painful childhood memory, an event that so traumatized me at the time that its influence touches on many of my beliefs and activities today. It is, for example, why, in part (always in part), I am concerned about roadkill; why I refuse to sell wild food; why I have never smoked and why, indeed, I have issues with any form of external authority or power - be that rules of grammar, teachers, governments or global capitalism.

It was a gloriously warm and windless sunny day in early May 1979. With reckless abandon, nature had decided to cast aside the cold shackling chains of winter, showing off instead her fully verdant spring virility for all she was worth. I was 8 years old and bursting with enthusiasm for all things wild that crawled, hopped, flew or simply hid away from my prying eye. It was the prying eye of identification. Seek, find, name, understand, befriend. That was the childish logic of my daily pursuits and it applied especially to beetles, spiders, butterflies, moths, frogs, toads and newts.

A typical day, then, would see me striding out net in hand to capture things that flew - butterflies and moths, or things that swam - sticklebacks, toads and newts. Having built a small garden pond I was very keen to bring it to life with wildlife riches from what I considered to be the mother pond down the road, so off I skipped to the local park.

Everything was just so perfect - that perfection informed by both relativity and welcoming relief. It had been cold and grey for the previous few weeks and now the relative change in weather fortunes had families out playing games on the grass whilst other groups of people lay sprawled out in homage to the spring sunshine. Around the pond tadpoles were teeming and newts were abundant amongst the weeds. I was feeling particularly chuffed after managing to net both a male and female newt. I retired to the grass to watch them swim about in my jar, imagining my little pond some time in the not too distant future filled with generations of newts now that I had, so cleverly, hooked these two up together. After all, it was obvious from the way they swam that they were now partners for life with a one track mind: make baby newts!

As I lay there two older boys ambled over, admired my newts and asked if I would get them a few. Seeing my reluctance they offered me 10p for every newt I could get. Wow, my pocket money was only £1, and I had to wait a week for that. Now, I calculated, I could earn that with my net in about half an hour. No doubt these boys also had ponds in need of a few newts. Catching 10 newts was a sinch. I returned to the boys, now sitting in a ring that had grown in number to about 6, and triumphantly presented them with a jar of newts. The exchange was done; two fifty pence pieces jangled in my pocket; the sun shone; the day had reached an entirely unanticipated perfection beyond perfect. I walked away and glanced back over my shoulder. The boys (actually 4 boys and 2 girls) had placed the jar at the centre of their circle. As I continued to gaze one of the boys waved me away with a dismissive flick of the hand. Feeling uneasy for the first time I continued to linger, watching as they tipped the water out. I was acutely aware that on a very hot day newts liked to remain cool so this puzzled me. With some boldness, and in spite of again being waved away, I turned back. Perhaps they simply didn't realise that the newts wouldn't like to be out of water in the midday sun? If so, that was surprising because, I thought, older boys and girls, being so much more knowledgeable than me, would have known this. The jar had now been completely emptied of water. One of the boys held his hand over the jar. A cigarette dropped from his mouth - up until this point I had not noticed that everyone there was smoking. On his hands and knees, the only free hand he had that was not supporting his weight was the one covering the newt jar. He removed this to retrieve his cigarette. As he did so two determined newts made a successful bid for freedom. There was much laughter as he fell over trying to retrieve them. This struck me as a perfect moment to pipe up. So I did, suggesting that if there was water in the jar the newts would be quite happy and not try to escape. "You've got your money, now FUCK OFF!", said the boy who had handed over the 50 pence pieces. Suddenly the day of joy and light was taking on a darker hue. More laughter at the shocked look on my face. I explained that the reason I had got the newts, apart from the money, was my understanding that they wanted them for their pond. This statement sent them into convulsions of laughter. "Fuck off", they shouted, "we don't need you any more; we'll do what the fuck we want with them."

I won't give any graphic description, suffice to say, what they wanted included burning them with cigarette butts and mashing and grinding all life from the newts with pounding sticks and and hammering stones. As they laughed merrily with bits of newt splatter on their faces I stood, watched, and cried. Dark is the night without light or reason.

And so with these dark memories locked away I strolled around the gallery, until....

Road Kill ( Light on Reason )

The piece had the following explanation or, rather, observation:

One world famous Squirrel, oil taw, willow lantern-work and three bar stool, coin of the realm and chromium plated steel bolts, oiled rope. When I began working on the squirrel I discovered the skull had all but completely disintegrated. I presume on impact. Further investigation showed broken limbs, ( both fore paws and left hind leg ) massive internal injury, stomach having burst through the abdominal muscles and finally its spine had been snapped in half. Trauma throughout the muscular systems of the animal was evident. I'm reminded of a recent experience with students showing me a podcast of a squirrel being launched into the air via a clay pigeon launcher and the resultant giggles.

I could hear the demented laughter once again, its long-remembering arms dragging me back through time to be surrounded by grotesque newt splattered and contorted faces.

Dark is the night without light or reason. And yet 8 years after that incident, about the time when I must have been the same age as those boys and girls, I was ready to understand through an exploration of my own inner darkness. On a windy night of madness as clouds rushed across the moon I fully explored the complexity of their motivation - its ugly and wicked depravity as well as its deep fear and genuine curiosity so that, in part, I now understand.

Respect is one of the keys; respect not purely represented in action but as intention, as a state of mind. Over the course of the coming year I intend to continue with my wild animal skins project; I intend to continue with a diet that may at times include roadkill. I may even post up a few recipies. There will be stock, wild roots, mushrooms and salt. And yet neither these nor the main roadkill food item will be the main ingredient; the most important ingredient. That ingredient will be respect because respect is the key.

Any roadkill clothes I make and food I cook will all be made with respect in mind. Here I am supported in friendship and agreement with Adam. As he has said and I would say:

"All my pieces contain naturally processed forms which without exception bare in mind the simple premise of working with respect. The processes I use are indigenous in origin and therefore proven to be environmentally benign. However it is not entered into lightly and my understanding comes from the knowledge of what it costs to produce.

My premise is that all synthetic and processed materials have a relative cost and we as adults make a conscious decision regarding the materials we use. Often these decisions are made without a true understanding and therefore due to this fundamental flaw without our true consent.

I entered into making these pieces to highlight the plight of many of the animals under our care and stewardship and believe we have a duty care to protect and sustain the natural spaces still remaining, before we ruin them by exhausting them completely.

The real truth; 'It is easy to turn a blind eye'"

If you read my last blog you will know that I had intended to write about the generosity of saints and, in particular Bristol's St Werburg and England's St George. One supplied me with wild garlic, japanese knotweed, and a roadkill buzzard amongst other things, the other with his eponymous mushrooms. Well, it's a long story and there's no time for it now. At least that protector and defender of animals has put in an appearance: St Francis!

Next time, my trials with wild bread - so far disaster but hopefully, by this time next week, success!!!?

Fergus and Adam looking up to 'The Womble': Road Kill (Queen Mother, Instant Fail, The Progression of Evolution)

Four years in a row I've fasted for one or two weeks twice a year - just drinking water. This is a wonderful thing to do - provided you're not anorexic and your health is good. Anyway, the first four days, sometimes even the full fourteen, were always a major arse pain.
I'm partial to a cup or two or three......of strong, stronger, strongest coffee. The first days of such fasts, then, were always dominated by severe coffee withdrawal headaches - excruciating. Then, last year I found out about feverfew and it's reputation as a migraine cure. Well, the herb is WONDERFUL!!!!!!!!!!! I drank three cups on 31st March, three every day until 4 days ago, then one a day and, finally, none. No headaches, and believe me I HAD been caining the caffeine! The only hint of a germinal headache came as I was on the way up to London to see Paul Kingsnorth at his book launch, a few weeks ago now. Unfortunately after 4 station stops I had to text him the following:

"Hi Paul. Was on the train 2 London - even took wild soup and wine, thought about all those stressed and hurried people rushing about at Victoria station, felt nauseous, got off train! Going back home. Really hope it goes well 2night + look 4ward 2 reading the bk! Fergus x"

As soon as I arrived back in Herne Bay I nosed about the local park, found some fever few and ate it. My germinal headache was eradicated at source! I also found some Japanese Knotweed so, arriving home, I stewed it up, this time with windfall dwarf quince and wild apple juice.

Japanese knotweed, in fact, is a fabulous plant and has been serving me very well these past two weeks. However, it is true that in many ways it can drive you mad - wild even. The day before my abortive trip to London I had come across a wonderful quote about the plant that I had forwarded to Paul after using it to conclude an article I had just written on the plant's culinary value. It just seemed so incredibly apt given the subject matter of his new book Real England. Karen Leach, writing for Birmingham friends of the Earth has come up with this delightful analogy:

"a similar monoculture has been creeping into our high streets all over the country, and is similarly tenacious, pernicious and rage-inspiring.

Just as Knotweed is all cloned from one single plant, so the big chains are all cloned from global corporations. Just as Knotweed makes it impossible for the local plant life at its roots, and thus kills off the local insects and the local birds, so the big chain shops kill off the local independent shops around them and thus destroys the local economy. Just as Knotweed will come back again several growing seasons in a row until those of us out there with mallets and rollers are exhausted, so a big supermarket, refused planning permission, will apply again and again until the Council and local people are worn down and give in."

Next time I want to tell you about the amazing generosity of saints: St George and St Werburgh. In the meantime, I won't be going hungry.

On today's dinner menu: Slow roasted charlock and cleavers stuffed pheasant cooked with chestnuts, wild mushrooms and apple juice, and served with braised burdock roots and sea beet.

And, besides, I've quite sensibly laid down a not insignificant quantity of supplies:

Inventory of wild food supplies April 2008

250g sea salt (Herne Bay)
1.4kg dried apple rings
363g mixed dried wild mushrooms: tawny funnel caps, hedgehog fungus, parasols, trooping funnel caps
156g dried field blewit mushrooms
286g dried yellow leg mushrooms
300g dried mixed boletus mushrooms: ceps, orange birch bolete, bay bolete
7.437 kg dried chestnuts
1.775 kg alexanders root flour
2.170 kg roasted alexanders root flour
1.6 kg roasted acorn halves for coffee
1.8kg coarse grade acorn flour
3.6 kg fine acorn flour
2.3 kg dried rose hip seeds
940g roasted rose hip seeds for coffee
350g hazel nuts in shells
590g Carrageen seaweed powder
2.135 kg dried kelp powder
915g dried dulse powder
580g dried unlabeled and unknown seaweed powder - probably kelp and serrated wrack
590g chickweed powder (from 2002)
95g hairy bittercress powder
268g dried wintercress powder
100g wild garlic leaf powder (after extracting protein content for leaf curd)
528g slightly burnt rosehip and apple juice cheese roll
1.525 kg wild cherry cheese roll
150g curly dock seed flour
100g dried wild cherries
140g powdered alexanders seeds
140g unknown flour
180g unknown but probably evening primrose seed pod flour
20g reedmace seed head flour
100g tree mallow seed flour
454g wild garlic leaf curd
225g alexanders leaf curd
8 x 50 ml bottles 4x concentrated apple juice
6 x 250 ml jars 5x concentrated apple juice
29 portions of seaweed, pheasant and fox soup
29 portions of nettle, wild garlic, burdock root, alexanders root, evening primrose root etc etc soup
40 litres spring water
9x 500 ml bottles rosehip (and apple) syrup
57 x 750ml bottles sea buckthorn juice
4 x 750ml bottles clear extracted sea buckthorn juice for vinegar
30 x 750 ml bottles apple juice
7 pints bullace plum wine
6 pints rosehip wine
7 pints apple wine
3 frozen pheasants
350g processed badger protein
1 frozen rabbit
950g pure processed badger fat
3 badger intestines for sausage making

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How to skin a Badger

My name is Fergus Drennan or Fergus the Forager as I like to be called - not the roadkill chef (I blame that particular moniker on Paul Kingsnorth) and..well, I'm just an average bloke really.

Nevertheless, I am perhaps a little more sensitive to certain cultural and environmental pressures than some and feel compelled to respond creatively. Of course, most Ecologist readers do this in any case, using all the particular skills they possess. My skills lie in cooking (some would disagree), nature appreciation, insatiable curiosity and looking beyond the limitations of certain cultural taboos. My aim is to let those skills inform my eating habits as much as possible as I seek to battle the culture of waste and cult of speed, not forgetting to mention, of course, the environmental degradation that follows in swift pursuit. It may be that I'm doomed to failure, that I've failed before having even begun, that gross hypocrisy and contradiction will mar my every step. But step into a past-peak-oil future we must. To that end I did a thought experiment. What if cheap food runs out; what if all conventional food runs out; what would I do? I would have to switch to the transition food of a transition diet: foraged and wild food. Could I live that way for a year? Maybe. Would it help inform others - small sustainable eco-communities, as to the wealth of wild foods they could use to supplement their diets and the processing problems and other pitfalls they would need to overcome? Probably. Would it be fun, stupid, playful, absurd? No doubt. Should I stop the thought experiment and do it for real? YES, WHY NOT!

Today is the the 11th day of my year-long 100% wild/foraged food eating experiment. So far so good - actually that's not quite true as I'll explain in a bit, nevertheless, assuming I eat three meals a day, I can already cross thirty-three off the list which means there are now only another one thousand and sixty two to go. So, no problem there then!

Apart from my comments above, there are many reasons for carrying out this experiment. There are the obvious environmental ones of course. We've all seen the astonishingly disgraceful figures detailing the tonnes of perfectly good food we throw away every year; we all know about the polluting effects of excessive food miles and the resulting packaging that is destroying our landscape, be that as ubiquitous plastic bag remnants in trees, oceans full of the albatross-suffocating-and-starving stuff, and landfill stinking with the out-of-sight-out-of-mind debris of our rampant consumerism. Eating wild food seems to bypass many of these problems whilst, inevitable, giving rise to inherent problems of its own. And, in that respect, I'm definitely not suggesting that if the current millions populating the British Isles returned to subsistence living and we all foraged for our supper we would achieve a return to some lost Eden of plenty, a place where we all lie basking in the sun with sheep and lions (as The Jehovah's Witness Watchtower magazine would have it), with humanity and nature in perfect harmony, at one, as manna gently falls on a heavenly summer breeze: Far from it, far far from it! The dire results would make foliage stripping locusts of us all. Nevertheless, through incorporating a certain amount of wild food into the diet there is much to be learned.....

Waste has always bothered me in all it's various guises: wasted words - mindless babel when silence would be more appropriate and powerful, wasted time, wasted skills, wasted talent, wasted opportunities, wasted food and wasted clothes amongst other things. Why buy new clothes when charity shops are brimming full with good things? Why go to some crappy sweat-shop-sourcing cheap clothes chain when you could make your own?! It is to that end that an unexpected project has inspired my interest, perhaps even more than my wild food diet. Right now, thanks to being pointed in the right direction by archaeologist Karen Hardy at the university of York, I'm reading through a PhD thesis entitled Skin Processing Technology In Eurasian Reindeer Cultures by Torunn Klokkerness. This is with a view to creating a whole Davey Crockett set of roadkill skin clothes: boots, trousers, jacket and hat (maybe with a feather in it!). To that end I already have a badger, fox and rabbit skin soaking in a bucket of my own urine as part of the initial tanning process. If all fails at least it'll make a good soup! Interestingly, the procedure has made me appreciate urine as a valuable resource, something definitely not to be wasted. I've found my self trying to hold it in so as to be able to reach home and my piss awaiting bucket!!

This is how you skin a Badger.

1)fresh road slaughtered badger

2) Cut down the underside with a very sharp knife or razor blade. Just to cut the skin, not the flesh

3) Start to peel the skin back

4) Continue cafefully peeling back away from the flesh

5) Pull out arms and legs

6) Skin side - still needs scraping

7) fur side

Now, just on the off chance that any vegans are reading this and are feeling outraged (as I, in fact, am) at the thought of roadkill or, more to the point, are outraged by my behaviour, let me tell you something. The last time I visited Karen Hardy at the University of York it was to discuss the possibility of me not brushing my teeth for the year's duration of my wild food diet. One of her specializations is the analysis and identification of starch grains in Mesolithic dental plaque from recovered teeth. Apart from giving us a greater understanding as to our ancestor's diet, dental plaque research has other interesting applications. It seems that analysis of various foods sold as vegan has revealed that, actually, animal products are present. Because throughout July I have decided to eat an exclusively vegan diet, analysis of my dental plaque may help to refine research. This means more scamming bastards who put meat products in vegan food are likely to be exposed! Actually, I think to a large extent it is unintentional - due to cost cutting, perhaps, or inadequate sourcing of materials.

Now, let's get back to the wild food.

April Fool's Day



A glass of sea buckthorn and apple juice

Chestnut and apple porridge served with (disgusting) Alexander root milk - big mistake!

A mug of feverfew tea


Wild Spring Salad

(alexanders leaf and flower buds, fennel leaf, Hoary Cress, Smooth Sow Thistle

Hairy Bittercress, Dandelion Leaves, Garlic Mustard, Honesty Leaf and Flowers

Common Mallow, Red Valerian, White deadnettle Flowers)


Seabeet Quiche

(30g acorn flour, 10g wild garlic leaf powder after making leaf curd, i.e with protein removed,

6g dried yellow le mushrooms, very large handful of seabeet, very small handful of cleavers

a pinch of Herne Bay's finest sea salt)


Wild garlic, nettles, burdock root, alexanders root, evening primrose root, cleavers, charlock

hawthorn leaf, blackberry leaf, garlic mustard etc etc etc spring and seawater soup


Japanese Knotweed stewed in wild apple juice


A piece of wild cherry cheese


Feverfew tea throughout the day


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Friday, April 11, 2008

For and from the GMTV website minus all the stupid adverts

Read Fergus Drennan's diary about his passion for foraging for food, get his recipes and find out what happened when GMTV descended...

Today, is my 11th day of eating nothing but wild and foraged food - there is a distinction - and those eager beavers at GMTV, the chief culprit being Matt Arnold, woke me up at 5am to start preparing breakfast. Wild foods are definitely on the menu, although I hadn't factored in such wildly early hours. Normally it would be fine.

Just grab a coffee and embrace the caffeine culture of speed. No such luxury. But is it really such a luxury? Isn't it just so much more fun and rewarding to drink wild coffee made with roasted acorns and wild water, to remember the warm autumn days gathering acorns in the sun, the jays fluttering in the branches above and squirrels twitching their tails in anticipation of their next nut for the winter store? I certainly think so!

Sourcing and eating wild food really opens your eyes, your mind and heart, in fact, your whole being, to a deep appreciation of and connection to the natural world around you! The more you eat, the better the feeling. Now you don't get that with cakes and chocolate which, admittedly, are great at first but later...

Today's breakfast menu is most interesting, in my opinion, because of the salad and, in particular, the salad dressing. Having eaten wild salads (amongst other things of course!) virtually every day for the last two weeks I've been getting, not bored exactly, but just desirous of a little dressing luxury. This morning I cracked it! So here's the breakfast menu starting with that all important sexy salad sauce!

Salad Dressing


1 litre spring water
2 tablespoons carrageen seaweed powder
1 tbspn wild apple juice
1 tbspn seabuckthorn juice
10 staghorn sumac berry clusters
a few wild chives
10 dittander leaves
sea salt


Pull the berries off the stughorn sumac berry clusters and squash with a potato masher in the spring water. Strain and add the seaweed powder. Add the 2 different juices and salt, then bring to the boil. Continue to boil for five minutes. Strain out the seaweed and pour liquid in a suitable bottle. Add finely chopped dittander and chives and shake well. Leave to cool. This will also allow the mustard pungency of the dittander leaves to infuse. Wow!

Salad (on the side)

INGREDIENTS (varying proportions of each)

Grated alexanders roots
Young hawthorn leaves
Wild garlic leaves
Hairy bittercress
Garlic mustard leaves
Dandelion leaves
White deadnettle flowers
Gorse flowers
Lady's smock flowers


Roughly chop or tear the the leaves and mix together with the grated roots and flowers. Easy!

Pheasant with wild mushrooms and other goodies


4 Pheasant breasts
Some wild mushrooms fresh or dried (Fresh St Georges Mushrooms if you can find them)
Big bunch wild garlic leaves
1-2 Alexanders roots


Scrub and chop the roots into small batons and boil for 10 mins in seasalted spring water. Meanwhile finely chop the fresh or rehydrated wild mushrooms, mixing with some chopped wild garlic leaves. Bash your pheasant breast out flat and stuff with the chopped leaves and fungi. Form a parcel with the meat, skewered and shallow fry. Whilst frying toss in some different mushrooms for good measure and boil the rest of the wild garlic in a pan of spring water. Bring it all together and serve hot.

Something sweet instead......

Chestnut and apple porridge


A handful of dried chestnuts
3 dried apple rings
Spring water


Grind the chestnuts and apple, add water and blend some more. Place in a pan with a little more water and heat until required thickness is reached.

And to drink...


Acorn and rosehip seed coffee

Simply shell, roast and grind the acorns with the roasted seeds (hairs removed) and infuse in boiling water


Seabuckthorn and apple juice

Want to know more? I run wild food courses. Can't bear the thought of it? Stay away from my website at www.wildmanwildfood.co.uk