Wild Food and foraging for it, learning to identify the edible and how to avoid the nasties, is the subject of a five week evening class led by Jacky Sutton Adam. I have eaten a three course lunch foraged and cooked by Jacky (including her terrific nettle and ground elder soup), and was well smitten. (You could try a nettle soup of hers for yourself at the Cambridge Cheese Company in All Saints' Passage.) So the course, which includes full recipes, sounds an excellent idea. Starting on Wednesday 22nd April, the class will visit foraging locations which are all easily reachable by bike from the centre of Cambridge.
Alternatives include a guided forage and wild lunch at Wandlebury on Saturday 9th May, and if you are more adventurous (and quick off the draw) a wild camping weekend in ancient woodland near Wimpole this coming weekend - Friday 17th - Sun 19th April. Wild it may be, but the details do include reference to a wood-fired hot tub. For full details of these and other wild food events, go to www.wildfoodie.com.
While on the subject of wild things and ancient woodland, Professor Oliver Rackham has identified deer, and their voracious eating, as the main threat to the health of British woodlands. (I defy you to read his heavily illustrated "History of the Countryside" without being fascinated.) Fifty years ago there was scarcely a field in Britain which didn't have a man with a gun wander through it two or three times a week. No longer so today, and the deer population has exploded. It would seem sensible to combine our enthusiasm for local food (and free range at that) with protecting our woodlands. But is the nation ready to accept the idea of culling and eating Bambi?
It is striking how often descriptions of different varieties of fruit or vegetables concentrate on appearance, shelf-life, resistance to disease, high yield and suitability of soil type. Looking at details of different types of asparagus, I noted that for only three out of the ten mentioned, was there any reference at all to taste. Nick Rumbold, who brings on early asparagus under glass at Great Abington, comments that the variety he goes with - Cito - does not have the high yield or the uniformity of appearance of other sorts, but that people do keep on coming back because of the taste of it. Odd, that. Though the enchantment of early asparagus and not having to wait until May and the start of the field-grown crop, may have something to do with it. 46 North Rd, Great Abington, CB21 6AS. Season; late February (most years) until first week in May. Hours: morning until dusk.
Having a keen interest in farm shops and local food, Dunton Community Garden caught my eye as a place to visit. This is a demonstration garden where they produce organic fruit, vegetables, salads and herbs in. It was charming - from the topiary figures by the entrance and the table of produce there, to the garden itself, with its herb beds, raised beds, green house and polytunnel. March was not a very kind time to visit, but there was produce for sale - potatoes, onions, swedes, leeks, sprouts and pots of mint, together with some terrific honey. There was also an invitation to pick your own salads and stir-fry crops in the polytunnel. In the shed there is a map of the two acre plot they are developing elsewhere in the village, with the named beds in an octagonal layout. As their web site mentions (www.duntoncommunitygarden.org) they hope to hold some Open Afternoons for this larger plot in the summer. Extrapolating from the smaller garden in March to the larger garden in summer, I would expect it to be delightful as well as instructive.
Image of nettles by benketaro courtesy of Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic licence