Feeding the soul

One of my greatest joys in life is finding food. Don’t laugh: Finding it in the fridge is good. If it’s actually made into something tasty, then that’s even better. What I mean, though, is finding it outside. Growing wild. On the hill, in the woods, along the shore, among the hedgerows. There is something primal about foraging; it stimulates areas in the brain related to instinct, survival and wellbeing. It induces an almost trance-like state in me and I become completely lost in the moment, a hunter-gatherer, feral and free.

The fact it usually takes place in beautiful locations certainly adds to the pleasure and is the focus for outings on sunlit days; it’s also the push I need to venture out when the weather is less clement, if the cupboards are bare and I feel cooped up. A shopping trip to Tain was made far more bearable by stopping for a bag of bilberries on the way back, despite a very wetting ‘mizzle’ (that very fine, light, misty rain, peculiar to northern parts, which to the unaccustomed eye appears to be nothing, but which can soak you to the skin in minutes).

Last week I had a quick overnight escape to the east coast where conditions are usually milder and a friend has a ‘secret’ mushrooming area. After a few empty threats of having to blindfold me, he agreed to reveal his treasure-hoard and we were both delighted and a bit surprised to find the chanterelle season is far from over. Despite the recent heavy downpours, the summer as a whole has been warm and dry and the growing conditions idyllic. There, deep in silent woodland carpeted with sphagnum moss were many types of funghi from the poisonous or inedible to the highly-prized, although the ceps were a little on the slimy side. I took one home to paint, but it had deteriorated before I got around to it. Chanterelles, however, were everywhere, in groups larger than in my wildest dreams (and I have some pretty wild dreams). Leaving the damp and smaller ones I managed to pick a large bagful, donating the most perfect specimens to my friend (for commercial purposes) and bringing the rest home to fry to within an inch of their lives in olive oil with garlic. I love them when they go slightly crisp around the edges. Heaven!

Before the ‘catch of the day’ is allowed near my kitchen they are examined for creative merit. Lockdown has produced a slightly revised minset in terms of artistic inspiration and where to look for it and one of my current projects is a watercolour nature journal. I had originally planned to hold a weekend workshop around creating one but have had to put that on hold for the time being. Nothing for it, then, but to start my own. Entry number three: Black Isle chanterelles. I had almost as much fun trying to capture the vivid orange colouration as I did in finding them.

Now I need some blackberries, I think, to go with the windfallen Bramleys!