Forage a feast!

It’s been a very busy and eventful summer for us both in and out of the kitchen. We were honoured to be part of several fabulous garden parties and some simply stunning weddings this year which were, for the most part, celebrated in glorious sunshine.

However, autumn is now upon us. With hazy mornings and distinctly chilly evenings, the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ has well and truly arrived. It has become extremely trendy to get out and about to take advantage of this fruitfulness; foraging along hedgerows, in meadows, woodland and parks. Foraging is not, of course, a new phenomenon; we’ve been gathering wild food as long as we’ve been eating and it wasn’t that long ago that it was part of day-to-day life in this country. There is food to be foraged all through the year but at this time, nature’s harvest does seem particularly plentiful.

Fruit and berries, leaves, nuts, fungi, are all available for the picking during autumn. Many have medicinal properties and were traditionally sought out as ‘food supplements’ and preserved in order to improve a limited diet during the winter months. Rose hips, for example, are known for their high vitamin C content and were commercially gathered during the Second World War as citrus fruit was hard to come by.

Food in the hedgerows

Rose hips…

...and blackberries

…and blackberries

Foraging for mushrooms has become so popular in recent years that there are fears that it might lead to varieties being wiped out in places like the New Forest and Epping Forest so the message is to forage responsibly and sustainably. Pick only what you are going to use; remember animals and birds often rely on these foods for their survival. Be absolutely clear about what you are picking; carefully identify and double check, particularly when it comes to mushrooms and if in doubt, leave well alone! There are several deadly mushrooms in this country and several others that will make you very ill.

Wild mushrooms

Wild mushrooms

Below, we’ve listed some of the top foods to forage at this time of year with suggestions of how they can be used. There are countless other examples of wild food available for the taking but thinking gastronomically, it is worth remembering that the only reasons for using an ingredient is because it enhances your dish and tastes good. Just because it’s foraged doesn’t necessarily mean it should be served up for dinner!

Top foods to forage at this time of year:

  • Crab apples – high in pectin so ideal for jam or jelly and particularly useful paired with low pectin fruit/berries. Use as you would apple and purée, juice or stew the fruit, remembering they are usually very tart and you will probably need to add more sugar or honey. Make chutney ready for Christmas or try poaching the apples (with their stems still attached) in sweet wine and spices to serve with a creamy cheese as a first course.

  • Rowan berries – traditionally used with crab apples to make a jelly (it is low in pectin so crab apples are a good partner) but also used as a sauce for game (they have a slight bitter taste which works well with rich meats) or in a fruit or tea loaf. Like other berries, rowan berries are apparently sweeter when gathered after a sharp frost.

  • Rose hips – Traditionally cooked with sugar and strained through a muslin to make syrup, cordial or jelly, rose hips are very high in vitamin C and A. Rose hip syrup is delicious poured over pancakes and ice cream or pour a little into a glass of chilled Prosecco. Also try making rose hip vinegar.

  • Blackberries – one of the best known wild hedgerow food. Bramble jelly is a firm favourite at FFO for an autumn cream tea and who doesn’t like a blackberry and apple crumble or pie? Blackberries are also delicious pickled and served with cheese or try making a sweet, rich liqueur to enjoy at Christmas, if you can wait that long!

  • Sloes – another hedgerow favourite and packed into bottles of gin by enthusiasts all over the country! Also try making sloe and apple jelly.

    Sloe Gin

    Sloe Gin

  • Damsons/Bullaces – both types of plum make very good jams, fruit cheeses and tarts or make a sweet damson vodka liqueur as an alternative to sloe gin.

  • Elderberries – elderberry vinegar or wine are popular uses for these black, jewel-like berries. Elderberry jelly is an excellent accompaniment to venison. Remember elderberries must be cooked before they are eaten as they are poisonous raw.

  • Wild Garlic – can be harvested throughout the year. Use the leaves in a stir-fry or salad or to add flavour to winter soups or stews.

  • Mushrooms – September and October are key months for picking mushrooms. Always cut mushrooms at the base rather than pulling them out of the ground, this way the mycelium won’t be damaged and the mushroom will be able to regenerate.

  • Seaweeds – use to accompany fish dishes, in stir-fries or in risottos. Don’t take the whole plant when harvesting, leave something to grow back!

  • Nuts – a rich source of protein and energy. Delicious roasted, use as the base for a vegetarian bake or tossed into a stir-fry. Soak, pulse with a little water and press through a muslin to make a dairy-free ‘milk’ or extract the oil to use for frying and dressings. In particular, look out for sweet chestnuts, cobnuts and beechnuts.

Happy picking!

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The Wedding Caterer

Choose a caterer for your wedding

Outside BarFollowing the flurry of wedding fayres over the last couple of months with couples looking at the countless options for their special day, we’ve been musing about just how little attention is paid to the catering for the meal, despite it being a significant part of most wedding receptions.

Marquee WeddingBrowsing through the pages of the numerous wedding brochures, magazines and websites, there are articles devoted to bridal gowns, flowers, wedding cakes, table decorations, favours and invitations but surprisingly very little on choosing a caterer for your wedding day. There are some obvious reasons for this; many couples concentrate first on choosing their perfect wedding venue and although a menu offered by the venue might be a contributing factor in their choice, more often than not the setting itself is the deciding factor and what is chosen to eat is dictated by the venue.

Strawberry Shortbread HeartFor some couples, (though not usually those we meet!) the food is simply not that important. Many bride and grooms say that they were too excited or too nervous (especially if they have to think about making a speech directly after the meal) to register what they were eating or even eat anything at all! However, the food served on the day will be remembered by many of the guests at your wedding, particularly those who have travelled some distances to get there and it is likely to matter to you in the long-term, as it will be one of the biggest expenses of your wedding.

Fortunately for us, most of the couples we work with at FFO are as passionate about food as we are and keen to take the time to plan a perfect menu to suit themselves and the guests at their wedding.

Why choose a caterer for your wedding? 

First Course WeddingEven if you choose to have a diy wedding, when it comes to the food, unless you are inviting a very small number of guests, you really do want someone else to take on the responsibility of looking after the catering. You and your families will want to be able to relax and enjoy the day without the worry.

If you are planning to hold your reception at a venue that will allow you to bring in an outside caterer to provide your meal then this option provides you with flexibility of menu choice. Many wedding venues offer a package which includes the meal but the food on offer is often limited. At FFO we offer suggestions for wedding menus but are delighted to talk to couples who have their own ideas for the food they would like served at their wedding.

Tips when choosing a caterer for your wedding

  • Canapes Wedding (Photo by Eddie Judd)

    Photo by Eddie Judd

    One of the best ways to ensure you find a good wedding caterer is a personal recommendation from a friend or someone you trust. Listen to people who have directly experienced the service that a caterer has provided ie. as a guest at another wedding.

  • Go for a local caterer, one that is located close to your venue. You don’t want the stress of worrying about your caterer being stuck in traffic to spoil your day!
  • Book early. Caterers tend to get booked up months or even a year in advance. Make sure you find out what the booking process is and when and how your date becomes secure.
  • Establish a good working relationship with your caterer. Go for a caterer you feel you are able to talk to; who understands your vision and shares your enthusiasm and excitement. Choose a caterer who will listen to your ideas but equally, be prepared to listen to them, their advice and experience will count in making sure your day runs smoothly.

Wedding Table SettingCaterers often work closely with other suppliers and more often than not these will be like-minded people and share a similar ethos and style.

Be upfront about your budget. Of course you want to get the most for your money but find out what is available on your budget to avoid uncomfortable haggling. A good caterer will be able to be creative and provide a menu that will suit your needs.

  • Find out if your caterer will supply the silverware, china, glassware, linen, cake stand, cake knife…etc. The hire, delivery, cleaning and return will be an additional cost to bear in mind.
  • Wedding Canapes Ask to try some sample dishes. Once you have made a booking, some caterers will offer a personal tasting experience to help you make your final menu choices. This can be very helpful in giving you an idea of the style and presentation of the food they will be serving on the day. Take into consideration seasonality when choosing your menu as this will help ensure the quality of the food being served. Ensure you check with your caterer regarding any special dietary requirements.

Wedding Bar Inside

Consider your drink options carefully. If you are providing the drink yourself, don’t forget that serving it, glass hire, cleaning etc. will need to be accounted for.

Your caterer will know how many members of staff will be needed to cater for your wedding meal but if you require staff to take on additional duties (eg. as bar staff for later in the evening) make sure you discuss this with your caterer before the day.

Let your caterer look after your guests so you can relax and enjoy your day!

Happy New Year!

We hope you had a wonderful Christmas and that 2014 has started well for you.  Last year was a very busy and exciting one for us catering for fabulous weddings, special birthday parties, family gatherings and even the launch of a brand new English wine.    

This year is already set to be just as eventful.  In the last few weeks we’ve met several of the couples who will be getting married in the coming months to discuss the food they’d like featured at their wedding.  We’re happy to say that the trend for local and seasonal seems to be continuing strongly! 

ffO Cheese Tower

We’ve been wondering what will be in style for 2014.  Last year, naked wedding cakes were all the rage with cheese towers, unusual cocktails, sweet carts and all things vintage still very popular.  Recently, we’ve seen marshmallow, in sophisticated flavours such as elderflower champagne or sloe gin, begin to be used as wedding favours.  Sequins are tipped to be a massive trend next year, on dresses, decorations, table cloths, as confetti and even on cakes.  According to Rachel Griffiths for Bridal Guide in America, films like ‘The Great Gatsby’ last year will have an impact on wedding style for 2014 with couples looking back to the elegance of the 1920s for inspiration.  She also suggests that spicy food and dishes specifically designed to be shared at each table will appear on many wedding menus in The States; will this be translated across the pond we wonder?  

Traditionally June is the most popular month to marry so in the run-up, we’ll be bringing you ideas and tips to help with preparations for the big day.