It was while eating a nice plate of kale and eggs that it came back to me how we’d once had an allotment on which we’d grow endless amounts of kale. It’d been so long that I’d almost forgotten about our allotment, and how some of our vegetables at least hadn’t always come in a bag or a box. The allotment was a great thing, but unfortunately it didn’t really fit with our lives at the time. When we took it on it was a bit of a mess to say the least – the previous owner had done very little with it, unless his plan had been to cultivate brambles. Helpfully, he’d thought of a clever plan to eradicate weeds: lay carpet on the length of the allotment. It’d been so badly cared for that weeds had grown through the carpet over time, so we had the slightly soul-destroying experience of clearing thick weeds and wet mud, only to find that they’d been lying on an array of carpet off cuts, which also then needed clearing. Only a skip’s worth, though, so it could’ve been worse!
When you think of an allotment, you might picture a little square of land with a few rows of vegetables growing, maybe with a small shed in a corner. These plots, however, were like small farmer’s fields. And Caleb at the time was around three years old. His attention span had normally run out by the time I’d picked up a fork. So the usual routine would be that either me or Rochelle would do some weeding while the other chased Caleb around, which lasted about 20 minutes before he’d either soaked himself somehow or needed to go home to use the toilet. Looking back, it’s no surprise that we barely got beyond the weeding stage! The kale we grew was grown in the small patch that we did, somehow, manage to get clear and to use.
So this weekend, with Spring finally feeling like it’s here, although with no allotment any more, we decided to get back that direct link to the veg that you’re eating that an allotment gives you, but to go that one step further: to forage.
We’re not expert foragers by any means, but Rochelle had an idea of making nettle soup, and one thing that you can almost guarantee to find are nettles, often when you don’t want to! So off we went, equipped with nothing more than some gloves and a bag. We haven’t lived in this area for long so it was a great way to explore our new surroundings. And children don’t always find going for a simple walk as interesting as we might so to give the walk an added purpose beyond simply appreciating the views really helped to get them out there and as keen as us to explore.
So suddenly we were all out, experiencing nature together, on the hunt for nettles, little gloved hands plucking small bundles of the lighter green leaves from the tops, popping them in the bag and moving on. It was a lovely afternoon. And earlier in the day, Rochelle had been out and managed to find a great supply of wild garlic, which, in case you aren’t familiar with it, looks nothing like garlic as we’re used to it, but smells and tastes just the same.
The children immediately had a connection to the food that we were planning to eat, which I’d even forgotten about since the days of the allotment. Not only was foraging a shared experience, but suddenly all of us, and most importantly the children, had a much greater interest in what we were about to eat: they’d found it growing wild and picked it with their own hands. No longer was the food just something bought from a shop, already picked and packaged. Instead, it was something that we’d found together, picked ourselves, having had the chance to appreciate the very place that it came from.
It helped of course that the soup itself was delicious. But even more important than that was the shared experience of the family, and the rediscovering of that link, which these days is all too easily forgotten, between our surroundings, nature and the food that we eat.