Sitting in a wind lashed caff on the front in Lyme Regis, watching the sea boiling spectacularly and the half-termers making a fist of it in classic stoic style. A man’s just walked past almost horizontal against the wind, an ice cream gripped in each hand, like a Thelwell cartoon.
A Portland crab sandwich comes in at an ouchy seven quid, and isn’t a patch on the whopper you get for a fiver at the White Hart in Sandsend. Not that I’m driving a wedge in the North South divide.
The Boyfriend is foraging for fungi with that Nice John Wright just down the road at River Cottage. I remain to be convinced that one day’s tuition will result in my cooking (and eating) gathered mushrooms wholeheartedly. Nicholas Evans (author, The Horse Whisperer and seasoned forager) almost died (along with his family) after necking a deadly one that looked like a safe one. They’ve all had liver transplants. Eeek. I can just about see the appeal, but honestly, they’re 80p in Aldi. Mushrooms, not livers.
I’m booked in for the ‘show and tell’ and supper back at RC HQ and as I pull up, damp but happy foragers fall out of the wagon with a huge basket of nature’s bounty – some 60 species, amazing. I’m reluctant to admit it, but as John quietly sifts through the haul whilst the cooking demo starts, I’m impressed. Handsome young chef Nick cooks up a storm and is a showman to boot; mushroom stroganoff, pate and a la Greque are soon making their way round the room on bite-sized bruschetta. As a special treat, John’s brought along a truffle as big as a big lump of coal (not found today) which Nick grates into a huge pan of creamy scrambled egg. Delish!
At some point during John’s identification I realise I’m hanging on every word; his knowledge, enthusiasm (and it has to be said, his self-deprecating humour) is thoroughly engaging, and I find my self wondering if those mis-shaped beasts at the bottom of our drive are fit for table.
As if by magic (this happens a lot at RC; the staff are cheerful, inclusive and laid back to the point of being prone, but there’s a hell of a lot going on in the background) a long table’s been set with wild flowers in jam jars and candles, and around 30 of us sit down to a very good supper; creamy mushrooms on toast (naturally), pork and tomato hotpot with a perfect suet dome and a damn fine Dorset apple cake with a slick of lemon crème fraiche, all washed down with River Cottage Stinger Ale brewed from nettles and boiled organic tights. Joking.
I’m converted. I was blind but now I see. They’ve made a believer out of me. The proselytizing is subtle but effective, like all weird religions. Keep the faith!