I’ve been watching an old series of Jamie Oliver’s (Oliver’s Twist). In one the episodes his mentor Gennaro takes Oliver out into the streets of London to harvest wild food plants. They find plenty of overgrown wild places on roadsides and between buildings. Their harvest includes fennel (stalks, leaves and flowers), a plant they call borage but I think was alkanet, sheep sorrel, horseradish, rosemary and wild rocket.
Geek alert: One of my pleasures is looking at the ‘background’ of other British TV shows, dramas and such, and trying to ID wild plants. It made sense that there would be lots of weeds on the streets of London. British natural history writer and wild foodie, Richard Mabey, has a book called Street Flowers about weeds that grow in cities and how they manage to do that.
Sadly, here in the Land of the Long White Spray Cloud, city wild food is a bit harder to find. But not impossible. I’ve not seen wild rocket, but dandelion, chickweed, puha and the like are pretty common, as well as tree shrubs like elder and hawthorn. Old cemeteries, margins of back sections down alleyways and the harder to get to edges of Parks usually yield something. Railway lines are also a good weedy place. One of my earliest wildcrafting excitements as a teen was finding abundant yarrow in flower along a city railway track. Wellington wild food forager Joanna Knox has a wonderful blog on what’s around the Capital (probably applicable to most NZ cities).
Oliver and Gennaro took their harvest home and made a fish dish with the fennel. The stalks were used as a trivet to keep the fish off the bottom of a baking dish (laid in a flat bundle). The flowers and leaves where chopped and mixed with lemon juice, olive oil and salt and then rubbed into cuts that had been made across the surface of the fish. Gennaro admonishes Jamie to crush the flower stalks – “that’s where the flavour is!!”. Looking at the prepared fish he also says that it is having a “glorious death” (being beautifully prepared not just fried up in a pan). What a cool man.
Oliver put sliced lemon between the stalks and fish, and squeezed the juice into the corners of the oven dish, not over the fish (as lemon juice ‘cooks’ it). The juice and oils formed a tasty sauce while cooking, to be spooned over the cooked fish, now lying on a bed of wild rocket and sheep sorrel.