Last week in the flurry of a really busy, stressful week I gleefully remembered that I had booked in to a workshop on foraging at the FABULOUS 'Maven'. Maven is a relatively new shop and design service nestled cozily just off the Lisburn Road in Belfast and is Scandi design heaven. Besides their immaculately curated shop, the team also run the really popular 'Maven Sessions' - offering customers and clients an opportunity to learn new skills from experts in creative fields such as floral arranging, gift wrapping and loom weaving - all of which I was dying to go to and none of which I was able to attend. When I saw the foraging session advertised, I was determined to make it happen and swiftly called my friend Diane and she kindly made sure we booked in.
My knowledge of foraging has never really extended past the obvious - blackberries in the Autumn and Elderflower in the Spring. I've always just been a little flummoxed about leaves and nettles, not to mention the potentially deadly wild mushrooms.
Thankfully this workshop was not run by someone like me - likely to poison everyone in attendance, but by complete pros - a twosome so knowledgeable and warm that I wanted to take them home with me and have them feed me foraged food and bake me bread forever and ever - the expert duo of Dermot and Mary from Forage Ireland.
I had no idea Forage Ireland existed before now (to my shame) but they have been busy running workshops and walks, beating the drum of foraging in nature across Ireland for years. In their expert hands Dermot (a geologist & ecologist) and Mary (a baker and physiotherapist) took us out to Drumglass Park across from Maven on the Lisburn Road and showed us all the good stuff we could feast on that most of us have been walking past for most of our lives. It was incredible to see, taste and hear about how much nature provides for us.
I couldn't really get over how much information Dermot retained - there wasn't a leaf or flower pointed out to him that he couldn't identify and give some potted history on or a recipe to accompany. As the group followed Dermot, I hung back a bit to chat to Mary who was the BEST banter - making me drool with stories of how they hit the beach at the weekends, foraging for cockles and muscles on the sides of the rocks, bringing their gas stove and garlic butter to cook their fresh finds for their supper. Her tenacity and positivity was contagious and as we headed back to Maven for a home baking lesson, I think we all felt like we could make a bit of a salad from our gardens!
I also loved meeting some new people, particularly the lovely Polly from the blog Season With Polly. She was a super good blogger and brought her camera along (unlike tired old me who barely had her clothes on the right way) and she kindly sent me these images to edit and use. Polly is a huge seasonal food and foraging advocate and I've loved pouring over her blog recipes! It's always so refreshing to make blogging pals here in NI - do say hello to her on Instagram as well!
Back at Maven, Mary stole the show as she showed us how simply we can have homemade traditional Irish soda bread freshly made in our homes. She captivated us all with stories of their adventures around the world, the people they have learned from and the recipes that have been in their families for generations.
Mary even called up some helpers to get the bread going on the griddle...
We took turns making the recipe ourselves and Dermot kept the bread moving around the griddle. As each piece cooked and then tossed, toasty hot onto a plate, we sliced it up and divided it out - each of us dressing it in lashings of butter and a selection of jellies, jams and chutneys all made by Dermot and Mary from seasonally foraged ingredients. It was divine.
We all left with bags bursting to the seams full of goodies, purple-stained from foraged berries from the park, and toasty warm soda bread inside. Huge thanks to Maven for hosting such a special night and mucho love and respect to Dermot and Mary for showing us how to better live our lives in tune with the seasons. It was inspiring to spend time with people so committed to using the spoils of nature in their intended way - a lifestyle cultivated over years of learning, experimenting and connecting with others.