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Cornwall LivingIssue #125

Fruits of the forager

Jude Kereama discusses the importance of foraging when it comes to building the seasonal menus at his two Porthleven restaurants.

Starting as an apprentice in his hometown in New Zealand, with a career that has, along the way, included multiple appearances on the BBC’s Great British Menu, Jude Kereama has cemented both a home and a name for himself by the sea here in Porthleven. Here’s what he had to say.

I first started foraging when I was a little boy growing up in New Zealand. My dad, who is Maori, was always keen to show me how to find sea clams, mussels, crabs, abalone, as well as other foraged seafood and vegetables. Today, I have taken the ideas he taught me and turned them into a unique part of our menus that I believe adds that extra bit of local flavour to every dish. In terms of the seasons, spring and summer are my favourite times to forage, as it is during those seasons that ingredients are in high abundance. Throughout the recent months of June and July, we’ve capitalised on the local presence of wildflowers and leaves, including nasturtiums, borage, dandelions, wild chicory, mustard leaves, cow parsley, sea spinach, and pepper dulse. We’ve also made good use of rosehips, elderflower, bilberries, and chickweed.

Each time new ingredients come into season, we find a new way of including them in our dishes, and as we move through August, we will see the hedgerows burst with blackberries, elderberries, crab apples, kea plums, sea buckthorn, primrose, wild mint and cobnuts as they all make their annual appearance.  Seaweed is another ingredient of which there’s no shortage here in Cornwall, and at our restaurants in Porthleven, we use it to enhance stocks, butters, garnishes, and in powder form to sprinkle on other ingredients. Foraged sea greens, meanwhile, can be blanched, pickled or braised. Fruits can be used fresh or stewed, turned into ice creams or sorbets, or made into syrups and used to flavour desserts. Put simply, there’s plenty available for those willing to go out and forage for it, and so much scope for creativity when you bring it back to the kitchen.

Many of the ingredients I forage can be found right on our doorstep in Porthleven and Praa Sands, but we are also lucky to have the Helford nearby, with its rivers and woods filled with goodies. I get a real sense of satisfaction when I come back from foraging, and it’s also a fantastic way of spending time with my son, Joe. We’ve spent countless hours picking elderflowers to make cordials, gathering shellfish to bring home and cook, as well as other ingredients to use in the two restaurants. It’s exciting to be able to show him that you can eat for free and enjoy delicious dishes full of nutritional value. One of his favourites is wild garlic soup, which is beautiful with its bright green colour, and especially delicious when served with huge amounts of crusty homemade sourdough bread and butter. Elderflower cordial made into ice lollies or a fizzy drink is another firm favourite. 

One of the things I learned all those years ago foraging with my own dad, was about the plants and leaves that heal. One of these was the Kawakawa tree, whose leaves were used to make a tea for stomach ailments, to make poultices for skin problems, and generally to promote a healthy immune system. The fruit, with passionfruit flavours, was also delicious. We used it to enhance fruit salads, and sometimes just dipped in chocolate. What I do now is very much the same as I did back then in New Zealand – bringing the flavours of the land into my new home and restaurants here in Cornwall. 

Many of the ingredients we find growing wild are simply not available from local suppliers, and so are only available by foraging. They are also much fresher this way, and I don’t think there’s anything more rewarding than cooking with ingredients that you’ve gone to the great effort of foraging. For anybody who fancies giving it a go, before ‘going solo’, I would suggest doing a course with an experienced forager first so that you’re certain of what you’re picking. This is essential, as there are many ingredients that look edible but can actually be very dangerous. But the beauty of foraging, once you get the hang of it, is that it can be enjoyed all year round. Even when autumn rolls around, it brings with it the last of the fruit, like sloes to make gin, hawthorn berries, damsons, blackberries, mushrooms, chestnuts, even apples, and it’s a wonderful way of enjoying Cornwall as the temperatures start to drop. These ingredients will hit our menus in a big way as we head towards the leaner months of winter, but until then, I very much intend to enjoy what the summer brings us!