For a friend’s birthday celebration last month, I booked a day with Lucia Stuart from the Wild Kitchen in Deal, a forager who works with nature, and the four seasons, along the Kent coast and countryside.
The small group met at St Margaret’s Bay, renowned for its natural beauty, stunning coastline and rather old-school literary glamour. Former residents Noel Coward and Ian Fleming had beach houses that conjoined so that they didn’t get wet when meeting for cocktails – still visible today.
As we gathered, Lucia showed us how to identify and name edible plants; and understand ways to prepare, store and use them in the kitchen, and for remedies.Then we hit the beach all morning where we collected sea cabbages, kale, limpets and three types of seaweed – sea lettuce, mermaid’s hair and the dark plentiful ‘serrated wrack’.
Using all this Lucia cooked up a foraged six-course feast: to start were seaweed salt crisps, served with a ‘Bloody Mermaid’, a delightful alternative foraged cocktail to the standard ‘Bloody Mary’.
The meal was served buffet-style in the boat-shaped beach hut HQ nestled in the cliffs with views out to the sea. A hot tasty alexander and spring leaf soup was up first, with the alexanders – similar in taste to asparagus – growing in sight around the hut.A smorgasbord of delights followed: subtle flavours, interesting textures and unusual ingredients, such as wild garlic hummus; sea beet, onion, wild garlic and stilton pies; and cucumber, seaweed and alexander stem salad, with savoury seaweed rice (with or without limpets).
Everything was washed down with lavender lemonade, fresh mint water or, for the boozers, a marvellous wild fennel vodka and tonic.
We then made short work of the homemade pickles and hedgerow jelly with splendid local cheeses on the deck of our boat hut in the sunshine. And if that wasn’t show-stopping enough, a finale of hazelnut and nettle drizzle cake was decorated with wild blackthorn cream and flowers, all polished off pronto. We all thoroughly agreed it was a right proper spread.Post-lunch, we ventured further along the beach to look for rock samphire and spotted it growing on Ian Fleming’s former house wall facing the sea. Then it was a leisurely climb to the clifftop to take in the views across the channel and identify wild primroses and other edible flowers along the way.
Up here we lounged around on the grass with homemade nettle tea and seaweed flapjacks, chatting about nature, foraging, sharing tips and swapping stories. With our new-found know-how, we planned to go foraging another day armed with our guide to Kent seaweeds (plus recipe for sea crisps).
Completely sated, with our foraged booty on board for scoffing later, we thanked Lucia for her hospitality – not to mention our glorious adventure in nature.
Read our guide to nearby Deal here.