**my stay was covered at my own expense (and well worth it) but my place on the master class was complimentary**
It was the sound of geese chattering around the pond outside my window that woke me. I had stayed the night in the luxurious and tranquil surrounds of Brooklodge and Macreddin Village in Co. Wicklow. I’ll tell you more about my stay in a follow-up post but first let me tell you why I was visiting.
I was meeting Evan Doyle and his team (James and Clothilde) for a wild foods and foraging master class. Evan has an impressive resume which includes being a member of Eurotoques, chairperson of The Taste Council of Ireland and a director of The Organic Trust, so who better to lead us on our adventure in wild food.
What to expect?
Our day began at eleven with a welcome to Macreddin Village by our hosts and an outline for the day. A tour of the three kitchens on site. A visit to the wild foods pantry. A trip through a calendar year of foraging. A two course lunch in the Waterside Lounge and last but not least a hands on foraging experience.
The Wild Foods Pantry
The first stop was the wild foods pantry. A food lovers dream packed with cured meats, preserves, syrups, wines and Irish cheeses. The majority of what you see on the shelves is produced by the plants, vegetables and fruits foraged by the team. A couple of the more unusual items which caught my eye were ginger wine and bread wine. Its seems at Macreddin Village nothing goes to waste and the team are more than a little creative with what they forage.
The Stunning Strawberry Tree Restaurant
The next stop on our tour was a walk through the breathtakingly beautiful dining room that is the Strawberry Tree restaurant. It is the only certified organic restaurant in Ireland with a seasonal menu which reflects what is grown to order in nearby organic farms or foraged along the hedgerows, fields and woods surrounding Macreddin Village. From the dining room we made our way to the kitchen to catch a glimpse of what happens behind the scenes. The impressive selection of organic and wild foods we got to see left us salivating. Large blocks of creamy butter, glistening sweet honey, rolls of cheese and cuts of venison.
From there we made our way to the kitchen of La Taverna Armento, an Italian restaurant. The menu is inspired by the food local to the village of Armento in southern Italy. The links with the village were forged when a local girl from Aughrim married an Italian man from Armento. The relationship between the two villages in turn blossomed. Organic olive oils and vinegar’s have been sourced from the region for the Strawberry Tree. Many of the chefs have also visited the local farmers and chefs of Armento to bring home an authentic taste of Italy, such as wood fired pizza.
The third kitchen on our visit was in Brookhall. The busy kitchen of a purpose-built wedding venue set within Macreddin Village. Up to 150 guests can be served a meal in the impressive turnaround time of about 7-8 minutes.
A sparkling glass of elder-flower cordial welcomed us into the Orchard Cafe. It was here under a canopy of grape vines (which they do of course harvest and use) we delved deeper into the world of wild foods and foraging.
Clothilde who hails from France is the resident forager for Macreddin Village and it was she who led us through the most captivating class imaginable. It was part story, part history and very sensory. As she worked her way through a calendar year of foraging we tasted what she spoke about. Wild garlic which was so fragrant and bursting with flavour. Thin leaves of sorrel which you could barely believe would hold such a punch of lemon. Bilberries which are essentially wild blueberries which can be eaten raw or baked into a pie or preserved by drying.
We tried fresh brown bread with wild garlic pesto with tantalised the taste-buds and we heard about how the team compete with each other during mushroom season to see who can find the best. We talked about rowan berries and sloes and how they were used to make rowan schnapps and sloe gin. Our ears perked up when we learned how simple it was to make elderflower cordial and better still elderflower champagne.
Food has a canny way of holding stories and releasing long stored memories.
We hung on every word that Clothilde delivered and anxiously waited to see what she would pass to us next to smell or taste. Food has a canny way of holding stories and releasing long stored memories. As we talked about jams and jellies and pies I thought of my many years passed Granny and how as children we picked blackberries along the hedgerows near the railway where she lived. She used them to make jam and rewarded us with it slathered on her home-made brown bread which was the most marvellous recipe. Now about thirty years later I’m trying my hand at foraging once more and regret having never learned how to make that brown bread.
After a wonderful lunch in the Waterside Lounge where our group got to know each other a little better we made our way outdoors for some firsthand foraging. We explored the grounds and found wild garlic and sorel and sweetpea and automatically smelled it and tasted it. We crawled through a hedgerow to the roads surrounding Macreddin and spotted elderflowers and rowan berries and told ourselves we would never look at a hedgerow the same way again.
Clothilde’s knowledge seemed to know no bounds and we barely took a step without her sharing with us something new and unexpected. A tree which she tapped for sap or a plant she dried to use in the kitchen or a berry she turned into wine. The passion and excitement she spoke about for her love of foraging was infectious and I think we all wished we loved our jobs that much.
As we made our way back to the Waterside Lounge where our journey began we finished with a wander through the wild foods garden where lemon balm was a popular find among the group. The wild foods and foraging masterclass was easily one of the most enjoyable, educational and interesting activities I’ve taken part in. Its easy to get lost in the romance of wandering through the woods with a basket full of edible treasures, and I very much encourage it. Take a wander with your reference book (Evan Doyles Wild Food written with Biddy White Lennon is excellent) and start slow. Elderflower champagne is very much top of my list.
Overnight Stay & Foraging Offer
Right now they are offering a fantastic deal which includes an overnight stay with full Irish breakfast, a tour of Macreddin Village, Strawberry Tree Wild Foods Pantry, a two course lunch and of course some foraging. Priced at €150pps its a fantastic treat for that forager in your life. Did I mention they also have a fantastic spa on site! The classes only run a handful of times a year so if you want to get involved you can find all the information right here!
The next class on Thursday July 20th is booking now (0402 36444 or email firstname.lastname@example.org) and I highly recommend it. There is also one taking place on August 15th. I also spoke about my experience of foraging with the lovely Sharon Noonan on her show The Best Possible Taste on West Limerick 102FM Listen here