If you are bored with the London commute and daily grind, then you might not want to read about George Fredenham and Gerald Waldeck a.k.a The Foragers. Ex-city boy George and former baker Gerald have stepped out of the rat race and have not only taken over a pub, but are spending their days hunting and fishing to supply the pub menu.
The Foragers are based at The Verulam Arms, and pretty much everything on the menu has been sourced locally by foragers, local producers, hunters and fishers. I went to the pub as a friend had raved about the food, and saw hare stifado, smoked pigeon on toasted sourdough with hedgerow jam, conger eel bouilabaisse, 12-hour slow-roasted leg of roe deer, and elderflower champagne on the menu. So many restaurants and pubs make a cursory nod to local food, but this place is showing exactly what is possible. Anyone with an interesting catch or surplus can sell to The Foragers; they recently bought a supply of rabbits, a crate of apples and a box of jerusalem artichokes, which all went straight on the menu.
George and Gerald have been running the pub for over a year now, and say it has been a fantastic year for them. They are now really excited going into 2012 as they have just made an agreement with Lady Verulam to forage on her land on the Gorhambury Estate. Starting in March, they will run foraging courses, designed to introduce foraging skills, and show what is available locally. The pub has used game from the estate for a while now, supplied by local hunter Nick Frewin, but the courses will focus on wild herbs, fruits and mushrooms.
The walks will be lead by guides from Woodland Ways, such as Kevan Palmer who as well as leading bushcraft courses was an advisor to Bear Grylls‘ “Born Survivor” programme. George and Gerald told me that the walks are inspiring: every leader they have worked with is keen to share knowledge and their love of the outdoors. Each walk will finish at the pub for a banquet lunch using foraged ingredients, found that morning or the previous day. The courses will also cover the ethical issues of foraging: how to harvest in a sustainable manner, what is legal and what is safe. I asked about the watercress that grows everywhere along the River Ver, and learned that it is ok if cooked, but would not be safe to eat fresh in a salad. They also told me that there are plenty of local fruit trees that no-one ever picks from; I think the walks will be full of information.
The walks will be run from April until October, and start on 28th March at 7pm with an Introduction to Foraging talk with Woodland Ways. The team will serve a 3 course dinner showcasing wild plants and game. Tickets are £30 and available from the pub.
Pop-up kitchen and festivals
I like The Forager‘s sense of resourcefulness. George and Gerald took over The Verulam Arms when it was under threat of turning into flats, and they like to do pop-up kitchens when they have the time. You might have seen The Foragers at the St Albans Food & Drink Festival and Larks in the Park. They had a stall at the Secret Garden Christmas Emporium in December where amongst the performers and vintage stalls they sold hand-held food such as game pasties filled with venison and rabbit, cornbread with bracket mushrooms and watercress, venison and chocolate chilli, and apple and cranberry turnovers. As there was no space in the pub kitchen in the busy pre-Christmas rush, George called around to ask if they could borrow a local kitchen. With true Christmas spirit, Christ Church in New Greens stepped in to provide a temporary bakery for the day!
The Foragers also plan to brew their own ale this year, which should please the loyal pub customers. If you would like to try the food, there is a 15% discount throughout January, Tuesday-Thursday for lunch or dinner (call first 01727 836004). Find The Foragers at The Verulam Arms at 41 Lower Dagnall Street, St Albans and visit the-foragers.com for more info on the courses, to read about the hunters who supply the pub and George’s blog about fishing trips and foraging.
Game liver & sloe gin pâté
(serves 8 – generous portions!)
4 x hare liver
1 x venison liver
1 onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
Small handful of sage
50ml sloe gin
50ml double cream
salt and black pepper
butter, to melt
1. Cut the venison liver so it is the same size as the hare liver and then drop into boiling water ensuring they are covered. It needs roughly 8 minutes depending on the size or until they are cooked through (aim for a little pink inside). Drain & leave them to cool.
2. Place all the ingredients into a food processor, blend and season to taste.
3. Spoon into a dish and seal by pouring a thin layer of melted butter on top. Place somewhere to cool so the butter can set. Then eat with bread such as sourdough or toast.