The day the shops closed: A food forager’s journey. Day 1

I’ve been a keen forager for a long time. To aimlessly wander and pick up roots and shoots, leaves and fruit, it’s my ultimate pastime.
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I’m realizing more and more that even organic farming has an element of aggression to it, especially when it relies heavily on soil amendments and human inputs to produce food. My ideal garden is semi wild, with lots of ‘accidental’ things popping up due to generous usage of kitchen scrap compost, surrounded by larger areas of food forest in which situations are created for edible wild plants and trees to thrive. There’s no focus on maximum productivity season after season, instead, nature is allowed to thrive and as a result productivity naturally increases over the years, as does the wildlife population, the soil health and ultimately of course, the human health.

This is the sort of land I am blessed to have access to, and for the past 3 years our kitchen has been cooking +- 100 meals a day, relying for up to 50% on produce from this land.

Yesterday I was pondering; how can we push ourselves to increase our self sufficiency? What would it be like to rely on these lands if a serious economic melt down would occur? Scary? Exciting? I’m finding out! Over the next 5 days I’m entirely living off this land. Not a single thing I eat is store bought or even sourced outside this land. 1 exception: I’m allowing myself a hand full of sea salt from the North Balinese village called Amed. Also, I’m utilizing a bottle of coconut oil which was produced earlier, albeit from coconuts which grow on this land.

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The local boys were quick to give me a hand raking in this prized bunch of bananas

My early morning forage starts in my own garden. There’s not much on offer directly around the house, the passion fruit vine abundance of the past few months has come to an end and the mango tree is not even ready for blossoming. Luckily I spot some beautiful fruits hanging off the trees further down the back, perfectly ripe star fruit, kedongdong and some very mature coconuts. Once I get to the banana strip on the wet side of the garden I hit jack pot, a huge bunch of large bananas smiles at me. In under an hour I collect all the ingredients I’ll be using today. Even though I’m used to this type of foraging, by limiting myself strictly to homegrown produce I find myself stepping further into the forest than normal, determined to go to bed tonight on a full stomach.

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The aromatics: Turmeric, chili, lime, mint, culantro, tarragon, rosemary, sage, soursop leaves, rosella flowers, lemongrass

Spicing it up. Keeping in the back of my mind that I’m not allowing myself access to my dry spice rack full of indigenous Indonesian goodness such as nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves, I make sure to pick a range of fresh aromatics to ensure my meals are satisfying.

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Water spinach, bayam leaves, starfruit, passionfruit, avocado, kaffir lime, kedongdong, tomato, mature coconut

Eat me up. An avocado had fallen on my doorstep overnight. Avocados that ripen on the tree for their entire duration are yellow, super soft and buttery with a sweetness that you only find in homegrown varieties. At this level of ripeness they would be impossible to transport. Lucky me. The flesh of the coconuts I picked has a high fat content and can offer a well appreciated creaminess to my dishes. The eggplant bushes have filled with fruit thanks to the recent rain. Don’t be fooled by the fruit’s bumpy appearance, their flavour rivals any of the perfect looking supermarket produce!

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Fresh cacao, young papaya, perfectly ripe pineapple, papaya, aloe vera, young jack fruit

Fill me up. Another jackpot moment, I sport a very ripe pineapple deep in the food forest. As is the case with most fruits, they are picked too early to allow for transport and never develop the same flavour and sweetness as when ripened on the vine.

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A savoury pancake made from coconut, eggplant, duck egg, wild coriander and turmeric gently bubbles and browns in a cast iron skillet

Breakfast Time: In a blender i throw some of my mature coconut flesh, 1 of the 2 duck eggs which i picked up in the rice fields, a knob of turmeric, some cubed eggplant and a pinch of salt. After pureeing I add some chopped culantro. I push the mixture into an egg ring and let it brown on a very low heat. In the meantime I make an eggplant pate by simmering eggplant, ripe papaya, tomato, lime juice, salt, rosemary and tarragon in 1 cup of water and 2 spoons of coconut oil. As the water reduces I use a fork to mash it into a rich and chunky pate. Towards the end I add a hand full of chopped basil. I arrange the pancake, some buttery avocado, the pate, and a soft poached duck egg on a plate. I sprinkle it with tangy chopped rosella and more aromatic tarragon flowers.

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A very satisfying brekky, packed with flavour, a powerful start of the day

I’m keeping lunch light as I notice that food this fresh keeps you full for long. I simply arrange some of my fruits on a plate and let Mother Nature be the true artist

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Picked perfectly ripe, fruit like this needs nothing from a chef but a gentle chop and a loving serve

 

Dinner time. I hop into the garden and reach for a perennial squash called Jepang as well as a cassava root and some moringa leaves off the tree. I cut my young jack fruit into chunks which I boil in salted water until soft and stringy. I proceed to cook it with wild coriander, lemongrass, ginger, salt, lime juice and some coconut water for sweetness. By now it resembles the texture of pulled pork. Using the mandoline, I slice the cassava root thinly and blanch the slices in hot coconut oil until crisp. I arrange them on a plate, top them with my ‘pulled jack fruit’ some fermented papaya which tastes like sauerkraut and moringa leaves.

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Dinner: young jack fruit ‘tacos’ with fermented papaya and moringa
Dessert: For dessert I decide to celebrate the glory of edible flowers. I picked 2 so far: tarragon and rosella flowers, across from the kitchen we grow the strikingly blue butterfly pea flowers so I decide to use these too. The word lasagna comes to mind. Well, go with that! I boil some ripe papaya, rosemary and a bunch of rosella flowers into a sweet, rich and slightly tangy sauce. Using my mandoline again, I turn the squash into thin slices. I open another coconut and pour the sweet water into a pan. I start reducing the coconut water into a syrup along with some turmeric for colour. I briefly blanch the squash in the syrup to create soft ‘lasagna sheets’. I briefly poach a rosella flower in the syrup.

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Lasagna sheets made from squash and turmeric
To assemble I simply layered sheets, sauce, some of that amazing pineapple, papaya and those striking blue flowers. I created a little aromatic salad from crispy fried sage leaves and tarragon. I finished off the dish with the candied rosella flower:

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Wild flower celebration: Lasagna of butterfly pea and rosella, crispy sage and tarragon, candied rosella

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