My hands and shirt, bloodied and dirty. My heart racing like a rampant stop watch. At my feet sits a buck, shaking the final electricity remaining in its nervous system. I knelt beside it, my hand on its hide. It was already dead. The moment was so surreal that I’d reached out to touch it, to see how real it was. My 308 had found its target, the large animal had dropped in a flat second. Before I was joined by my spotter, I uttered a thank you to the beast, alone. We’d spent the morning following a myriad of deer prints on muddy tracks. We stalked our way to a pair of fighting stags, their antlers crashing as they pounded each other. They were too far from our position and I couldn’t take a clean shot, so they lived to see another day. The stag however had not been so fortunate. Our meat freezer would now be well stocked for the oncoming winter. Filled with deer meat from an animal that lived wild and free. The only human interaction this animal probably had was the sound of distant 4WD’s and finally the crack of my rifle. I’m omnivorous, I eat a balance of vegetables and meat. Sometime ago I decided to acquire most of my meat from the wild. I have my reasons. Most of which I think are obvious now. I’m not happy with how most meat is produced for human consumption. So I took matters into my own hands in the knowledge that parts of it would be plain ugly. A fact I had to accept. Or become vegetarian. And for me, that is not an option I believe is right. For me.Last night on the radio was a feature story about the correlation of human diseases and the introduction of agricultural chemicals and antibiotics over the last 50-70 years. What impacts will this nature tampering have on us humans and our future generations? We don’t know. We may never know. But I’m prepared to do what I need to do to remove myself and my family from that system. Where food has been tampered with, where no definitive science exists to assure us of the potential health impacts. Where the industry is regulated by the very companies that produce the food. I’m more comfortable eating wild beasts than tampered meat.Kate Berry
As soon as that break in the weather came, my mind wandered to where mushrooms huddled en masse, patiently waiting for the sharp side of my knife. The excitement builds inside me, just as it did when I was a wee laddie, sporadically searching for field mushrooms all over our farm paddocks. Excitement for that moment when you’re fortunate enough to spot a specimen lurking under grass, weeds or pine needles. They hide so well, and ever vigilant eyes are a mandatory for a successful picker.
It’s a similar high to what I used to get as a kid, clambering under the supermarket registers looking for small change. I guess I’ve always been looking down at the ground for some kind of treasure. Once it was coins, now it’s wild mushrooms. The buzz equally exhilarating.
The season has definitely started. How long it will stick around for is anyones guess. It’s never dependable, it’s not open for calculation. It just is what it is. Like most everything else in nature. No straight lines. No certainty.
I don’t know what I’m doing when I cook. I just do it. Here there is also no certainty. The outcomes are never predictable. But I just do it. It’s not like I’m throwing caution to the wind. I just do what feels right at the time. Most times it works, sometimes not so much. I’m no expert. I’m far from being able to say “this is the correct and only way” to do any particular thing. But at least I try. That’s all we can do.
In culinary terms, if someone tells me I can’t to it, or I’m doing it all wrong, well it just makes me want to do it even more. Not only because I want to prove them wrong, hell I just don’t like being told. Why? Because if you’re told you can’t do something, then chances are you’ll stop having a go. And then, what do we become? All the same. Boring and void of imagination.
I keep telling myself that I need to retreat. I need to get away from the noise and visual pollution of 2014. I find myself walking forests looking for food, facing my fears and talking to myself…a lot. My time alone in the bush is when I feel most real. With a basket of found mushrooms and a mind of new ideas, I’m a complete man. When I cook a meal, I take pleasure in the possibility of it succeeding. When I consume said meal, I experience what I’ve just worked for. I feel contentment in a job done, done all the way to the end. When I look at my food, I can see truth and beauty, I see no bullshit manufacture, I see real. I cannot communicate well enough, how much this has altered my life. Let me assure you though, it’s totally rad.
Pizza with wild picked saffron milk cap mushroom, home made chorizo, home made passata, home grown garlic, jalapeño, sage and thyme.
I hunted over a few dams this morning hoping to get another duck for the pot, but to no avail. I spotted two pair of blacks but they where too fast for this old boy. Hiking back to the old farm house, dreaming about a roast duck stuffed with chestnuts got me thinking. I have no nuts in my larder, it’s time I did something about that. You can gauge when the chestnut is in season because they pop up at the Daylesford Sunday market. Each autumn, there’s a few boys who stand diligently over a bed of hot coals roasting chestnut. The smell is powerfully alluring and I bet those fella’s make a killing from their trade. Each sunday I hold back from buying those bags of hot roasted chestnut, because I have a few places up my sleeve to fill my own baskets with.
I’ve been checking in with a few of my nut locations of late and it seems the nuts are all ready for me to harvest. On that walk home today, with my shotgun resting over the shoulder, I decided that this day was as good a day as any to fill up my nut sack. For a few days now, the Autumn break has been keeping us on our toes. Wet but not exactly cold. It’s hard to decided whether the weather is really turning or it’s just a little precursor for more wintery conditions that are sure to arrive a few months down the track. Either way, it’s drizzly, overcast and wet underfoot. It’s perfect whether for harvesting Autumnal nuts. And perfect weather for walking through puddles like a pair of turkeys.
This time of year there are a few varieties of nut to forage for. Three that get my attention are hazel, walnut and chestnut. All substansially different from each other, but all very delicious in their own right. And like many things that are natural, these nuts magically pair well with other natural in season ingredients such as autumn hunted meat. Chestnut stuffing for ducks and geese, walnut and rabbit salad or hazel nut and quail roast, they all work well together. That’s saying something about the benefits of eating seasonally right?
I dragged the ratbags to our first spot. It’s a farm located not far from home and that’s well covered with fruit and nut trees. Here all three nuts are available, some in more abundance than others. The girls and I quickly get busy bending down picking this bounty from the ground. Chestnuts have fallen in great numbers this last week. Their spiny outer core stings if you’re not wearing gloves. Luckily for us pickers many of the nuts have already popped out of their spiny casings and are easy to pick.
Chestnut are a funny creature. Well funny to look at anyway. They clearly lack any ability for conversational humour. I’m sure I’m not the only one that can see the resemblance of Banksia Men, from the May Gibbs classic, Snugglepot and Cuddlypie. Or maybe it is just me. Those evil banksia men haunt my dreams.
As I pick nuts from the ground each year I can’t help but ponder two things. Firstly I think how much nuts have been an important food source for humans for thousands of years. Serving many cultures well, year after year. Secondly I can’t help but giggle at the fact that I’m eating food that’s fallen to the ground. It’s natures junk! Sometimes a nut tree will reside in a paddock, the same paddock stock live in. Today sheep poo was everywhere! But we still picked up those nuts. Those nuts that sat peacefully next to piles of sheep manure. It’s like totally natural dude.
The big old foraging sack starts to get heavy. The girls start to wain in the enthusiasm department, and the drizzle became as thick as politicians lies. We call it a morning and decide to move it on over to the next picking spot. In the truck we go, wet denim, wet skirts and a wet and muddy dog. With the heater on full blast we drive a half hour over to the secret spot for walnuts. I’ve been taking the girls to this secret spot for about four years now. Every school holidays, around easter time we return. There are usually so many walnuts, that we can fill our baskets in no time. Our pesto nut is then sourced for the remainder of the year.
This year however was different. There are two trees at this spot. One massive old girl and one a little smaller but still well over 80-100 years old. We hit up the big tree first, but the catch was poor. The summer has been dry, not as many nuts as last year had formed. I walk over to the second tree a little ways off. To my disappointment instead of a big mass of leafy tree it was open and light. I discovered that all that remained was dirty big stump. That beautiful old tree had been cut down. Can you believe it! All that remained to mark that she ever existed was a a sad grey stump. I didn’t cry but I wanted to yell, I wanted to scream. This tree had given people nuts for decades! Kids probably adventourosly climbed her, birds and insects called her home.
A few walnuts from the previous year sat rotting at her feet. They where her children, hanging around what was left of their mother. A bitter day for this forager. I’ve lost an old mate. I felt like that kid at the end of ‘The Giving Tree’.
On the drive home I lamented that I’d been unknowingly forming relationships with bits of nature here and there. A secret pear tree, a fig tree or a prime mushroom valley. These places and things in nature I now love. I lamented that I do, because when you loose them, you loose a part of your life. But that I guess, is what it means to be with nature. I must accept that even though everything seems intact, the illusion is false. Everything around us, everything we can sense, is all working towards return into a state of disorder, just as quantum law suggests. Chaos.