Foraging: A guide to surf, turf and slurp in St Andrews

If you are what you eat, then how many of us are pre-washed, Peruvian-flown-out-of-season, Tesco (Finest?) asparagus, uniformly standing to attention in our shrink-wrapping? I write to you to big-up the ways of the mud-crusted Fife-grown carrot.

Opportunities for foraging in St Andrews are not restricted to the reduced isle of the supermarket. This article outlines a variety of strategies to avoid the supermarkets in your weekly forage. “But why?” cry the asparagus. Well, as well as the negative environmental effects of much imported food (food-miles, virtual water, packaging etc.), supermarket shopping is a missed opportunity to engage with the place in which we live and its revolving seasonal treats, not to mention supporting local economies and communities.

The resurgence of forage-style seasonal eating has been championed by figures such as Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall whose culinary adventures in The River Cottage have aroused in many, something like nostalgia for pre-supermarket fooding. Growers, foragers and muddy-carrot seekers alike often experience an intangible pleasure and satisfaction from connecting with the process of production and stepping outside the constant role of consumer. It is liberating to avoid total dependency on one or two central outlets, a model that seems unstable to me. So where else can I find food, you might ask?

TURF:

For fresh local veg, meaningful human interaction, and the knowledge that your cash is supporting the local economy, not massive corporations and carbon emissions, you can sign up for a vegetable box scheme. One World Society organize a good value organic weekly veg-bag, the farmer includes a charming little note talking about what’s a’ sproutin’ and recipe recommendations for the contents. The Farmers’ market rolls into town on the first Saturday morning of every month, with traditional Arbroath Smokie fish being smoked on site, great value local happy meat and vegetables in their own packaging (not to mention famous hot chocolate from Pitenweem’s Cocoa Tree Cafe), warm fuzzy feelings guaranteed.

The Balgove Larder makes an exciting outing to gather provisions, with top-quality deli products, local vegetables and meat raised on the estate – the cafe's great too. For everyday 'taters and more, head to Birrell & Son Greengrocers on South Street. It's not all local veg, but you get more chat than at supermarket self-service and it's good to support the local family businesses – drop into the butcher, bakers and fishmongers too, it's often better value. 

If you’re up for putting more hours in you could grow your own. There is a Student Vegetable Garden on the way to DRA, or if you could use your own patch if you have it. However, the timing doesn’t always work well since generally harvest time is out of term time. I’ve had more luck with smaller scale herb-plantations, easily made in window-boxes or in pots by the back door. They’re super-fresh, there when you need them, plentiful, almost free, and not flown all the way from Israel. Why wouldn’t ye?

A more radical Freegan tactic involves reclaiming and eating food that has been discarded. Retailers discard huge quantities of very edible food, and ‘skippers’, whether through bargain’s eye or a wider "anti-consumerist" ideology, access the bins and feast like kings. It is more risky as a strategy because its not legal in Britain, but I think this is a discussion meriting serious political attention if we are to look at making the country’s food system more sustainable and less wasteful.

SURF

It’s not all muddy spuds and bin-diving: the conscientious foodie can strike rather decadent notes with a look to the sea. The best place to catch crabs in St Andrews is not in the Lizard, but down by the fish and chip hut on the Harbour. Place your order in person or by text 24 hours in advance, and the wonderful Harbour Mistress can fix you up with sizeable lobsters (£8) and crabs (c. £2), alive and fresh off the boat. You could always take to the rod yourself, there are many local fishin’ frequenters on the pier, hoping for such treats as flounder and pollock, cod and mackerel. I’ve never had much luck myself- the only time I’ve ever actually landed a proper fish on the pier here was with the bequest from a kind fisherman, lending me a frozen mackerel for bate. Although I did see a seagull wrestling with a beached flounder once, so I don’t doubt their slippery existence. 

Tis the season for sloe berries (October until December), so get thee and thine basket to the ubiquitous blackthorn hedgerows around St Andrews to make your own Sloe Gin. We’ve past apple season this year, but I recommend planning ahead for next year’s scrumping and homemade cider- the most laborious work of love but worth every moment. For now, you can experiment with Homebrew beer, at about 17 pence per pint once you’re set up with the equipment (big lidded bucket) it wins economy points, the challenge is getting the flavour balance towards nuanced independent ale and not a funky bottled-bread taste: practice makes palatable. You can have fun with labeling too.

So there we have it, some ideas for thinking outside of the supermarket-box, a creative exercise in many senses, particularly the actual production– making, or making use of, something special to consume rather than simply consuming. I am not proposing total avoidance of supermarkets (although it makes an interesting challenge) but a more conscious engagement with how you obtain that most basic of necessities: food. Following some of the suggestions in this article, you might find yourself more involved in St Andrews as a natural place and local community. The main thing is the fun to be had while producing, gathering and consuming creatively.

For more ideas, have a look at the Fife diet

Images courtesy of Elspeth Parsons, Buruhtan, and A. Paterson. Compiled and edited by Kerri Pandjaitan.

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