At low tide, mudflats and salt marshes stretch endlessly, carved through by meandering waterways, spiked with grey and yellow grasses, lightly but thoroughly trampled by flocks of wildfowl and waders. Inland, fields of wheat, corn and sugar beet stretch across the gentle, shallow swells of a landscape punctuated occasionally by dark stands of trees and the grey flint spires of village churches. Life exists here on a thin strip, like the Earth’s crust, sandwiched between sky and stone.
Having visited Norfolk several times during the colder, off-peak months, I’ve tended to describe it as flat, bleak and full of birds. But this time, after the best summer in years, I was struck by the abundance and diversity of the hedgerows, streams and tidal marshes. As I explored the area, I couldn’t resist making the most of this wild harvest. . .
Foraging for leafy vegetables and herbs
Foraging for berries and fruit
Intertwined with a couple of sloe bushes, and easily distinguishable in such close proximity, I discovered damsons – the first time I’ve found these small plums in the wild. I made a tiny batch of damson jam to experiment, and it was absolutely amazing – tart and flavoursome. We went back later to pick a few more and made them into jelly with some crabapples collected during a bike ride. This wasn’t quite as lively, but it was still good spread on challah toast in the morning.
These were completely new to me, so I decided to make something simple to get a feel for the flavour. Alys Fowler in The Thrifty Forager claims elderberries “have a slightly rank taste so it’s always the last jam in our house to get eaten”, but I was not to be dissuaded! I made a tasty (if slightly too sweet) cordial, which was reminiscent of a well-known blackcurrent drink. We drank it with ice out of champagne flutes while sitting in the Norfolk sunshine. . . bliss!
Foraging for samphire
(N.B. We later went to Titchwell Manor for a delicious evening meal, during which I was presented with an enormous bowl of samphire. It made my foraging efforts look rather paltry in comparison. . . but food is always tastier when you find it and/or grow it yourself!)
Over the course of our holiday, this flat ribbon of North Norfolk became more than a beautifully bleak and bird-filled landscape to me. Through our foraging excursions, I connected with it on a personal scale and felt grounded there in a way I hadn't before.