Foraging and Feasting with The Urban Hunter Gatherer
When the Urban Hunter Gatherer invited me on a forage and feasting experience, I found myself feeling rather apprehensive. Not only because I had never heard of the sea creatures he was mentioning, but also because I had only ever been warned not to eat strange foods off trees and beaches and fields.
But Charlie’s enthusiasm is contagious, and soon I found myself wading knee deep through forests of kelp, eagerly assessing its level of ‘al dente’.
Charles Standing is the youngest 50 year old I have ever met, all mischievous smiles, unbridled creativity and wild stories of adventures out to sea. An avid surfer, rock climber, free-diver and cook, his love of nature comes through in everything he does.
And so, on a Monday afternoon in the heat of Cape Town’s summer, I headed off to meet him. The plan? To forage along the city’s coastline for limpets and kelp, hustle through to District Six for some wild herbs and finally whip up a kelp and limpet lasagne at Charlie’s home in Walmer Estate. I felt giddy just thinking about it.
We started the afternoon at Rocklands Beach, collecting kelp and breaking limpets off the rocks. Charlie’s knowledge of marine life – from the different types and flavours of seaweed through to the crustaceans and fish – was simply fascinating. Limpets, he explained, are fleshier and less fishy than mussels, and therefore the perfect fit for the lasagne. I nodded and smiled nervously as he gutted them on the rocks.
Adorned with buckets of seaweed and snails, we headed off to District Six. It was a clear, hot day, with hordes of school children bustling past and Monday afternoon traffic pounding the streets. On a drab and littered field Charlie showed us a patch of blossoming wild fennel, growing with admirable stoicism amongst the empty juice bottles and dried-up grass. We filled our pouches and headed back to camp, ready to start cooking.
Charlie’s house is an eclectic sanctuary and testament to everything he lives by. A prolific garden of indigenous plants, strong scents of basil and lemongrass, Marmite the cat lazing beneath an olive tree, surfboards crowding the entrance hall and a kitchen stocked with quirky cookware collected from decades of wandering the Milnerton Market. It feels like the most peaceful kind of country retreat where everything comes back to nature: a love for it, and a need to protect it. Everything in Charlie’s house is recycled, composted and organic. Whilst he prepares a snack of pickled Agave flowers foraged from the Karoo, I find myself wondering through his kitchen in awe, wishing I could stay there forever.
“I love the simplicity of Italian cooking,” Charlie explains, busying himself with our lasagne. “The way meals are designed around the produce, the way it’s all about the freshness and quality of the ingredients. I like to take classic Italian dishes and make them local, using seasonal, foraged goods. I make a killer Putanesca sauce by replacing anchovies with bokkoms, pickled nasturtiums instead of capers and foraged olives from Onrus.”
Charlie is a wine-pourer and an entertainer, and the before we know it the table is laid and the lasagne is hot out of the oven.
“This dish is inspired by South African chef Phil Mansergh,” says Charlie, as he serves us a generous helping of lasagne with a basil and tomato salad. “I was inspired by his kelp lasagne served at an event last year, and wanted to take it a step further by including foraged meat. Limpets or alikreukel both make a refreshing local alternative to the classic ground beef.”
The verdict? Delicious. A hearty, home-cooked meal with kelp as al dente as only the best pasta can be.
As the afternoon draws to an end, I start to feel a cold coming on. Charlie rummages through his cupboards and shelves, adorned with berries and pickles and potions. He whips me up his own version of a hot toddy: Foraged lemon slices, freshly-harvested raw honey and a buchu-infused brandy elixir all stirred up in a mug of steaming hot Rooibos.
“Everything we need is already growing around us,” he says, handing me the most heavenly hot toddy I have yet to encounter. “If we have a bit of imagination and a lot of awareness, we can create absolute magic.”
Delicious produce is grown in healthy, living soil. #Harvesttotable series brought to you by Reliance Compost.