George and his Marvellous Medicine
https://www.flavourfred.com/ - For walks in London and further afield, with food tastings and 'meet your ingredients'. Also to buy Fred's booze, truly unique and delicious.
Flavour Fred is the only person I have ever met named after both of Ronald Weasley’s twin brothers. George Fredenham is his name and he’s also the most knowledgeable person I’ve met about the plants that live along parkland walk and their uses. Parkland walk is an old disused railway track in north London, a place for children to pick blackberries, for teenagers to learn the art of graffiti, and for everyone else just to catch a breath of fresh air and feel the magic of nature.
“I found my first porcini ring when I was 7 and I’ve pretty much been into foraging since then,” he tells me as we enjoy his homemade pesto on crackers – normally he makes sourdough bread himself but today he was short on time because of fig-leaf picking duties. The pesto is delicious, with the familiar flavours of rich olive oil and pine nuts (not foraged) but alongside wild garlic, three-cornered leek, lemon balm and jack-by-the-hedge, among other ingredients.
He taught me how to identify a range of plants and their uses, including oak apples (used in medieval times to make ink), mugwort, sorrel, horse parsley, cow parsley (not to be confused with poison hemlock!), and tinder fungus which we couldn’t find on the day but Fred had a piece of in pocket, used for its slow burning properties to carry embers. Interestingly, Otzi the Iceman, a 5000 year old man whose body was found in 1991 preserved in a glacier in the Ötztal Alps on the border between Austria and Italy also had this fungus among his possessions. We saw and spoke about many more plants and animals along our walk, including the plant the Romans used for toilet paper (tree mallow (lavatera maritima), with very soft leaves). Fred taught me about many of the incredible symbiotic relationships between plants and animals (reminding me that human history is just the blink of an eye compared to how long insects and plants have lived side by side), including why figs don’t ripen in the UK - because they need a dead fig wasp inside to ripen and fig wasps can’t survive in the cold here. Don’t worry though: the enzymes in the fig digest the wasp entirely and the crunchy bits inside your fig are just seeds. We also tried several of Fred’s delicious homemade alcoholic drinks in spray form; they were very aromatic and delicious, one even tasting like apple strudel! His homemade negroni was palatable even to me, a lifelong hater of the bitter, medicinal taste of negronis.
I now sip a drink he recommended for my swollen lymph nodes. It’s made from sticky grass (Galium aparine or cleavers – the sticky plant that children throw at each other with leaves in a circular formation, white flowers and small, green, seed-pods that can always be found on dogs after a walk), and I find that despite the fact that it tastes a bit like pond water, it is the most satisfying drink I have had in a long time. There is great joy in finding an ingredient yourself (after leaving the house with no money, and even no phone), just simply putting it in water and leaving it overnight to find that it has indeed infused (the slight green tone and pondy taste is irrefutable) - although the taste is much improved by adding a green tea bag and some lemon juice. As you can tell, I am not an expert in natural flavours yet, but my walk with Fred has certainly inspired me to try more and to be more creative in my cooking and particularly to use the free and natural flavours that grow all around me.
SAFETY WARNING: Please do not pick plants yourself from nature to eat without an expert present. There are many plants along parkland walk that can kill you. Knowing what you are looking for and anything that it can be confused with is absolutely essential. And finally, please do not associate Fred’s cooking with anything tasting like pond water, that was entirely my creation.
Sunset at parkland walk.