I have just been for a teatime stroll along the banks of Woodbridge’s River Deben, downriver to Martlesham creek. It’s been a dull, blustery June day but I wanted to see some sky and breathe some clean air and to watch the antics of some of the shoreline wildfowl.
Having been spoilt by autumn curlew, winter avocets and early spring godwit, the birdlife of late has been a little disappointing. The turnstone and redshank have also gone. The oystercatchers have returned and I love hearing their distinctive call – to remind me that this environment is better than London. There were also a couple of terns and the shelduck couples are still padding about in the mud together (where do they nest?) but I think the tidal deluge of the Deben prevents the other waders from nesting here, or they are hiding within their nests, only emerging to forage (perhaps I should get out earlier).
My avian dissatisfaction was quickly repaired by herbaceous (perhaps herbivorous even) distraction. First I plucked a grass-like stem I thought was arrow grass. I was wrong, no coriander scent, but I removed all the outer husk and bit into the white inner – so sweet, but also estuarine, like salty sugar cane. I shall have to identify it properly and hopefully collect more. Then I found some real arrow grass and the coriander quest was complete.
I nibbled on a small piece of sea purslane, salty and bracing, followed by some sea beet, that added sharpness. Then I spotted the first stumpy shoots of samphire. Not enough to collect yet but the mud could afford me one small bite. I had forgotten why this was the queen of the sea veg. All the brackish, saline and herbaceous qualities of the others, but with an added succulent burst. I’m sure there was the ozone hit of the sea, like when you get salt water up your nose – or first eat an oyster.
On the return leg I looked the other way into the hedgerows that border the riverside path. Some of the hawthorn was still in flower. I’d read somewhere about someone using hawthorn flowers in a salad. I took a bit but it was all so bitter and unpalatable and I spat it out. There was a hint of something better though, so next time I attempted to just eat the flower part. I carefully bit above the green calyx and just took the petals and stamens. That was much better, honey and floral. I found some jack-by-the-hedge (its other name, garlic mustard, describes its flavour). That reset my palate so the next hawthorn flower was even better. I switched between the two a few times – each one improving the flavour of the other. A peculiarly addictive experience.
After that amuse bouche was my pudding. A healthy sprig of elderflower. Although there had been no sun to warm it, and possibly because of the relatively bitter preceding flavours, it was immediately refreshing, fizzy and somehow comforting – like cream soda.
I finished off with a beer, well the very tip of a wild hop shoot. But it’s a bit late for those and the bitter hop flavour was already very present, unlike when they first emerge and are still nutty and taste of the hedgerow.
A flock of pretty long-tailed tits were filling the trees with tight chirrups and they buzzed past my head. No doubt collecting their insectivorous tea for themselves and their chicks.