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The restorative powers of a Foraging and Fire Cookery course

I’m no princess; I love camping and being active outside, but I will admit I was a little apprehensive whilst en route to join my first ever nomadic cookery school experience, deep in the woods on a farm in East Sussex. Even though I know I should take more time for mindfulness and switching off from the daily demands of life, I never make it a priority, and I think that’s why I was a little nervous.  What if I couldn’t do it? What if I couldn’t actually switch off? I decided to step out of my comfort zone and in doing so, it turns out that my day with Positively Delicious was exactly what my mind and body so desperately needed.

Jacqueline Wise, owner of Positively Delicious, invited me to join one of her new Foraging and Fire Cookery Workshops. Positioned as a retreat day with a goal of creating connection through cookery, the itinerary included meditation, foraging and communal cooking over an open fire. We were spending the day at Jacob’s Ladder Farm, a location which shares Jacqueline’s vision of teaching people how to cook and eat in a regenerative way. Jacob’s Ladders Farm owners, Jayne and Michael Duveen, use farming practices which seek to respect the ancient forest environment of the farm and they raise all their Sussex cattle and Romney sheep via traditional methods and on the fauna that has been part of the forest for hundreds of years.

On arrival, we were met by Jacqueline and walked a short way to our camp location in the woods. Locally roasted coffee and wild teas were available for us to help ourselves to, as well as some delicious homemade vegan brownies. Other guests slowly started to join us, there were 12 of us in total, and conversation around the campfire instantly started to flow. People had come from a variety of locations for today and for many it wasn’t their first experience at a workshop such as this. Positively Delicious advocates for organic and artisan products, as well as a zero-food waste policy, and there were clearly some big advocators of their approach at the retreat today.

Once everyone had arrived, Jacqueline welcomed us all and explained the very interesting story of how Positively Delicious had come to be. Jacqueline’s successful advertising career in London was not making her happy and she came to realise that cooking had always been her constant companion. What made her happy was creating food experiences that would bring her family and friends together, so she decided to train at the oldest cookery school in London, Tante Marie Culinary Academy, part-owned by none other than Gordon Ramsay. She soon became an experienced Cordon Bleu Chef, starring on TV shows (winning Channel 4’s Win it Cook It), and working at Buckingham Palace, The Ritz and in many Michelin Star restaurants.

Jacqueline started private dining for events and weddings, but the Covid lockdown really gave her the opportunity to launch her dream cookery school. Like many of us, me included, cooking became some sort of a lifeline and something to keep us busy during lockdown, but for her it was so much more. Jacqueline realised that you didn’t need a big, fancy venue for a cooking school, in fact, all you really needed was excellent produce and an innovative approach. This is where the nomadic cookery school concept came from and how I now found myself sitting round a campfire just staring at the flames for the first time in, well, I can’t even remember when. I said to my friend, I instantly felt a sense of calm.

Following our coffee and introductions, we headed into the fields for our first activity of the day – meditating in a meadow. Jacqueline has studied the science and theory behind understanding the body’s response to stress. Her approach to relaxing the mind and body involved one very simple ingredient, a dark chocolate button. She explained that the button would become a point of focus for the mind, so we laid down on our mats and got comfortable. Speaking softly, and encouraging us to take in nature’s sounds, she guided us through seven breaths in and 11 breaths out, a practice she has tried and tested herself for many years. We were fed our first chocolate button and told to focus our minds purely on it, not bite it, just let it slowly dissolve in our mouths. It worked, with the sun shining gently down on us through the clouds, I felt relaxed for the first time in ages. So much so, that 45 minutes and two more chocolate buttons later, I could have stayed laying there all day without a care in the world.

After meditating, the group went on an hour and a half long foraging walk around the stunning estate. Walking through the woods, along a lake and past probably the most beautiful farm house I have ever seen, we discovered a wide variety of plants, many of which we were to use in the cooking of our lunch. We foraged the seeds of stinging nettles (yes, I did get stung by picking the wrong bit), dandelion leaves, sorrel, fresh mint and a delicious smelling lemon balm plant, which apparently is very good for anxiety. We learnt about yarrow, which there seemed to be in abundance, and how it got its name as the ‘wonder herb’. Yarrow has a long history of medicinal use and is a powerful anti-inflammatory when used in teas or oils.

With our baskets filled with nature’s ingredients, we went back to the campfire to begin cooking our starters. Jacqueline talked us through the process of making flatbread and we were able to add some organic chilli flakes and turmeric to it, along with some of the plants we picked. Using organic flower, good quality oil and three tablespoons of water, my dough soon became the perfect consistency and we were told to knead it for five minutes. We then shaped our dough into circles, before placing it on the open fire, turning it every few minutes. Jacqueline and her colleagues had got stunning plates set up for when our flatbreads were ready, complete with her homemade beetroot hummus.

Whilst our bread was cooking, we turned our attention to the pasture-fed steaks, which were purchased from Jacob Ladder’s Farm. We were guided through the process of how to tenderise the meat, before adding some of the juice from a brisket Jacqueline had put on the fire for us. There was a variety of other herbs and spices to choose from too.

Conversation continued to flow – she was right, you really do make connections over cooking – and we took our seats at the beautifully laid picnic tables supplied by SET Luxury Tableware Hire. Jacqueline had recently foraged some wild garlic and her wild garlic mayonnaise was a divine accompaniment to the already tender, mouth-watering steak, which was also served with balsamic potato skewers with truffle oil and locally made parmesan charred seasonal vegetables and wild green salad.

Even though we were all full, dessert was too much fun to bypass. Fruit kebabs of strawberries and pineapple had been prepared and we were soon flambéing them with brandy over the fire. Served with whipped elderflower cream, salted caramel sauce and ginger biscuit crumb, the pudding was light and tasted heavenly.

The day usually ends with a wild water swim to burn off all the food consumed, but some fish had recently spawned so we had to be respectful of their environment.

We arrived at 11 a.m. and left at 4.30 p.m., and the day whizzed by in a blur of engaging conversations, laughs, and exquisite food. Jayne Duveen from the farm also came to spend some time with us at the end to answer all our questions about their farming approach. We tasted so many different flavours and textures, and I really did learn so much. Jacqueline ran a very slick operation and her staff were absolutely delightful.

I felt relaxed yet energised, informed but not overloaded, and chilled but excited about going to find my own lemon balm plant – it smelt amazing. It’s weird to think I normally would have just walked past it and not appreciate its wonder at all. What Jacqueline and her team is doing is extraordinary and it really was the day that I didn’t know I needed.

The cookery retreat day cost £80 per person and includes all the food and activities. Guests were advised to bring their own water bottle, reusable mug, yoga matt or blanket, and a basket/container for the foraging.

Positively Delicious has a comprehensive schedule of classes and events coming up including two-hour evening classes, a Lamb and Rioja wine and food pairing event, and a sustainable seafood demonstration.

To book onto one of the upcoming events, visit www.positivelydelicious.co.uk

 To purchase organic fed beef and lamb online, visit www.jacobsladderfarms.co.uk

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