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When musician and BBC Broadcaster, Cerys Matthews arrived for her Gourmet Alpine Walking holiday with rock climbing, I presented her with our argousier juice welcome gift, as we give all our clients, and launched into my explanation of what it was and where it came from. To my surprise, as most people have never heard of it, Cerys already knew everything about it!
This launched a conversation about wild foods and foraging and I discovered she was about to launch her book, "Where the Wild Cooks Go"
Her passion for all things natural and enthusiasm for local recipes, wild ingredients and cooking and her appreciation for everything we have in the Alps that we actually pretty much take for granted was hugely inspirational and got me thinking... the Alps is a perfect location for a wild food foraging trip where people can touch, taste, smell and learn about all the goodies nature has to offer. It's perfect because it is actually not that far removed from the 'good life' generation - even though the good life was actually a pretty harsh life!!
Cerys also gave us a big thumbs up for the trip,
"I thoroughly enjoyed our holiday with Undiscovered Mountains and love the concept of a wild food foraging trip in the Alps. It is a perfect location: You are surrounded by blueberries, juniper, wild raspberries, sea buckthorn, medicinal plants..." Cerys Matthews
Not that long ago, in the remote Alpine valleys, having a car and access to shops and modern comforts was a luxury, most people couldn't afford. Even Bernard, my husband and our head guide, who grew up in a small Alpine farming village, still talks about going to school and once feeling very privileged for having an orange for his break time snack and sharing the peel out amongst his friends to taste! Oranges do not grow in the Alps so an orange was a very rare treat!
Living off the land was what people did and the better you knew the variety of plants, herbs, berries, fruits and mushrooms available locally, the richer your culinary experience and nutrition was.
As has happened in most modern societies, increased access to supermarkets and modern conveniences have slowly eroded this knowledge away, but the Alpine folk are proud people and the wilderness is still very much on their doorstep. Their connection with nature and the knowledge and experience accumulated over many generations is still very much in evidence in local cuisine and traditional dishes in the Alps.
Wild spinach, yarrow, wild garlic, dandelions, nettles and many more locally abundant plants are collected to make salads, gratins, soups and side dishes. Spring and summer flowers like larch, elderflower and genepi, and autumn berries, nuts and fruits like argousier (sea buckthorn), walnuts, elderberries, roseships and blueberries and of course hundreds of different types of mushrooms are picked, dried, conserved and transformed into a myriad of goodies from alcoholic digestifs to breakfast jams.
Locally there are a few companies managing to commercialise some of this knowledge into local products that you can buy. One example is GAYRAL who produce argousier juice amongst other products. Argousier berries (also known as sea buckthorn) are renowned for their high vitamin C content and have been used for centuries as an energy tonic and for cold and flu prevention. They grow in abundance locally thanks to the high sun exposure of the region. GAYRAL produce the juice using locally picked wild berries and traditional pasturisation techniques. At Undiscovered Mountains, we believe in helping the conservation of this precious know-how and have given argousier juice to our clients as a welcome gift for over 15 years.
There are also local chefs like Stephan Bertrand Pellison, who contributed to the book Cuillette Sauvage (Wild Food Foraging) and uses wild ingredients in his restaurant and commercially available ice creams, jams and confitures.
Cerys stayed in a couple of different accommodations, whilst she was here and got on really well with Meg from our luxury farmhouse guesthouse. Meg's cooking is sensational and they had many a discussion about herbs and spices!
Cerys spent time walking with her family with our guides and also did her first ever multi pitch climb with Bernard, whilst she was in the Alps. Cerys admitted afterwards that she took up climbing as she has a fear of heights. To attempt a multi pitch climb with a fear of heights is pretty mad really and a true challenge!
Her determination to confront her fears, her passion for nature and eagerness to learn, chat and share were hugely refreshing and inspirational and the click that we needed to realise we've got something very unique and special in this part of the Alps and we should also share it!
"Whilst here I tasted examples of wild food cooking, drank the famous 'argousier juice' and tested jams of larch and roseship. I was struck by how the locals are so in touch with their environment and of their knowledge and use of all the goodies that nature provides in a sustainable way - lots of tips and memories to bring home! It's a great opportunity to be able to experience this with a company like Undiscovered Mountains who have strong ethical credentials and work hand in hand with the local people. This is an unforgettable trip for all ages." Cerys Matthews
Everything was already here, the natural Alpine environment rich with goodies, the local culture, the chef specialising in wild foods and the perfect place to stay with Meg at the Luxury Farmhouse Guesthouse - it was just a case of organising a trip and putting all the elements together.
You can now book onto our Wild Food Foraging trip in the Alps and experience the fruits of Cery's Matthews inspiration for yourself. We will be running the trip every year in September after Cerys's Good Life Experience Festival which is all about getting back in touch with what matters in life!
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