Food is one of the most important things during a cycle journey. We usually have four 'meals':
1. Breakfast: Muesli with an apple in it and milk (made with milk powder and water)
2. Lunch No. 1 (after two hours of cycling): Bread with something on it (butter, peanut butter, jam, lemon curd or cheese)
3. Lunch No. 2 (after four hours of cycling): Bread with something on it (butter, peanut butter, jam, lemon curd or cheese)
4. Dinner: Pasta with vegetables
Lots of people who go on cycling holidays go out to have dinner in a local pub or restaurant. Which is fine when you have enough money but we don't do that. We don't want to spend our money only on food and we really love to cook on our cooker or on a campfire somewhere in the forest. It's also a lot of fun to think of creative solutions to find food. About a year ago Peter and Geert (a friend) were cycling through France and they discovered that the bakeries keep the old bread. If you want to have an 'old' (they call it old already when it's only half a day old) baguette ask for pain rassis. Very often it's still really good and not hard at all, and it's for free.
What this post really is about is a little book we found already in May. It's called "Food for Free" and it's a guide to over 100 edible plants, berries, mushrooms, seaweed and shellfish. If you travel by bike like we do it's normal that you feel closer to nature than when you live in a house. We are with all the animals and plants all day long when we are on the bike and we always wild camp. We can hear animals by night and sometimes we even meet them close to our tent. (Lot's of people think it's not possible to wild camp in Europe, it's not permitted, that's for sure, but it's always possible to find a nice quiet place near a river or lake or in a forest. If you don't dare to wild camp without permission just ask a farmer if you can pitch your tent on his land.)
Already after a few weeks on the bike a natural reaction started, we cared more about the animals, it hurt when we saw dead animals and we started seeing all different kinds of plants. (Peter actually had this experience already years ago, when he started his trip to Australia.) When you are outside in nature only for a few hours in the weekend than it all seems green but you don't really see the plants. Lots of plants seem the same but if you have a close look they are slightly different: leaves, flowers and stem are different components and can vary. A plant can have the same flowers and leaves, but the stem can be different.
An example: We found a mushroom which really looked like a mushroom out of our book. The parasol mushroom (see picture below). But after a closer look we found out that it has a smooth stem and that it was a shaggy parasol mushroom and not a parasol mushroom. The flesh of the shaggy parasol reddens on cutting while the parasol mushroom's flesh stays white. They are both edible and we finally found and ate both of them. Their taste is really different, the shaggy parasol tastes slightly sweet.
Like this we were cycling around with our book finding, tasting and enjoying new edible plants at least every week. We saw thousands of raspberry plants and we hardly ever saw anybody picking their fruits. People sometimes asked us what kind of fruits we were picking and if they were edible. They didn't know that this were raspberries, they only know them in a plastic box from the supermarket.
"It is easy to forget, as one stands before the modern supermarket shelf, that every single one of the world's vegetable foods was once a wild plant. What we buy and eat today is nothing more special than the results of generations of plant-breeding experiments. Most of these were directed towards improving size and cropping ability. Some were concerned with flavour and texture - but these are fickle qualities, dependent for their popularity as much on fashion as on any inherent virtue. Lately there have been more ominous moves towards improving colour and shape." (Richard Mabey, "Food for Free")
Some people think it's not a good idea to pick wild food because then more and more people will start doing it and no plants will be left in the end. Perhaps this is true but being busy with harvesting wild food brings people closer to their food and nature, which is really important.
The nice thing is also that we have been in the UK and Ireland in three different seasons: spring, summer and autumn. We saw plants changing: in spring we saw wild roses everywhere, in autumn the roses were gone and we saw their rose hips. Nature changes and we hardly never notice this in our normal daily life's. In the meanwhile it is so beautiful and we can learn from it.
"Each moment of the year has its own beauty ... a picture which was never before and shall never be seen again." (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Isn't that what nature is teaching us and what life is about? Change? If we would never get attached to anything, no person, no object, no idea, not even the image of ourselves but if we would enjoy every moment with the thought in our mind that everything changes, would we be able to be happy all the time?
And what if we would look at people around us also with this thought in our head? The person we marry is not every day the same. It's every day, every moment a new person, a different person. Shouldn't we give ourselves and the people around us the chance to see them with a new eye every time we meet them? Without any prejudice?
Don't try to find those plants only with those pictures. If you are interested in harvesting wild plants get a goof book about it from the library or buy one.