Forraging for Food with James Burton
Monday, December 03rd, 2007
We spent an action-packed day with professional chef, mean shot and founder of Vallum Cooking, James Burton. Based on a Northumbrian smallholding on Hadrian’s Wall (‘vallum’ refers to the deep ditch that runs alongside the wall), James is passionate about seasonal and locally-sourced food and, with his own rare breed Middle White pigs, the shooting on his family’s and neighbouring land, and the Northumbrian fields and hedgerows to rummage in, a large amount of his ingredients are found quite literally on his doorstep.
We had an early start as we ventured out on the first seriously frosty morning of the trip and went in search of some roe deer. The ground was steep and wooded, which meant that we were shooting off a stick, tiptoeing around and listening very hard for the faintest sound of rustling. In such covered ground, it’s all about the element of surprise and as James put it, “sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose”; unfortunately, this time we lost, as the two roe deer we spotted had spotted us first and, whilst we tried to give chase, from then on they were always a step ahead of us.
Walking back to the car, James was continually looking to the floor and pointing out different green leaves, such as wood sorrel and sweet woodruff, which we had never even noticed before but he might use in his dishes. Further cementing his outdoorsy/action man status, on the way back to his house for a breakfast of homemade black pudding and eggs from his chickens, he stopped to help pull a local lady’s car out of a ditch after she had spun it on ice!
The rest of the morning was spent pottering about with shotguns to see what else we could find, while James talked enthusiastically about his three loves: cooking, shooting and nature. Take a look in his office, and you will see a whole wall dedicated to books old and new on the subject – think Archie Coats ‘Amateur Keeper’ alongside Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘River Cottage Cookbook’. You can’t help but admire a man who has so successfully woven his passions and made it into his job!
Total bag: 3 pheasants, one rabbit.
Early evening was spent huddled in hides at the edge of his pond adjusting our eyes to the darkness and listening for the sound of duck wings, before adding to his stash of ingredients.
Total bag: 5 (or possibly 6!).
To end a perfect day, we then retreated from the cold to his house where he cooked some of his home-reared pork and taught us how to make good apple sauce: delicious!
Get in touch with James to find out more about his bespoke dinner parties, lodge catering services and ‘heat and eat’ ready meals.