In summer there are many, and varied, delights to be found in and alongside the rivers of England.

I couldn’t help thinking about all the centuries of history that came before us as we cruised up and down the Lee Navigation and then up the River Thames. That it is likely that dugout canoes from the Bronze Age and Saxon barges once plied the River Lea and that Viking raiders slipped up the river in their longboats to pillage villages.

The Thames has been described as ‘liquid history’. There is evidence of human habitation on the banks of the Thames dating back to Neolithic times.  Bronze Age settlements and artefacts have been discovered along the banks of the river, while the Romans recognised the river’s strategic and economic importance.

These rivers carried armies and freight as well as being a source of food and water.

As delightful as it was to contemplate the centuries, no, millennia, that preceded Narrowboat Patience on these venerable waterways, my interest was less in marshaling my army of one up and down the river to capture a village and more in the food I might find along the way.

I came upon supermarkets galore and pubs aplenty but the truth is, I was really in search of  something just a bit more thrilling.

I’ve had  fun in the past collecting berries on the banks of the River Nene and making a delicious jelly, but it was too early in the year for berries. I wondered if we might find fields of wild garlic as we have also done in the past, but I remembered that that was in April, and this was June.

Then one day while while impatiently waiting for a lock to fill, I admired the profusion of wild flowers on the bank. There were starry elderflowers, bright yellow dandelions, creamy nettle buds and droopy purple comfrey flowers. DSCF0969 I wondered whether to pick some nettle leaves to make tea but I had no gloves and didn’t feel like risking the mean sting of the innocuous-looking serrated leaves. I thought about the medicinal value of comfrey, aka knit-bone, and remembered drinking comfrey tea with my sister, Penny, when she broke her neck.

I know you can eat dandelions but I have never done so and as much as I looked at them and admired their sunny beauty, I wasn’t entirely sure about turning them into a meal. I knew of course one could make elderflower cordial so I thought that might be an idea. And I had in the past made borage fritters. Was borage not some sort of relative of comfrey? Could I make comfrey fritters?

The lock filled, I opened the gates, Richard expertly piloted the boat in. I closed the gates and opened the paddles so that the lock would empty and abandoning my army of one in the lock, I made a mad dash back to the elder and comfrey plants and quickly gathered leaves and flowers.

Supper was sorted. A botanical fritto misto.

IMG_6105After a quick goole search I consulted Neil Cooks Grigson for his Comfrey Leaf Fritters and Nigel Slater for his elderflower fritter recipe. I used the Nigel Slater batter recipe pretty much as it was but added a teaspoon of my friend togarashi to the mix. And to serve I drizzled the fritters with a syrup made of elderflower cordial seasoned with togarashi. A delicious sweet and spicy supper which was enjoyed by my army of one — and me, of course.

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