Teaching kids about eating a non-processed local-food diet is a hot topic. Here in the Park, we’ve got hands-on opportunities to show children the connection between the land and what we eat, be it through foraging, fishing or frying up an outdoor feast.
In this area our natural larder is visible all around us. Simply seeing handsome Highland, Angus or Charolais cattle out grazing can be the start of a great food conversation with children. Then there are the lambs, and strutting pheasants that stride carelessly across our country roads, as well as skittish deer that can be spotted out on the hills. They all end up on our plates. Local lochs abound with brilliant fresh produce, from the renowned oysters at Loch Fyne, to rainbow trout in the Lake of Menteith, and seafood around the coast. You’ll find all these ingredients on the menus of our local restaurants. And that’s not to mention berries galore, some of which you can pick yourself. Try Briarlands for strawberry picking, complete with a mega play area and cafe, or the more traditional Boghall Farm near Thornhill. Or simply stomp up a hill in blaeberry or bramble season and eat as you walk. Kids love this idea of having food on the doorstep, and relish the hands-on nature of finding their own food.
Local Scottish chef Nick Nairn says, ‘If you rely on someone else to process your food you don’t know what they’ve put in it.’ A simple statement, but one worth remembering. Teaching our children to cook and prepare and even grow and gather their food is fun and a great way to make them understand that produce doesn’t just come from the supermarket.
One way of doing this is to take them fishing. Kids are welcome at the Lake of Menteith Fisheries. Manager Quint Glenn, says, ‘We have a dedicated youth fly-fishing coach, Alisdair Mair, and visitors can book a lesson with him.’ Alisdair also runs a successful youth anglers club on the Lake called the Cormorants. And with a bit of warning visitors can join a Tuesday night youth session during the spring-autumn season. Alisdair says, ‘We’ve introduced many young people to the joys of fly fishing and the outdoor environment here on one of Scotland’s most beautiful trout fisheries.’
Quint is a dad of two himself and keen to encourage children to get on board – literally. ‘Kids can go in the boat with a parent,’ he says. ‘And if they can reasonably cast a line (from about aged 8) they can fish.’ He continues, ‘We also have some very wee lifejackets so that little ones can just sit in with mum or dad fishing, too, enjoying the boat and the water. It’s a great way to start.’ And of course the beauty is, you can take home your catch to pop under the grill or on the barbecue with a slice of lemon and a few herbs for tea.
For a land-based child-friendly food experience, head for Intrepid:Scotland (www.intrepidscotland.com) a company that likes to get up close and personal with the great outdoors. Whether it’s bare-foot walking, navigating by the stars or bush tucker you’re after, Tim Messer’s your man. He’s a professional ranger here in the Park and runs Intrepid:Scotland. Based in Aberfoyle (though he will travel), Tim and a gang of other specialists organise nature-inspired experiences around the Park. Totally family friendly, they’ll tailor make an outdoor activity for your group, whatever the ages.
Tim’s got lots of foodie-gathering and preparing ideas. He says, ‘We do everything outdoors. With younger children on our bush craft sessions, we’ll start by whittling sticks, then make a totally simple dough with flour and water – mixing it all up into a dough in a bag – wrap it around the stick and cook it on the fire. It’s the simplest form of creating something to eat from scratch. Kids love it. They can’t believe it’s that easy to make a basic unleavened bread.’ He says, ‘We’ll also teach them how to make the fire, from choosing the right kindling, to whittling and feathering sticks, to safely striking a match – or using a flint, or even rubbing sticks together for older ones.’
‘We can show them how to make a shelter, too,’ says Tim. ‘Everyone loves making a shelter! And how to create a simple pot-hanger out of bits of wood to support a pan over the fire. Then you can boil water. My daughter’s become a dab hand at making pine-needle tea, and we make a mean nettle soup on our sessions too. The possibilities are endless.’
He continues, ‘We can do all kinds of foraging. I’ve got contacts who work with Intrepid, depending on what you’re looking for: mushrooms, meat, herbs. We’re doing a session with a children’s group next week, aged 10 and over, where we’ll be skinning rabbits. Proper bush tucker!’
What Tim and Intrepid:Scotland are all about is connecting people – families, children, everyone – with nature. And food’s a big part of that. Tim talks about taking a group out to forage for a wide variety of ingredients that they will then prepare into a meal. ‘There’s all sorts of great wild food out there,’ says Tim. ‘As it’ll be late summer, we’ll get a lot of berries, plus thistle roots, beech nuts, wild poppy seeds, heather, sweet chestnuts – all sorts.’ And if the glint in his eye is anything to go by, it’s not just the kids who love it.