“Most people think we are some TV creation, like a boy band” says Hungry Boy, Tim Cresswell, addressing a literary crowd at the Wells Book Festival last month. “Actually, we’re just three friends who were looking for a summer adventure.”
Despite myself, I am tempted to believe them. The very likeable Tim, Thom and Trevor do appear to be just that – three good mates who liked to fish, forage and have a lot of fun together until one day they decided to email Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall to see if he’d lend them a camera to film their antics. “We figured we’d given him enough money over the years (buying the box sets of his series), now it was time for him to pay us back!”
The email outlining their plans appealed to Hugh and his TV production company. In the end, they didn’t just give the boys a camera, they gave them their own Channel Four series which featured the friends attempts to live off the land in a five week trip across Scotland in a campervan. The show, The Three Hungry Boys, was such a success that it led to a second road trip around the West Country in an old milk float and a third, which will be filmed shortly in a vehicle and location yet to be revealed.
Having to learn how to survive without any supplies or money, the boys quickly settled into clear roles. Thom was the hunter, having learnt how to shoot on his grandparents farm as a child. Trevor, raised by a dietician Mum who made him “eat carob and bread that was denser than bricks” became the cook. And Tim, a school teacher from Plymouth, did the blagging. “If we needed to convince someone to help us out, that was my job” he jokes.
The boys lasted the five weeks on a combination of hunting, foraging and trading food they’d caught for essentials they couldn’t. Like the time they managed to convince a local fish and chip shop to take some Pollock fillets they’d caught in return for a block of beef fat that was then used to cook everything they ate. “It’s amazing how good any food tastes when its cooked in beef fat,” jokes Trevor.
As the journey went on and their hunger grew, the boys decided to introduce a bit of urban foraging to their repertoire. They would lie in wait for the supermarkets to close and the staff to throw any food that was about to go over its use-by date into the bins outside. As soon as the coast was clear, they would drive the van alongside and dive into skips to retrieve the goods.
To illustrate the scale of the waste involved, the boys empty a couple of bags of food they retrieved from a supermarket skip in Plymouth onto a trestle table. It is shocking to see the amount of perfectly good food that is just thrown away – dozens of pots of yoghurt, pre-packaged vegetables, chicken breasts, “In a few generations, I’m sure people will look back at the way we produced food that we wrapped in plastic only to then throw out and think we were mad,” says Trevor.
All three of the boys are keen to get people involved in more sustainable ways of feeding themselves. Catching up with them after the talk, Tim tells me how frustrating he finds the eating habits of his teenage students. “They arrive at school with a two litre bottle of Dr. Pepper and a bag of Haribo’s at eight thirty in the morning. They all have this illusion that eating a McDonalds is cheaper than eating fresh food but in terms of price, you could go to Waitrose and buy free-range ingredients and cook a ridiculously lavish meal for the same price as a family meal at McDonalds.”
Trevor agrees. “You have to be careful not to sound preachy but it comes down to knowledge and being able to cook properly. For five pounds I could feed all three of us for two meals yet five pounds would only buy you a kebab on the high street and that would be so big you’d end up putting half of it in the bin.”
Thom, who now works for River Cottage taking people on hunting and fishing trips, wants to see people learning to forage again. “There’s always one stand-out recipe for each season. Now it’s sloe gin, which is easily made. In summer, elderflower cordial is super easy and really satisfying. In spring, wild garlic makes a fantastic pesto and winter is hunting season so you have to try pheasant or pigeon, even if it’s just from your local butcher.”
When asked for their advice for beginners? “Do one thing; eat local, buy from a butcher or just get out and pick some mushrooms,” they all agree. Thom reels off a delicious sounding mushroom tart recipe that is particularly good made from girolles – a type of wild mushroom currently growing in the fields around us. “You just have to give it a go,” he says. I resolve that I will go home and do just that.
Thom’s girolle tart
Use either shop bought pastry or make your own. Pan-fry enough mushrooms to fill the pastry case and layer them over the bottom. Make a custard using one whole egg, one egg yolk, 100mls of milk and 100mls of cream. Pour on top and put into a hot oven for 20 – 35 minutes depending on the size of the case.
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