While Elderflower cordial is a very popular summer drink, both homemade and commercially produced, it is not the only cordial that can be made at this time of year. We made four in recent weeks.
I’ve eaten nettles many times in dishes such as soup and curry, and drunk them in beer and tea, but Nettle Cordial has been on my to-do list for a long time. For eating you want them young, using just the tips, but the ones I picked last week had gone to seed, and I stripped the leaves from the stems wearing thick gloves. I followed Robin Harford’s recipe on his Eat Weeds web site.
It takes a few days to steep and I was amazed at the flavour, this is straight into my list of favourites.
You can read an earlier blog post on nettles here.
It’s probably too late for this year, but one to make next May. Delicate floral scents are difficult to capture into drinks, so I followed the Wild Flower Syrup recipe in John Wright’s River Cottage Handbook – Hedgerow. I’ve used this for Dandelion Syrup in the past (also very worth trying). You layer sugar and then flowers in a jug and leave overnight. Next day you add water in proportion to the amount of sugar you used (100ml water / 55g sugar) and heat until the sugar dissolves before straining and bottling. Again, very nice.
This is an old favourite, I’ve written about before (here). You expect Toilet Duck but get a lovely citrus flavour.
This was another new cordial to me. I know Pineapple Mayweed, no points for guessing what it smells of! The recipe I found online was:
1 pound pineapple weed heads
1 sliced lemon
2 pounds sugar
5 pints boiling water
Wash Pineapple Mayweed thoroughly…change water a couple of times
Mix everything together in a bucket
Cover with lid or teatowel
Leave for 4 days stiring twice a day
Pour into bottles through muslin
Best diluted 1/3 cordial to 2/3 sparkling water with a few ice cubes.
I did it in a slightly different order, covering the Mayweed in warm water, leaving it to soak, straining it, then adding the sugar / lemon and heatign it to dissolve the sugar.
It wasn’t my own favourite, but soem that tried it thought it was great.
On Saturday we were delighted to host our first Booze Walk. This was a walk to introduce people to some of the common plants that grow at our feet and the amazing concoctions that can be made with them. Yes, there was plenty of sampling and top tips. The walk was lead by Andy Hamilton who is one of THE experts on wild booze. He is the author of the best-selling Booze for Free and Brewing Britain: The Quest for the Perfect Pint, writes for The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph amongst others and frequently appears on TV and Radio talking about foraging and booze.
After the final, “Secret Drink” (I’d have to kill you), a selection of home-made drinks that the guests had brought with them appeared and were passed round for critique including from the expert. These included a Cider, Sloe Gin and a selection of vodkas (Rhubarb and Ginger, Fennel and Damson, Quince and some of my own Japanese Knotweed)!
Thanks to all that attended for being a great group and to Andy for his enthusiasm, humour, knowledge and amazing concoctions.
Thanks to all the lovely folk that joined us on our seashore foraging walk on the spectacular Jurassic Coast in Dorset last Saturday. The sun shone and we found a good range of seashore plants, seaweed and had good luck on the crustacean front. We are back again on 27th May (fully booked), for Coastal Plants on 15th July and seashore again on 23rd September. Thanks to those that sent in some of their photos.
Morels are one type of fungi that I (and lots of others) have struggled to find. They are a spring fungus and prize-eating; only truffles go for a higher price. There fairly picky about where they live and not that common. One fungi expert I know took 20 years to find his first. I’ve read so much about them, the habitats, the trees they are found with, the plants you might find with them and the soils they prefer.
I first saw some about 8 years ago, over 15 years after I started picking any wild mushrooms. A generous soul had found them and had an inkling what they were but wanted a second opinion. They were in the bottom of a hedge, I don’t recall what trees, probably Ash, but definitely on sandy soil. They were rather dry but no doubt, Morels. I returned to that spot the next spring and found … a few St George’s Mushrooms in the very same spot! Subsequent annual pilgrimages to check have all failed too.
The fungi forums and dedicated morel discussion groups (yes, really) have been buzzing for a few weeks, the mild weather bringing their arrival forward by a month or so. In them, people show their finds or tell stories of failures, others plead for help. Each set of photos I saw raised my desire to find them again.
There are two species and two main types of location to look. One likes woodchips. I’ve heard stories of people filling their car boots with these Morels from Tesco car parks, motorway service stations and business parks. Every patch of wood chip I have seen for weeks has been scoured (or scanned as I drive past). But, not a single morel to be seen.
The other species preference is for sandy soils, often over chalk. Usually its scrubby Ash woodland with disturbed soil from rabbits or badgers. Plants include Celandine, Dog’s Mercury, Wild Garlic and Bluebells. They also like golf courses and orchards. I live near chalk, so evening dog walks for a couple of weeks have been scouring likely spots, again without success.
All the failures, rather than making me give up, made me even more determined; this pursuit was turning into an obsession. If the Mrs had a pound for every time I said “woodchip” in recent weeks, she would have been rich!
A weekend away to the Cotswolds got me thinking. Limestone produces alkaline soils, like Chalk does… The first evening’s stroll looked promising, lots of Ash scrub and Wild Garlic.
On the next day’s wander, there was plenty of good looking spots, Bluebells and Wild Garlic both just starting to flower, but no morels. Our walk nearly done, we emerged onto a grassy bank with a few Primroses, “semi-garden” , fringed by a hazel hedge with an Ash tree and an Elm. The grass had recently been mown carefully avoiding the clumps of Primroses. As we stopped near a stile to check the map, I spotted a bit of white on the grass. Close inspection showed it to be a tapering, hollow stem. Could it be….? I wandered around and soon found the mown bases.
More searching and a few broken pieces of several Morels, the honeycomb-like structure of the pieces of “cap” were unmistakable. Further searching found lots more but all had by the darned mower! Curses! so very close, probably only cut a few hours before – drat!
I remembered reading if you find one, mark the spot with a stick and search up and down wind based on the prevailing direction. A bit more scouting and an intact stem, getting better. Spotting a mound of leaf litter nearer the hedge, I gently cleared it to reveal a truly beautiful sight, a very fresh looking, intact Morel about the size of my fist.
More searching found more bits and a few “babies”, each new find having it’s photo taken before picking (leaving a good proportion and the “young”). Thinking that was it, I peered over the stile and exclaimed “Oh my God”, there were about a dozen “lumps of honeycomb” beautifully golden in the bright sunlight.
I should have been better prepared – no mushroom basket, no rucksack that always has a paper bag and mushroom knife, no hat that could be brought into emergency use, just a few of those multi-purpose little black bags us responsible dog owners carry at all times! Designed with one purpose in mind, I’ve used them for carrying home an unexpected wild food bonanza on a good many occasions. Also no decent camera, just my phone. No quick fix to that (and as I now see almost every close up is out of focus – double-drat!).
Being away and already having shopped, lunch was half of the 700 grams, simply fried on toast – delicious. The remainder are heading home, there I’ll be checking out Roger Phillips’ recipe for, my memory says, a dish with chicken, cream and the Morels.
So, is the desire satisfied? Sort of, I now want to find some more!
The name doesn’t shout come and try me, sounding in the same league as a “Tom and Barbara” concoction such as Runner Bean or Parsnip wine, but, trust me, it’s darn good. I’d describe it as a bit like Ginger Beer. I’ve given it to hundreds of people over the years on my Spring Greens foraging courses and it always amazes people how good it is leading to requests of “where do I get the recipe”. If that praise has tickled (as oppose to stung) your fancy (whatever your fancy is), then here is the recipe. I’ve just got some underway and am looking forward to it being ready. I am no homebrew expert – it’s really easy to make, doesn’t require any special equipment, and (most important) is ready to drink in about a week, so give it a go – you will be pleasantly surprised. So get your gloves on, and go and pick yourself some nettles while they are nice and young.
It is taken from Roger Phillips’ excellent book “Wild Food” (every forager should have a copy).
Scale the below proportionately based on how many bottles you have!
100 nettle stalks with leaves
12 litres (2 1/2 gallons) water
1 1/2 kg (3 lb) granulated sugar
50 g (2 oz) cream of tartar
15 g (1/2 oz) yeast (I use dried baking yeast)
Boil the nettles in the water for 15 minutes.
Strain, then add the sugar and cream of tartar and stir until dissolved.
Remove from the heat and leave until tepid, then add the yeast and stir well
Cover and leave for a day
Remove the scum and decant without disturbing the sediment and bottle.
Do use strong bottles as it can get rather excited; you don’t want exploding glass bottles! I use swing top homebrew bottles, but empty, plastic, fizzy drink bottles will do the job too.
Seaweed was on the television last night as part of “Back to the Land with Kate Humble“. This series champions the UK’s most inspirational rural entrepreneurs. In last night’s episode she met a seaweed collector who left an office job in Swindon for a life working on the beach and is now running a successful business selling Welsh seaweed products to a global market.
The company is called The Pembrokeshire Beach Food Company and Jonathan gathers a range of seaweeds on the Pembrokeshire coast continuing a tradition of hundreds of years. There is reproduction of a seaweed drying hut nearby, there were many in this area once . The company uses seaweed in:
* takeaway food sold at his beach café (street food outlet) and many outdoor festivals (e.g. Laver relish on burgers / gingercake with Laver etc.)
* in products – dried flakes, seaweed salts, butter, “kelchup” (yes Kelp Ketchup!) and more – sold globally including to the Japanese (“coals to Newcastle” eat you heart out!)
I visited the café on holiday a few years ago and the Gingerbread was stunning. I did email Jonathan for the recipe, he replied:
That is a top secret recipe, but to help guide you we use extra ginger (i.e. ginger powder and fresh ginger), Welsh Stout and Welshman’s Caviar (his dried Laver product name – apparently a phrase coined by the Welsh actor Richard Burton).
You can watch the episode (if you are in the UK) here – forward to 21:12 (to 28:26).
My only criticism is I disagree with pulling seaweed directly off the rocks, I recommend cutting it.
There are lots of these beautiful Scarlet Elf Cups fungi about at the moment in damp deciduous woods. The contrast of their deep red colour and the dusting of snow last week made me reach for my camera.
Fungi are listed in the books as edible, poisonous or inedible. The latter usually means they are either tough, like trying to eat your shoe, or have no flavour. Some books put these into the inedible camp, but I, and many others, think they are rather good (not too far from a raw Field Mushroom). Some mushrooms, in the same way as Kidney beans, need to be cooked before you can eat them. However, I am unaware of any problems from eating these raw. As with any wild food take a nibble first to make sure you don’t have any adverse reaction. Frying quickly retains the colour – so throw into a stir fry at the last minute. You could serve with white fish to show off their colour or sprinkle on top of nettle soup. They can be added to stews though the colour goes. Raw, the shape lends itself to being stuffed – cooked egg with any of other spring wild foods such as Three Cornered Leek, Wild Garlic flowers, Pennywort, Hairy Bittercress or other herbs. You could also poach them in a reduction made from onion or chicken stock.
2. Radio 4’s “You and Yours” (Friday 23rd September)http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07vjxdc. The relevant part starts at 23 minutes 33 seconds in. It is about the New Forest fungi situation and includes:
Sandy Shaw – A New Forest Keeper
Jonathan Spencer = Head of Planning & Environment, Forest Enterprise (national, not just New Forest)
John Wright – Forager
Below is a transcript of part of the programme:
Shari Vahl: Is this a ban?
Jonathan Spencer: We are not permitting the picking of fungi at any level, so it’s technically a ban but we are only really trying to reign in the over-exploitation of what we see as a common resource.
Shari Vahl: “Technically a ban” – it’s either a ban or its not?
Jonathan Spencer: We have discovered that we have not been able to introduce mechanisms by which restraint can be enforced in any way. By not permitting the collection of fungi at any level, we are then in a position to choose who to pursue under the Theft Act and The Wildlife and Countryside Act and there is no doubt in my mind that we are obliged to do that as part of our responsibilities to look after this wonderful, ancient, biologically rich forest.
A far more truthful view of the situation than the smoke and mirrors peddled by other newspapers. Sadly you need a subscription to read it all (though you can sign up for a free limited access version).
A key phrase “A commission spokesman later admitted to The Times that it was not against the law to pick for personal consumption.”
You have 3 categories of fungi picker:
1. Organised educational forays – run with permission from the Forestry Commission – like mine – http://www.hedgerow-harvest.com/. Strict guidelines apply e.g. 1.5 kg total for the foray (NOT per person).
2. Commercial pickers – has been and is illegal under The Theft Act 1968 (without landowner consent).
3. Foragers picking for personal consumption – a common law right.
The Forestry Commission “ban” is an “appeal” (their word on posters, leaflets, web page) not to pick. They are trying to stop / scare the commercial pickers but the “easiest / most cost effective” way of doing this is an outright ban. THIS BAN HAS NO STANDING IN LAW FOR PERSONAL CONSUMPTION.
Are there commercial pickers? Yes.
Are there many? No.
How do you know? I have access to the data of 150 “incidents” of fungi related activity in The New Forest for the period 08/10/15 – 06/11/15. When you take out the duplicates, the ones not in The New Forest (yes!), parked cars (but no evidence of fungi picking) and 2 groups of youths picking “Magic Mushrooms”, that leaves:
127 “incidents”, of which per person they had the below weights of mushrooms:
Weight not specified (e.g. “1 XXX reported to NF Keeper by MOP. Not spoken to”, “Their bag was checked and they were spoken to about the code..”) – 53 (42%)
No mushrooms 19 (15%)
<= 1.5 kg (the advisory limit under the old New Forest Fungi Pickers Code) 43 (34%)
>1.5 kg 12 (9%)
So 12 incidents with over the then advisory limit of 1.5 kilos.
If you look at these 12 incidents:
1.5 – 2 kg – 3 incidents
2 – 2.5 kg – 2 incidents
4 – 6 kg – 2 incidents
> 1.5 kg – exact amount not specified – 3 incidents
“A basket” – 1 incident
So, allowing for picker error (say 2.5 kilos) in only a handful of incidents did the amount of fungi per person exceed the 1.5 kg limit for personal consumption.
Extract from a letter from The Forestry Commission re The New Forest Fungi “ban”:
I’d like to reassure you that we are not seeking to prosecute individuals that are picking for themselves – it is not illegal. … Our main aim is to tackle commercial collection of fungi, which has always been prohibited – it is an offence under the Theft Act 1968 to do so without the permission of the landowner. .. also, in the case of persistent offenders, tools such as the Stop Notice may be issued.
Clearly not. Their “campaign” has been completely misleading. It eventually transpired there are no new laws or bylaws. It has cost me and many others, a lot of time and money (reduced bookings etc.) and the local economy has lost out too. I cancelled hall bookings, B&Bs, didn’t eat in local pubs, similarly I have had less guests doing the same. If only the Forestry Commission had met foragers after last season (rather than at the opening of this), to discuss this like adults:
This is what we perceive to be an issue and this is the evidence we have. Working together as conservationists and foragers (a big overlap as most foragers are actually conservationists caring passionately about the natural world) how can we all work together to address the perceived issue?
What we have we actually had is “smoke and mirrors”, opinions not evidence. The public have been stirred up by the media’s pretty much one-sided, repetition of the same old guff, with the hint of racism thrown in. There have been cases of verbal abuse of people legally photographing fungi and legally picking fungi. As far as Joe Public are concerned there is a ban as they read it in the paper whatever the actual situation. All completely unnecessary. I saw a quote from a Washington University study the other day, my what a different world to what we have here (most unlike me to praise anything American!):
“Mushrooms are a wonderful way to engage the public with its natural resources and the environment. It could be an opportunity for the National Park Service to encourage a different demographic of visitors to value, understand and engage with the natural world.”
A long time ago, I fell into the “it’s a big purple mushroom, it must be a blewit” trap. Fortunately, I was with someone older and wiser who pointed out the error of my ways. At the weekend I spotted a handsome example of the same imposter and thought I would take some close-up photos to share the with you.
The first photo shows several lovely Wood Blewitts. These are a very good edible mushroom found in the later Autumn and early Winter. They must be cooked (like Kidney bean…s). The Wood Blewitt, is not just found in woods and woodland remnants (aka hedges). Some of my best sites for them are nice, unimproved grasslands. A spore print is a very helpful step in deducing the ID of most fungi. That of the Wood Blewitt shows pink spores. It also has a very distinctive smell, sweet, aromatic, almost perfume-like.
The following photos show an imposter – definitely a Cortinarius, and probably Cortinarius purpurascens. While it is not poisonous, there are other members of the same family that are, SOME ARE DEADLY, so a useful lesson. All Cortainarius species, at least when young, have a Cortina. As well as a 1970s car made by Ford, this is a veil, a web of fine threads linking the stem to the margin of the cap. On older specimens you may see some remnants of the Cortina. They also all have a brown spore print and you may see brown “dust” on some of the stem, fibres or the edge of the cap. These are illustrated in the photos.
The New Forest in Hampshire is a wonderful place for fungi with over 2700 species found, both the rare and very good numbers of the common species. It has been a popular destination for those who like to study and / or pick edible fungi for many years, but the growth of interest in foraging has been perceived by some to be detrimental to the Forest.
There has been a bit of rumbling over the years coming to a head with statements in July 2015 by Sarah Cadbury of The Hampshire Fungus Recording Group to The New Forest Verderers – (Daily Mail, Guardian). One of the “accused”, John Wright responded to The Verderers (copy here).
Over the last year those that teach or forage professionally foragers formed The Association of Foragers and representatives have met with New Forest National Park Authority, Forestry Commission and Natural England. Members also attended “Future of Foraging” workshops around the country with Natural England under “The Foraging Partnership” banner. These workshops all seemed pretty positive with foraging seen as a way of getting people to engage with nature, but it needed to be done in a responsible manner.
Last week, those with permits to lead educational forays in The New Forest received a letter from The Forestry Commission. With immediate effect they have introduced a “no-picking” code for the New Forest SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest). This covers most of The New Forest – open forest, heathland, timber inclosures etc. The related web page and Q&A go into more detail of their justification.
“Due to the growing concern from conservationists and very real fears from members of the community in the New Forest about the wide-scale harvesting of fungi, Forestry Commission feels it necessary to adopt a precautionary approach and can no longer support fungi picking on any scale on the New Forest Crown Lands (Site of Special Scientific Interest).”
They continue to clamp down on any illegal commercial mushroom picking and I support this action, though dispute how much actually happens.
New Forest Fungi Picking Ban “unscientific” say fungi experts
New Forest, Hampshire, September 1st 2016
Leading foraging educators claim New Forest fungi picking ban is will undermine future fungi growth
A campaign by the Forestry Commission in England to ban the picking of all fungi in the New Forest has been heavily criticised by fungi experts and foraging educators.
The Association of Foragers, which represents the collective knowledge and experience of nearly one hundred writers, teachers and researchers, say the ban has no grounding in scientific evidence, and is more likely to undermine fungi populations in the long term. “There are at least 2,700 species of fungi in the New Forest. Only a dozen are routinely collected as food - none of which are rare”, said John Wright, author of the bestselling River Cottage Mushroom Guide, and member of The Association of Foragers. “More fungi are kicked over and trampled by the uneducated than are picked for the pot. Foraging provides an important point of human connection with these otherwise mysterious organisms”, said Mr Wright.
Mark Williams, a member of The Association of Foragers who has taught about fungi in Scotland for 25 years, said: “The Forestry Commission has presented no scientific evidence to show why this ban is necessary. That’s because there simply isn’t any”.
“A 25 year study of the effects of picking mushrooms revealed no correlation whatsoever between picking and future growth, in the same way as picking a bramble does not impact the parent plant - in the case of mushrooms an invisible underground network called mycelium. The picking and movement of mushrooms is actually more likely to help spread fungi spores and expand populations”, said Mr Williams.
The Forestry Commission also cites “fungi-dependent invertebrates” as reason for the ban. Research herbalist Monica Wilde of The AoF says: “People don’t pick the mushrooms that are appealing to maggots! The most widely eaten species - chanterelles and hedgehog mushrooms - are almost entirely resistant to insects.”
The FC also cites anecdotal evidence of “teams of commercial fungi pickers”. “This is a mantra that has been so often repeated, mostly by the tabloid press, that it has entered the public consciousness”, says Mr Williams. “With collectively 1000’s of days spent teaching and recording in the New Forest, not one member of the AoF has ever seen any evidence of this - not even a photograph. 99% of mushrooms rot where they grow.”
The AoF is calling for the FC to rethink the ban. “It is unscientific, unenforceable, and will serve only to further disconnect people from the world of fungi. We urge the FC to use the collective knowledge of the AoF to help formulate evidence-based policy to support future populations of fungi”.
The foraging forums / social media have been buzzing, among the comments that caught my eye:
The New Forest has at least 2,700 species of fungi. Only a dozen are routinely collected for food.
Absurdly about 50% of the New Forest SSSI woodland is spruce and pine plantation. Yet mushroom picking still not allowed.
I now won’t be able to take my 5-year-old daughter out picking within the New Forest. She’s been out with me since she was 1-year-old and already has a basket and some favourite spots.
There is no evidence that picking damages the crop (long-term scientific studies elsewhere have shown this); its a sustainable harvest and European experience proves it. Foraging is healthy, harmless fun and should be encouraged, not banned.