Category: Recipes

Meadowsweet – Queen of The Meadows

If you’ve walked anywhere a bit damp recently (June to September) – road verges, ditches, rivers or canals or through damp meadows, you can’t have failed to spot or smell Meadowsweet. The tall (1- 2 m) cream-coloured dense clusters of flowers have an aroma described as sweet almond, hay and honey with a hint of something medical, especially when crushed. In Tudor times, it was used as a strewing herb – thrown on the floor to be walked on and mask unpleasant smells. The original name was “mead wort” as it was used to flavour mead. Numerous herbal uses include treating colds, respiratory problems, acid indigestion, peptic ulcers, arthritis and rheumatism, skin diseases, and diarrhoea. It can also be used in many culinary ways by today’s forager.

Meadowsweet
Meadowsweet

This plant contains the chemicals used to make aspirin – after the old botanical name for Meadowsweet, Spiraea ulmaria. Unlike Aspirin, it does not have the caustic side effects on the stomach lining, however, if you are allergic to Aspirin (or have alicylate or sulphite sensitivity) you should avoid consuming it.

Culinary Uses

Meadowsweet can be used in almost any recipe that uses Elderflower. With that season coming to an end we have a replacement. Pick the flowers on a sunny morning for the maximum flavour and don’t wash them. Just give each head a good shake to remove any insects. The flowers can be dried in paper bags to retain their flavour as well as pollen and natural yeasts. Some recipes use the leaves, others the flowers or either.

Drinks

Puddings

Meadowsweet goes very well with summer fruits like Peaches, Raspberries and Strawberries. If you live in northern parts of Britain, you can add Sweet Cicely to replace some of the sugar.

Meadowsweet and Wild Strawberries
Meadowsweet and Wild Strawberries

 

Meadowsweet Rice Pudding

 

Other

  • Vinegars
  • Jams – the flowers can be added to jams made with summer fruits (Strawberry, Raspberry, Apricots etc.), giving them a subtle almond flavour.
  • Turkish Delight
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Summer Cordials

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.

SummerCordials_640x480px
Undiluted cordials. From left – Pineapple Mayweed, Hawthorn, Nettle. Missing from this photo is Pine Needle Cordial.

Nettle

stinging-nettle-785292_640

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.

Hawthorn

hawthorn-373219_640

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.

Pine Needle
spruce-504637_640

This is an old favourite, I’ve written about before (here). You expect Toilet Duck but get a lovely citrus flavour.

Pineapple Mayweed

matricaria-discoidea-846635_640

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
  1. Wash Pineapple Mayweed thoroughly…change water a couple of times
  2. Mix everything together in a bucket
  3. Cover with lid or teatowel
  4. Leave for 4 days stiring twice a day
  5. 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.

 

 

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Nettle Beer

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.

Stinging Nettles
Stinging Nettles

It is taken from Roger Phillips’ excellent book “Wild Food” (every forager should have a copy).

Ingredients

Scale the below proportionately based on how many bottles you have!

Nettle Beer Ingredients
Nettle Beer Ingredients
  • 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)

Method

  1. Boil the nettles in the water for 15 minutes.
  2. Strain, then add the sugar and cream of tartar and stir until dissolved.
  3. Remove from the heat and leave until tepid, then add the yeast and stir well
  4. Cover and leave for a day
  5. 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.

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Mackerel Time – Get Smoking!

The annual return of the Mackerel into the coastal waters is not really a miracle but for many a reason to rejoice. I’m no fisherman but do enjoy spending a warm evening trying to catch a mackerel or three. Along with many others I join the annual festival of “feather chuckers” down on Chesil Beach. We line the shore casting out as far as we can, trying to wish the mackerel to go for our “feathers”, hoping for a full-house (one fish on each of 3, 4, or 6 hooks!). Some do use real feathers, but more often its bits of white plastic or shiny silver tinsel. The Mackerel think they are young fish and, we hope, get hooked.

Mackerel caught on a Dorset beach
Mackerel caught on a Dorset beach

There’s no denying mackerel are fantastic eating. There are so many ways to cook them. Simple can be best; pan-fried they are superb. At the right time of the year the forager can serve them with sauce made from gooseberries – foraged from the woods and hedgerows of course. A French friend did once tell me that the French for gooseberry was “sauce for mackerel”. Sorrel has a much longer season and makes another great sauce to go with your mackerel. In both cases the sharp flavours go so well with this oily fish.

Wild Gooseberries - smaller than their cultivated descendants, they can be pink or white. Some will be sweet enough to eat raw.
Wild Gooseberries – smaller than their cultivated descendants, they can be pink or white. Some will be sweet enough to eat raw.

There’s lots more ways. We like cooking them in foil parcels – stuffed with herbs, such as fennel (foraged again) or sage, with apple and cider, with white wine, or as Chinese parcels with soy sauce, carrot, leeks and ginger. You can even breadcrumb or batter them!

Another way of enjoying them is to hot-smoke them. This is not a preserving technique, like cold-smoking, but a different way of cooking them. Here are a few photos showing the process and kit.

Fillet the mackerel:

Mackerel fillets
Mackerel fillets

Sprinkle lots of salt over them and leave them for about half an hour before rinsing the salt off and drying them with kitchen towel.

Salting mackerel fillets for smoking
Salting the fillets

The smoker can be a metal biscuit tin (if you can still find one!) with holes in the ends, metal skewers through and a wire rack on top. A handful of hardwood sawdust is put in the bottom. Oak, Beech or a fruit (Cherry or Apple) are recommended. The tin won’t last for ever but does the job for a year or two.

Smoking fish with a biscuit tin.
Simple hot-smoking apparatus – a biscuit tin on a camping stove.

If you want something that will last longer, find an old enamel bread bin in a junk shop. Again drill some holes on the ends for your skewers/rods and the rack to sit on.

Enamle Bread Bin Smoker
An old enamel bread bin makes a great smoker (idea taken from The River Cottage Fish Book)

Put the mackerel fillets on the rack, put the lid on very loosely, set your watch and go and do something else for half an hour.

Mackerel fillets in
Mackerel fillets in

All being well, you come back to beautiful looking and amazing tasting smoked mackerel.

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The result – mouth-watering!

The fillets are great as they are, hot or cold. They can also used in dishes such as a risotto or frittata.

Smoked Mackerel Frittata
Smoked Mackerel Frittata with Sea Beet
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Pine Needle Cordial

While you might think any concoction made with pine needles would taste like you might imagine Toilet Duck might, Pine Needle cordial or tea have a light, crisp, refreshing flavour and are well worth making.

Pine needles have been used by Native North Americans for centuries. They were most valued in winter to provide nourishment and keep healthy. Shipwrecked sailors too, have long known that tea made from Pine Needles contain more Vitamin C than oranges and will keep scurvy at bay.

Pine needles
Pine needles – Norway Spruce – an old Christmas tree

Make sure you are not using the needles of the deadly poisonous Yew tree. Also avoid these types of Pine which could potentially be harmful – Ponderosa Pine, Lodgepole Pine, Common Juniper, Monterey Cypress, Norfolk Pine or Australian Pine.

Pine Needle cordial is incredibly simple to make – the recipe can be found here on Andy Hamilton’s web site; it is taken from his excellent book – Booze for Free.

640x480px_Pine Needle Cordial
Pine Needles steeping making cordial.

Tea is even more straightforward. As you might guess, put the needles in a cup, add near boiling water and steep for around 10 minutes, strain.

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Basket of Elderflower

There’s more to Elderflower than Cordial and Champagne!

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Elderflower Cordial and Champagne; I make gallons of them every year, they are THE taste of summer in my opinion. There are however, SO many fantastic things to make to eat and drink with Elderflowers that it is a shame just to stop with these two. Many of the below recipes use cordial, though you can equally infuse the flowers in liquid in a muslin bag. You can, of course, buy Elderflower Cordial if desperate. You won’t be alone, in 2015 we were predicted to buy 46 million litres of it in the UK. That equates to annual sales of more than £25 million, with sales doubling in the previous five years.

Below, we tell you where to look for Elderflower and talk a bit about identification – people do pick the wrong flowers! The main part of this post is about Elderflower recipes.

The Elder tree is steeped in folk lore, history and superstition, probably more so than any other plant. In the past, country people were afraid to cut down an Elder, with the Elder-Mother, a guardian spirit, living in the tree. Today most hedgelayers will ask the tree for permission to cut it down. Many people also believed that if you stood below an Elder at midnight on Midsummer’s Eve you would see the king of the fairies and his entourage.

Almost every part of the plant – roots, bark, leaves, flowers and berries has been used medicinally. Effective skin cleanser and eye lotions can still be made from it.

When to look

The Elder blossoms from late May to the around the end of June. There will, of course, be some variation depending upon the weather and how far north you live.

 

Where to look

The Elder is a fairly common sight; it likes disturbed fertile (nitrogen-rich) soils – often the same places as Nettles so don’t wear your shorts when going to pick it. It grows in many different habitats including roadsides, railway embankments, waste ground, hedgerows, woods and grassland.

 

Identification

The Elder is a tree up to about 3 metres tall with a woody stem. On young branches the bark is light grey and smooth. On older branches it is a brown-grey colour and corky and furrowed. Older branches and trunk may be covered in a yellow-lichen. Leaves are arranged in opposite pairs with five to seven leaflets (smaller leaves). The leaflets are 5–12 cm long and 3–5 cm wide, with a toothed margin. Leaflets are dark green and matt on top with a paler underside. They smell unpleasant when bruised (and were used for insect repellent for people and crops).

 

Elderflower leaves and bark
Elderflower leaves and bark

In late spring and early summer, the trees are adorned by large groups (umbels) of ivory flowers. The flowers have 5 petals and are about 5–6 mm in diameter.

 

Elderflowers
Elderflowers

I have known people confuse the flower heads of Rowan trees with those from Elder (disappointing results!). You might also potentially muddle Elder and Wayfaring tree. Be aware that at this time of year there are quite a few tall plants (no woody stem) that have superficially similar flower heads; these are members of the Carrot family. A year or two ago, on the radio someone admitted trying to make Elderflower drinks with Cow Parsley! Again the result was disappointing. Be very aware that some other Carrot family members are deadly poisonous including Hemlock and Hemlock Water Dropwort. Use a flower-id book if you are unsure.

Picking

Pick on a dry, sunny day for the best flavour and to retain natural yeasts needed for fermenting. Remember not to strip all of the flowers from any one Elder. You want to allow some to grow into berries both for the birds and for you, but that’s another story. Don’t wash the flowers either, just give them a gentle shake to remove any insects. A walking stick will help you pull some heads into reach. You can easily make one from a piece of Hazel. Use it upside down, with six inches of one side branch left on, Don’t bend the Elder branch too much, however, as they are not that flexible and will snap. Have a basket or carrier bag over the other arm to put the Elderflowers in to.

 

Being tall helps picking Elderflower
Being tall helps picking Elderflower

 

Using a stick definitely helps
Using a stick definitely helps. Picker wearing shorts – not advised – spot all the nettles!

Drinks

Elderflower Champagne and Cordial are classics but give the liqueur, wine, cider and herbal tea a go. You can also freeze Elderflowers in ice cubes to cool your favourite tipple!

Champagne (or “Fizz” if you bow to EU “protected designation of origin” rules!). The Champagne is very simple to make and only needs 4 heads of the flowers for a gallon of drink. It is a wonderfully light, sparking drink and is fantastic cool on a warm summer evening. It’s that good that I’ve made it by the case for parties! The fizz does carry a bit of a health warning though – bottles can explode if they are thin glass. I have used flip-top “Grolsh” style bottles for many years without incident. Used plastic fizzy drink bottles can also cope with pressure.

There are dozens of recipes for this out there, but the one I use is from Roger Phillips excellent book – “Wild Food

  • 4 Elderflower heads in full bloom
  • 5 Litres cold water
  • 1 lemon (juice and rind cut into four slices)
  • 650g sugar
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Making Elderflower Champagne
Making Elderflower Champagne
  1. Dissolve the sugar in a little warm water, allow to cool.
  2. Squeeze the juice from the lemon, and cut the rind in 4 pieces.
  3. Put the juice and lemon pieces with the Elderflowers in a large jug or basin.
  4. Add the wine vinegar and pour on the rest of the cold water.
  5. Leave to steep for 4 days.
  6. Strain and bottle. It should be ready in 6 – 10 days.

Cordial – This needs quite a few more heads compared to Champagne and again is the flavour of summer for me. Some recipes call for Citric Acid; others use more citrus fruit / zest. You can buy Citric Acid from homebrew shops (best) or a pharmacy. You may get a quizzical look when you ask; apparently, drug dealers also use it! Make cordial by the gallon and put it in empty (and clean) plastic milk bottles and freeze to enjoy at any time of the year. On those warm summer evenings remember that you don’t just have to dilute it with water, add to wine – especially a sparkling one, like Prosecco or Champagne! Alternatively, freeze the cordial in an ice-cube tray and add to cider or ginger beer.

Making Elderflower Cordial
Making Elderflower Cordial

Again there are dozens of recipes about; I have happily used the River Cottage one for years.

Wine

Liqueur (Vodka or gin) – Make as you would sloe vodka or gin. Here you will find 32 cocktail recipes that use Elderflower liqueur! with more here and here! I like the sound of this one – “serve with cloudy English apple juice & a sprig of mint, or mix with lemonade & freeze for some very grown-up ice lollies”!

Elderflower Cider – Follow a cider recipe but add 8 heads for every 5 litres of apple juice.

Herbal Tea – Good for treating coughs and irritable throats. Use fresh or dried on a sunny windowsill and store in dry, dark, cool place. Enjoy “neat” or add to rose petals, lemon balm, mint or nettle.

 

Puddings

There are so many different Elderflower recipes for puddings. For great big lists of them head for the pages produced by the main cordial manufacturers – Bottle Green and Belvoir Fruit Farms. You can use cordial in most of these or infuse Elderflowers in a muslin bag while heating the liquid / cooking the fruit.

  • Sorbet or granita – a fantastic pud.
  • Ice lollies for kids
  • Panna cotta – While you can make a gelatine version, be a true forager and use Carrageen seaweed you have gathered and dried yourself. The seaweed version will be vegan / vegetarian friendly.
Seaweed and Elderflower Panna Cotta
Seaweed and Elderflower Panna Cotta
  • Fritters – dip flowers in batter, deep fry, drain on kitchen towel, sprinkle with sugar and eat while still warm! For an alcoholic version soak the flowers in a mix of Cinnamon, brandy and sweet Sherry or Madeira for an hour before dipping into the batter. Another version adds chilli!

Elderflower has a strong affinity with Gooseberry, Rhubarb, Raspberries, Strawberries or Pears and the combination works well in some of the below.

  • Fool – a must-do pudding.
Elderflower and Gooseberry Fool
Elderflower and Gooseberry Fool

 

Other

A range of other Elderflower recipes.

  • Elderflower Cream – use in a range of puddings such as Eton Mess.
  • Elderflower Vinegar – use for salad dressings or a refreshing drink (diluted).
  • 600ml white wine vinegar
  • 15 elderflower heads
  1. Shake the flower heads to remove any insects.
  2. Remove the flower heads from the stalks (you want the least amount of stalk possible in left attached to the flower heads).
  3. Pack the flower heads into a clean jar.
  4. Pour the vinegar on top of the flower heads.
  5. Leave for 2-3 weeks in a sunny spot.
  6. Once ready strain the mixture through muslin.
  7. Decant into bottles and store in a dark cupboard.
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Picking Dandelions

Fields of Gold – Dandelion Flower Recipes

Some of our local fields are a picture at the moment with carpets of Dandelions. They are an opportunity not to miss, plentiful and nearby. In your garden you might view them as a troublesome weed. The Victorians, however, cultivated them, with the leaves eaten by the wealthy in sandwiches and salads. I once met a young girl on one of our foraging courses who was in her element grazing on the leaves, preferring them to chocolate or sweets. Foragers will make use of almost every part of the Dandelion – roots (land owner consent required to dig up ANY wild plant), leaves and flowers. In this post we look at some Dandelion flower recipes and uses. Among the uses are:

  • Dandelion Syrup – (recipe below)
  • Dandelion Drizzle Cake – (recipe below)
  • Dandelion Fritters
  • First Flower Champagne
  • Dandelion Bhajis
  • Dandelion Jam / Marmalade
  • Dandelion (Dandy) Brandy
  • Dandelion Wine

Search online for recipes for the other suggestions.

Fields of Gold
Fields of Gold

Clip on Dandelions from the BBC Series Flora Brittanica.

Picking Dandelions

  • Pick on  dry sunny day so the flowers are open and not wet.
  • People with sensitive skin may get contact dermatitis when touching the latex.
  • Your finger tips will go yellow, looking like you have a 40-a -day smoking habit!
  • Remove any stem you pick with the flowers as you go (saves time later!)
  • Pick a few here and a few there as they an early pollen source for bees and other insects.

Dandelion Syrup

The below recipe is taken from John Wright’s excellent River Cottage Handbook No 7 – Hedgerow. You can buy at a great price this here. Pick about a litre of flowers

Layer c. 2cm of flowers, sugar, flowers etc.
Layer c. 2cm of flowers, sugar, flowers etc. in a large jug pressing down each layer (a potato masher does the job!). Note how much sugar you use.

 

24 hours later
Cover and let stand for 24 hours. The moisture and flavour will be drawn into the sugar.

 

Dandelion Drizzle Cake
Tip the contents of the jug into a pan and add 100ml of boiling water for each 55g of sugar.

 

Heat and stir until the sugar has all dissolved then strain into a clean jug.
Heat and stir until the sugar has all dissolved then strain into a clean jug.

 

The finished syrup. Store in sterilised bottles (dishwasher / or hot soapy water) or freeze in old plastic milk bottles. Dilute to taste.
The finished syrup. Store in sterilised bottles (dishwasher / or hot soapy water) or freeze in old plastic milk bottles. Dilute to taste.

 Dandelion Drizzle Cake

A wild twist on the classic lemon drizzle cake combining the lovely flavour of dandelions with orange. Adapted from the lemon drizzle cake recipe in Pam Corbin’s excellent River Cottage Handbook No 8 – Cakes.

Preparation and cooking time – c. 1 hour

Ingredients:
For the cake

  • 175 g self-raising flour, sifted
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 175g caster sugar
  • 175g unsalted butter cut into small pieces and softened
  • Finely grated zest of 2 oranges
  • 3 eggs
  • Petals from approx. 12 dandelions (remove all of the green parts).

For the drizzle

  • Dandelion Syrup
Dandelion Drizzle Cake ingredients
Dandelion Drizzle Cake ingredients (plus syrup)

Equipment:

  • 18cm round or 15 cm square tin, greased and lined with baking parchment, or a 1 litre loaf tin, approx. 20 x 10cm, greased, base and long sides lined with parchment.
  • Skewer
  • Cake cooling rack

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180oC/Gas mark 4.
  2. Sift the flour and baking powder into a mixing bowl.
  3. Add all the other cake ingredients and beat for about 1½ minutes, until you have a smooth think batter.
  4. Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin, levelling out the surface with the back of a spoon.
  5. Bake for 40 – 45 minutes or until the surface is golden brown and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.
  6. Leave in the tin for about 10 minutes before turning out and placing on a wire rack.
  7. Prick the surface of the cake all over with a skewer and carefully drizzle the Dandelion Syrup over the surface, a spoonful at a time, ensuring each addition has soaked in before spooning over the next.
  8. The cake can be cooled fully or is delicious when still slightly warm. Serve with a little Dandelion Syrup infused natural yoghurt on the side.
Dandelion Drizzle Cake
Dandelion Drizzle Cake
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Wild Garlic Pesto and Tomato Pasta Bake

Wild Garlic Pesto and Tomato Pasta Bake

Wild Garlic Pesto is a classic use of the bountiful Wild Garlic leaves in the Spring. I am always on the look out for new uses for it. Here are some new and old ideas:

  • Toss through pasta, gnocci or veg
  • Swirl on top of soups
  • Use on bruschetta or crostini
  • Spread on bread with hummus
  • Stuff or coat chicken or fish – as is or mixed with butter
  • Use as a salad dressing
  • Mix in to mashed potato or potato salad
  • Use as a dip
  • Put on prawns
  • Bake into your favourite bread dough
  • Put on baked potato
  • Try as a sandwich filling
  • Wild garlic cheese scones!
  • Stir into risotto
  • Add a spoonful to egg dishes like an omelette or frittata
Wild Garlic flowers
Wild Garlic flowers

Feeling inspired the other day, I made up my own recipe “Wild Garlic Pesto and Tomato Pasta Bake” – recipe below. Serve with a nice green salad – ideally foraged!

Read more about Wild Garlic – finding, season, id, other uses etc. here.

Wild Garlic Pesto

Pick your favourite recipe from the many online or adapt the below. The below is vegetarian-friendly omitting Parmesan cheese. It is a recipe that you can freely tweak to your own personal tastes. You can freeze the sauce in ice-cube containers, which will then give you a supply of this wonderful pesto throughout the year. Alternatively, it will keep in a jar in the fridge for a couple of months if covered with a layer of oil.

Ingredients:
Serves 4 – 6

  • 50g pinenuts
  • 75g hazelnuts (or all walnuts)
  • 175ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 150g fresh very young tender garlic leaves
  • 2 tbsps lemon juice
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Options / Alternatives:

  • Nuts – cashews, almonds, walnuts or hazelnuts in place of the pinenuts
  • Oil – Olive, Rapeseed or Sunflower
  • Cheese – Parmesan, hard goats cheese or even a strong cheddar
  • If you prefer your pesto a little crunchy you can add the nuts at the end and blend a little more
  • Basil

Method:

  1. Wash and dry the wild garlic leaves.
  2. In a food processor crush the pine nuts and hazelnuts roughly and then decant them into a bowl and set aside.
  3. Puree the wild garlic leaves with a pinch of salt with the olive oil just enough to break up the leaves to a rough texture.
  4. Add the lemon juice and mix.
  5. Pour the wild garlic mixture into the crushed nuts and stir in.
  6. Season to taste.

 

Wild Garlic Pesto
Wild Garlic Pesto

Pesto Pasta Bake

Ingredients:
Serves 4

  • 400g pasta e.g. Penne
  • Pesto
  • 1 – 400g can of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 – 2 cups of cheese (mozzarella or cheddar)
  • 1 onion, chopped

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C Fan/Gas mark 6.
  2. Get some hot water heating up for the pasta.
  3. Heat a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add the oil and gently cook the onion with a pinch of salt for 4-5 minutes or until soft and translucent.
  4. Add the tomatoes, season with a pinch of salt and pepper and turn down the heat. Gently simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile cook the pasta in a pan of salted boiling water according to the packet instructions.
  6. Once cooked, drain and pour into the pan with the tomato mixture.
  7. Add the pesto and some of the cheese and mix well.
  8. Pour this into a medium-sized ovenproof baking dish. Top with the rest of the cheese and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until bubbling and golden.
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Wild Garlic buds and Sea Kale shoots

A bit of a pickle!

To foragers, generally if they think about preserving wild foods, the techniques and foods that come to mind are drying seaweeds and mushrooms, freezing wild fruit and making jams, jellies and drinks.  There are however other techniques that the forager can make use of and they include pickling and fermenting. This post looks at pickling wild food.

Think of pickling and onions or eggs are the obvious things, but as well as garden / allotment / smallholding produce you can pickle all sorts of wild foods as a way of preserving them for consuming throughout the year.

Wild Garlic buds and Sea Kale shoots
Wild Garlic buds and Sea Kale shoots

What to pickle

As often with foraging and cooking, your imagination is the limit. Among the things you can try are:

  • Buds – Wild Garlic, Elder, Dandelion, Alexanders or Ox-Eye Daisy
  • Stems – Reed mace hearts, Rock Samphire, Alexanders, Fennel, saltmarsh plants individually or collectively (Sea Aster, Marsh Samphire, Sea Purslane, Annual Seablite etc.)
  • Flowers –  Magnolia flowers, Scots Pine Flowers, Hawthorn blossom
  • Seeds –  Wild Garlic Seeds, Ash keys
  • Miscellaneous – Burdock roots,  mushrooms (including Chanterelles and Jelly Ears), seaweeds (including Carrageen and Kelp), Walnuts, Limpets, Cockles!

Pickle Recipes

Recipes for making these vary enormously – experiment or find your own favourite. Pickles are straightforward to make. Essentially, they contain the wild food you want to pickle, vinegar, spices, salt and sometimes, sugar.

  • Vinegars – go for any of cider, white wine, red wine, malt or pickling vinegar. Pickling vinegar is usually malt vinegar with the spices already added for convenience. The vinegar should have a minimum acidity level of 5%.
  • Spices – your call but there are some suggested combinations below. Also try any of fennel seeds, mixed herbs, juniper berries, garlic cloves, star anise etc. For an easy life (to avoid having to make decisions!) you can buy pickling spice ready-made!
    • Mild – cinnamon, cloves, mace, whole allspice berries, white peppercorns, bay
    • Medium – cinnamon, cloves, white peppercorns, dried root ginger, mace, whole allspice berries
    • Hot – mustard seeds, dried chillies, chilli flakes, cloves, black peppercorns, whole allspice berries
    • Sweet – sugar (brown for brown malt vinegar, white for white malt or wine vinegar), whole allspice berries, whole cloves, coriander seeds, root ginger, cinnamon stick, blades of mace, lemon rind

Rules
The two basic rules for successful pickling are:

  • Jars and lids should be sterilised (washed in very hot (but not boiling), soapy water, then dried in a cool oven).
  • Your ingredients should be in good condition – fresh.

Pickled Wild Garlic Buds
Ingredients:
 Wild Garlic Buds

Wild Garlic Buds
Wild Garlic Buds

 200 ml vinegar
 ½ tablespoon caster sugar
 1 teaspoon salt
 15 black peppercorns
 ½ teaspoon fennel seeds

Method:
1. Use only stainless steel, enamel, or non-stick pans.
2. Wash and dry the buds (tea towel, salad spinner, kitchen roll etc.)
3. Put the buds into the jar.

Wild garlic buds
Put the buds into jars

4. Put the vinegar, sugar, salt and spices into a saucepan.
5. Heat until the sugar dissolves.
6. Pour over the garlic buds.

Buds with vinegar plus peppercorns, fennel seeds, sugar and salt
Buds with vinegar plus peppercorns, fennel seeds, sugar and salt (the buds float a bit).

7. Ensure that the lids are airtight.
8. Label and date each jar.
9. Store in a cool, dry and preferably dark place.
10. The buds are ready to eat in 2 weeks to a month.
11. If you find the pickle too acidic you can add more sugar or dilute slightly until you are happy.

Pickled Sea Kale Shoots
Ingredients:
Sea Kale shoots

Sea Kale Shoots
Sea Kale Shoots

Vinegar
Salt / sea salt
Black Peppercorns
Sugar

1. Wash the Sea Kale shoots
2. Blanch them by dropping them in a pan of boiling salted water for no more than 30 seconds.
3. Cool immediately in cold water.
4. Drain and dry (tea towel, salad spinner, kitchen roll etc.)
5. Pack Kale into a jar.
6. Cover with vinegar, add a pinch of salt, some peppercorns and teaspoon of sugar.
7. Ensure that the lids are airtight.

Pickled Sea Kale Shoots
Pickled Sea Kale Shoots

8. Label and date each jar.
9. Store in a cool, dry and preferably dark place.

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Japanese Knotweed

Knot a weed? Foraging and Japanese Knotweed

Japanese Knotweed – just the name sends terror through people. Introduced by Victorians as an ornamental plant that could stabilise riverbanks and railway embankments it has managed to find its way into all sorts of corners of our towns and countryside costing the UK economy around £150 million per year in control measures. Successfully eradicating knotweed from the Olympic park in London cost £70 million (getting on for a pound per person living in the UK) and took several years! There are companies whose sole businesses is its removal, councils employ teams or officers to attempt to eradicate it and if it grows in the garden of a house you want a mortgage on, forget it. It is common on sites that are disturbed by human activity – railway lines, old rubbish tips and derelict land, being spread with loads of rubble, soil and rubbish. It also spreads along watercourses and on machinery and vehicle tyres. Growing 3 centimetres per day, it displaces other plants and is and able to break through concrete! This is about as close as to triffids as we get! Watch time-lapse photography of Knotweed growing a metre in three weeks here.

Japanese Knotweed invading bluebells
Japanese Knotweed reducing biodiversity invading bluebells

Why mention it in a foraging blog? Of course you can eat it – but. Yes – a few big buts:

1. It is an offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 to introduce Japanese Knotweed to the countryside. Just a small fragment of root can spread the plant. Handle it responsibly.
2. To control it, sites may be sprayed with herbicides.

Cornwall Japanese Knotweed site and sign
Cornwall Japanese Knotweed site and sign

To avoid falling foul of either of these points:
1. The plant is spread during ground disturbance and fly tipping. However, it is recommended that any waste (stripped leaves etc.) should be boiled / burnt and then binned – not put in your compost!
2. Check for any notices showing it has treated and look for signs of unhealthy (wilting / yellow spots etc.) vegetation.

You should also note it is rich in oxalic acid and if you suffer from gout you should only eat small quantities of it or avoid it.

If you have still want to eat it what are you in for? It is rather like rhubarb – “Rhubarb but nicer” I’ve heard from many I have fed it to; less tart than rhubarb.

If it gets too big it will be stringy and not good eating. Aim to pick it around now. You should be looking for bits that are about 30 cm high or just the last 30 cm of taller bits. Cut them off with a knife. Back in the kitchen, strip any leaves and scrape off the papery tissue that divides the sections of the stem. Tough pieces will need peeling.

Japanese Knotweed
Gather Japanese Knotweed stems when 8 – 12 inches tall.

Among the things you can do with it:

Japanese Knotweed Chutney
Japanese Knotweed Chutney
Japanese Knotweed Vodka
Japanese Knotweed Vodka

There are great collections of recipes here and here including soup crumble, vegetable dishes and wine.

Japanese Knotweed is also rather good for you containing high levels of vitamin A, vitamin C, certain antioxidants, potassium, phosphorus, zinc, manganese and resveratrol, the substance in grape skins and red wine that lowers cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart attacks!

If Japanese Knotweed is continually cut (and eaten) it will eventually give up – a far better way of controlling it than gallons of chemical sprays. In fact, some US authorities have given up trying to eradicate it and instead run annual Japanese Knotweed festivals!

Some interesting Japanese Knotweed links:
Identification guide
The spread of Japanese Knotweed

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