Archives for posts with tag: foraging

There are so many free foods during spring that I want to introduce three of the most accessible and common ones. And here’s the challenge, if you have never foraged before, pick one and use it this month of May.

wild garlicWild Garlic: This is my favourite and the unmistakable garlic smell makes me think of Cornish holidays and woodland walks. Look for it in damp woods with its broad, spear-like leaves and white star-like flowers in a rounded umbel. It starts popping up in March and in April to June it is in flower. You can eat the leaves and the flowers, just chop them up and add to omelettes, risottos and salads or my favourite – wild garlic pesto. Click on this link for the wild garlic pesto recipe.

jackbyhedgeJack-by-the-hedge: This is a very unassuming little hedgeside plant which can be mistaken for a weed but it is perfect if you like garlic in moderation. It can grow up to 70cm in height and its leaves are bright green and slightly toothed. During April to June it has small white flowers. I like to eat it with cheese sandwiches or roughly chopped on a frittata. You can also throw it into a salad.

nettlesNettles: Easy to identify and very prickly! I love eating them as I can take revenge on all the times they have stung me. Wear gloves to pick them and to wash them and eat them early in the season as after June they don’t taste so good. Before cooking them, remove the rougher stems and then make nettle soup.

Nettle Soup from Hedgerow Harvest

  • 1/2 carrier bag of nettles – tops or young leaves
  • 2oz butter
  • 1 large chopped onion
  • 1 crushed clove or garlic
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 pints of good stock – vegetable or chicken
  • 2 medium chopped potatoes
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 tablespoons of cream or crème fraîche
  • Salt and Pepper

Method:
Wash the leaves thoroughly.
Melt the butter in a pan and sweat the chopped onion and garlic until soft but not brown (approx 10 minutes).
Add stock, potatoes and all leaves.
Bring to the boil and simmer until the potatoes are cooked.
Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and add the cream.
Put the mixture into the blender and blitz it.
Return to pan, reheat and serve.
Garnish with a swirl of cream and chopped herbs e.g. parsley or chives.

Let me know which green you tried this month. And if you are inspired, I can highly recommend the Hedgerow Harvest courses.

Please remember never to take plants from private gardens or communally owned areas and just take a few from woodlands. Never pick something you can’t identify and don’t pick wild foods from hedgerows near heavy traffic or if agricultural sprays have been applied to fields. It is sensible not to pick low-growing leaves along paths popular with dog walkers!

elderflower elderflower3In case you hadn’t noticed the elderflower was out late this year – very late. Normally cordial is a delight for June but this year we had to wait until July. I love this new recipe I’ve tried for Elderflower Cordial from the book The Thrifty Forager by Alys Fowler. It is surprisingly easy to make – so easy that I made it with the local pre-school.

Elderflower and Grapefruit Cordial

25 elderflower heads
1.8 litres water
1.35kg granualated sugar
4 oranges or 2 grapefruit sliced
1 lemon sliced
50g citric acid

  • Pick the elderflowers, shaking them gently to remove little insects who have made themselves at home.
  • Heat two-thirds of the water with the sugar, stirring until it is all dissolved and completely clear. Then allow it to cool.
  • In a large bowl, combine the cooled water with the rest of the water, the sliced fruit, the citric acid and the elderflowers.
  • Leave it for at least 24 hours and then strain through a muslin. (I allow my mixture to steep for 48 hours for lots of flavour).
  • Pour into clean, sterilised bottles and store somewhere cool and dark. It should keep for several months.

My Tips:
I buy super cheap still water from the supermarket and then use the bottles to contain my cordial. They are clean and sterile and I don’t have issues with mould which was a problem a few years ago when I was using ‘posh’ bottles that were very difficult to sterilise.
Don’t wash your elderflower before putting it into the water – you end up washing away the flavour.
You can buy citric acid online from Amazon.elderflower2

wild garlicSpring means wild garlic – and it is my new best friend (my only friend if I eat too much of it). Use it soon – the season is almost over!

Look out for it in damp woodlands with its broad, spear-like leaves and white star-like flowers in a rounded umbel. It starts popping up in March and in April to June it is in flower. You can eat the leaves and the flowers, just chop them up and add to omelettes, risottos and salads or my favourite which I have just discovered is wild garlic pesto. This can be served with pasta, chicken or fish and can be frozen in ice-cube containers, which will then give you a supply of this wonderful pesto throughout the year.

Wild Garlic Pesto

Ingredients:
This will make approximately 8 ice-cube sized portions or enough for a small jar.
• 50g washed and dried fresh wild garlic leaves
• 25g grated parmesan
• 25g pine nuts or hazel nuts
• 50-100ml good olive oil
• Lemon juice (optional – if you like lemon)

Method:
• Wash the wild garlic leaves and dry them carefully.
• Roast the nuts in a frying pan with a little oil.
• Add all ingredients to a blender. Blend and add a little oil at a time until you have the right consistency – a nice thick sauce.
• Season with salt and pepper.

To freeze
Spoon into an ice-cube container and freeze, once frozen you can remove the cubes from the container and place in a bag, leaving the container to be used for your next batch!

To store in a jar
Spoon it into a sterilised jar and cover with a little more oil. Keep in the fridge for up to 3 months.

Thanks to James from Hedgerow Harvesting for the recipe. Visit www.hedgerow-harvest.com – I can’t recommend his foraging courses enough!

Garlic flowers looks like snow in the woodlands

Garlic flowers look like snow in the woodlands

Amethyst Deceiver (edible)

Amethyst Deceiver (edible)

Richard identifying Oyster Mushrooms

The New Forest rang with the words “Can I eat it?” as I and my fellow foragers hunted amongst the fallen leaves for treasures. This weekend I attended a very exciting course on Mushrooms run by Hedgerow Harvest with James and David as our knowledgeable guides. Mushrooms is a much more complex subject than other foraged foods because you will come across poisonous ones that can kill such as the Death Cap, Destroying Angel and the Funeral Bell – the names say it all! I now fully understand that mushrooms are merely the fruit, a bit like apples on a tree while the bulk of the organism is underground. Mushrooms are the reproductive organs and that is one of the reasons they are so hard to identify as their form is simply a matter of function and so they all look similar. As John Wight says in his book, ‘Mushrooms‘, “Imagine you were given the task of identifying mammals by their reproductive organs alone, and you will see the problem. (Don’t imagine it for too long!)”

James and David taught us that you don’t flick through a book to find the mushroom photo that looks most similar to the specimen you have found but you work through a list of questions (a key) about the colour of the spores, the type of gills, the presence or absence of a ring and volva and where it grows. This will help to narrow it down to the type of mushroom and whether it is edible, poisonous or inedible but not fatal. As a rule of thumb ignore all LBJs (Little Brown Jobs). Mushrooms are certainly an intriguing subject.

We were then released into the woods for a four-hour tramp and to make our discoveries. I was delighted to find the beautiful mushroom called the Amethyst Deceiver is edible and perfect in salads. Amongst other edible finds there were Hedgehog Mushrooms, Autumn Chanterelles and Oyster Mushrooms. We also found a Cep which is in the top league of tasty mushrooms. A frisson of excitement ran through our gang to see the Beechwood Sickener and the Fly Agaric which is the classic fairytale toadstool although it doesn’t actually kill. In fact it contains a substance called ibotenic acid which gives psychological effects including euphoria, confusion and floating and this acid can be recycled. If you drink your urine you can relive the experiences. Think I will give it a miss though, anything that red is red for a reason! Back at the village hall with our edible finds and under the close scrutiny of James (no rogues allowed), we prepared our mushrooms and enjoyed the tasty samples.

Hedgerow Harvest offers a range of foraging and wild food courses and I can’t recommend them enough. I completed the Spring Greens course in April and look forward to doing Fruit and Nuts next year. I feel duty bound to add that some fungi are very poisonous and many will make you unwell or you may have an allergic reaction after eating certain species. Make sure you can identify fungi by attending a field course led by an expert before you start collecting them.

Fly Agaric (poisonous)

Beechwood Sickener (poisonous)

Preparing our tasty samples

I love autumn walks and even more when it includes a little foraging, which is a growing interest of mine. This is the time of year to collect sloes which are blue-black bitter fruit growing on blackthorn bushes. Sloes need to be collected in October after the first frost, but if autumn is mild or you want to beat the birds, collect them early and put them in a freezer. Sloes are too tart to eat but are perfect in gin, making a tasty, sweet and glorious ruby sloe gin. Below is the recipe I am using courtesy of National Trust.

For 1 litre of Sloe Gin you will need:
– 450g sloes
– 300g caster sugar
– 1 litre gin any brand – cheap gin works just as well
– A 2 litre Kilner jar
– A bottle for decanting

Step 1
Wash your sloes and remove any leaves or stems. Prick as many as you can with a needle or sharp fork. This helps to release the juices. If you have frozen them make sure you de-frost them first.

Step 2
Sterilise your jar with boiling water. Put your sloes, sugar and gin in the jar. Seal and shake the jar every day until sugar has dissolved, then once a week.

Step 3
After 10-12 weeks decant your sloe gin into a bottle and enjoy at your leisure.

Top tip:
Sloe gin gets even better with age, you could make two lots and hide one away for next year. If you do this every year you will always have a vintage supply of this delicious tipple.

 

This year it was a birthday treat… so off I went on a foraging course with Hedgerow Harvest. James, our expert, took a group of 12 through the countryside hunting out delicious free spring greens and we discovered about 30 edible plants. James explained what we could eat, how they can be used and what to be wary of. There is so much out there and I can’t wait to try nettle pesto, nettle beer, dandelion fritters and a foraged salad. I was delighted to rediscover a childhood favourite christened ‘yum-yums’ which is in fact wood sorrel as well as finding tasty crow’s garlic and wild garlic. After about four hours of walking and learning in the woods, we went to a village hall to cook our foraged meal. We made nettle soup with garlic bread, nettle risotto with spring greens and Japanese knotweed crumble. It was delicious and so satisfying and as Hedgerow Harvest also offer courses on ‘Fruit and Nuts’ and ‘Fungus Foraging’, I will certainly return.