Friday, May 22, 2009

A fortunate find

More often than not, my foraging classes and outdoor events are blessed with fine weather and the jammiest of lucky finds. This week was no exception, my Cambridge based weekly forage group struck gold - literally - with an amazing stand of chicken of the woods (Polyporus sulphureus) fungus. Why lucky you ask? Well, it's been so dry this year that all my usual COTW haunts haven't yielded much in the way of this excellent edible mushroom, so to find enough for the four of us really felt a lot like Divine intervention!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

watering my weeds

My energy and attention this year has been largely focussed on my garden and veg patch, in part thanks to my new Garden Share partners, Anna and Adam. But as usual I've kept an eye on the wild produce which so far has been stinging nettles, dead nettles, dandelions and chickweed. More recently, sow thistles and my personal Springtime favourite, fat hen have been appearing. This year I've used industrial quantities of home-made compost, and am delighted to find a thick crop of fat hen, sow thistle and chickweed seedlings sprouting from practically every bed and flowerpot. Check out this pot of Begamot and Hyssop, top dressed with fresh compost a month ago!
In a couple of weeks, there should be enough for a really delicious fat hen feast... A similar situation is happening on the potato grow bag, where fat hen and spinach seedlings are happily soaking up the sunshine and liberal waterings until the Maris Peer spuds start comng through. At that point it'll be "off with their heads and into the pot!" - I love my weeds, but I love home grown potatoes, fresh out of the ground even more...

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Foraging Observation

Last week I went over to Suffolk to check out the venue for my next event, Wild Food in a Day and to meet the organiser, Polly Robinson from Food Safari. After a leg-stretching yomp over a corner of the vast Henham Estate, to look for a suitable area for the guided forage, surprise surprise, the best site was no more than 30m from where we had parked the car! I'd forgotten this small but important Forager's Truism: many edible weeds grow in the most obvious places, and many favour recently disturbed ground - if you have a garden, look along hedges, in flower and vegetable beds or in those out of the way weedy places: fat hen, chickweed and smooth sow thistle are all sprouting nicely! A word of warning about wild food plants in very public places: your chosen foraging site should be clean and free from rubbish, away from high usage areas such as footpaths and entrance ways and obviously away from roads and vehicle pollution: those are three very good reasons for allowing weeds to grow in your own garden. :-)

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Food for all!

Boo hoo....I've eaten my last dish of nettles and comfrey from the garden.... both these edible weeds are now getting ready to flower and are no longer fit for eating. Well my last dish for the time being anyway, as both stinging nettles and comfrey are vigorous plants and will be back on eating form in just a few weeks. But it's not just me eating weeds; nettles host many different species of hoverfly, moth and butterfly, so I'm leaving one half of my patch for wildlife. The comfrey too will be left to flower - bees, especially bumblebees - love it. My compost bin is also going to have a mid spring feast: when I've chopped down the top growth of nettles and pulled off the lower floppy comfrey leaves threatening to overshadow the broadbean seedlings nearby, it'll all be 'fed' to my compost bin. The compost bin will thank me over the next few months by turning out several hatchings of brandling worms (doing their bit in the composting process) and magically supplying another barrel or three of rich dark crumbly compost. it's win-win all the way!

Monday, April 06, 2009

Lawn Salad Challenge

Q: How many edible weeds can you fit in a spring salad? A: As many as you can find! Seriously, how about 8 for starters? Most can be found in an ordinary suburban garden, and can usefully and tastefully pretty up a basic cos lettuce or if you must buy it, a bag of salad leaves from the supermarket. Oh yes - I don't want to be accused of cheating, so flowers count as one ingredient; flowers and leaves of the same plant also one ingredient. here's my score card for 19 March 2009: a lot came from my garden lawn but I also looked in the flower beds and on the veg patch too.
Common Daisy Bellis perennis - young fleshy leaves and freshly opened flowers
Primrose Primula vulgaris Very young leaves and flowers
Dandelion Taraxacum officinale - young leaves and older ones with the midrib removed
Sweet violet Viola odorata flowers - beautifully scented and slightly peppery
Chickweed Stellaria media - leaves minus stems which are a bit stringy
Ground elder Aegopodium podagraria young leaves, still shiny and crinkly have a celery-like flavour
Honesty Lunaria biennis seedlings - another peppery crunch element
Common Dock Rumex obtusifolius - very, very young leaves and only a couple they can be quite bitter and dominating as a flavour.
A few places are still available on my wild food in the woods course 17-19th April 2009 -save money and eat healthily by getting the essential wildfood collecting, cooking and eating knowledge - outdoors!

Recipe: nettle stuffed mushrooms

At this time of year, I'm always looking for new nettle recipes to try and this one came to me when I saw these huge Portobello mushrooms in the market on Saturday. You'll be amazed at how substantial they are! I thought two would be just enough for a light supper, but I was completely stuffed by the time I'd eaten them both... Vegans can use olive or groundnut oil in place of the butter and if you don't want cheese, add a sprinkle of pine nuts for the topping. Bon appetit!

(Serves 4 as starter 2 as main course)
1 colanderful young nettle tops
4 large portobello or field mushrooms
olive oil
75g butter
sea salt and black pepper
100g goats' cheese

Set the oven to 220C /Gas 7 and put a baking tray in to heat. Rinse the nettles and while still wet, put them in a pan with about two thirds of the butter. Cover and cook slowly until thoroughly wilted.
Take the mushrooms, prick the tops all over and brush with olive oil. Remove the greens from the pan, squeeze out the bulk of the moisture and chop coarsely, seasoning well with salt and pepper. Add a grating of nutmeg too if you like it. place a quarter of the greens in each mushroom top and add another tiny (half cm cube is plenty) knob of butter to each cap. Put them on the hot baking tray and bake in the middle of the oven for about 10 minutes. Then take them out of the oven and place a slice of goat cheese on top and return to the oven for another 3 to 5 minutes or until the cheese has started to melt. Serve immediately with a green salad.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Medlar magic

Have you tried medlars? I see them fairly frequently, but usually they're rock hard and inedible. That's because the medlar needs bletting before you can eat it - 'bletting' is a posh-sounding term that means rotting. You can't hurry this process, in fact it's not worth collecting medlars until early November. By then, the fruits have started to fall, collect them up and leave for a week or so in a box or bag somewhere not too warm. When you can squish one easily, they're ready to eat. Fear not; the bletted medlar may look a little manky and fit only for the compost bin, but its softened flesh is gently sweet: reminiscent I think of toffee apples, it definitely has potential for exploring in the kitchen.
This evening I processed 2 carrier bags of squidgy medlars... and spent ages researching recipes on line. I didn't do any of the ones I liked the sound of, being a bit pooped from this afternoon's leaf clearance in the garden, short on various ingredients and frankly ready for a glass of wine and a sit down.
But I found some double cream at the back of the fridge, plus some molasses sugar and mixed these up with a few dollops of medlar pulp: thereby proving to myself that sometimes the old traditional recipes perhaps become traditional because they're simple and excellent. Maybe tomorrow I'll feel like trying some more complex recipes with this rather underrated little fruit.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Seeds of Change Big Barn Newsletter 24th September

As the year continues into Autumn with shorter days and crisp mornings, we foragers are busier than ever! on my travels in the last week or so I've been gathering nuts and berries and the odd mushroom, although -I hardly dare write this after such a wash-out Summer- a little overnight rain would do wonders for fungi opportunities! It's a tough trick to manage the abundance of an Autumn harvest and still have the time and energy to process it, which reminds me of the golden rule of sustainable foraging is to never pick more than you can use. Fortunately elderberries, blackberries, and sloes all freeze beautifully, either au naturel or cooked and pulped.
In the garden where I grew up there was a big hazel bush that was always covered in nuts. Each summer we waited for them to swell and the shells to turn golden brown, eagerly anticipating a nutty feast. But every August, from the kitchen window, we watched the hazel branches being jiggled and shaken by a troupe of grey squirrels, well before the first nuts had ripened. Despite racing down the garden to chase away those pesky rodents, all we could find were the still green empty husks and broken bits of shell all over the grass. So it was with enormous pleasure that last week, spying a few nuts on the topmost branches of the hazel in my garden, I took a lesson from the squirrel's guide to harvesting and shook the branches.... my reward was a shower of almost ripe nuts...If you can do the same, simply remove the papery casings crack them carefully with your teeth and eat them straight from the shell. The sweet, mealy flavour of a ripening hazel is quite addictive, having something of the taste of a peeled broccoli stem - and if you haven't tried eating one of those, then I promise you're missing out!
Other nut news: beech trees in this part of the UK seem to be promising a good harvest. Wait until they start to fall within the next fortnight or so, then gather the whole unblemished mast (the correct term for nuts fallen and gathered from the ground). In the past I've peeled them by hand which is fiddly and time consuming; this year I'm going to try roasting them in the shell for around 10 minutes at 170C. I suspect that the shells will split and make the job of separating the nut meat much easier.
Now is also the time to start your own wild harvest garden with a spot of seed gathering. Fat Hen (Chenopodium album) and Burdock (Arctium lappa) seeds are all plentiful and scattered on a patch of bare ground, will provide you with your own back yard wild harvest next year. You might also be lucky to find some late ripening field poppy (Papaver rhoeas) seed heads. These plants, as well as being good to eat, will also help to attract beneficial insects into your garden.

A Forager's guide to seed harvesting

  • Shake ripened seed heads into a paper bag, remove any insects and label the bag with the plant name. Store seeds in a cool dry place, or sow them immediately.
  • Don't waste your time collecting under-ripe seed, it won't grow.
  • Be wary of harvesting burdock seeds with bare hands, as the burrs contain numerous fine hairs which will work their way into your skin. Tip the harvested burdock seeds onto a sheet of paper and shake, then very gently blow away the fluff. You can also rinse them through a fine mesh sieve with plenty of running water.
  • Scatter burdock seeds in a sunny location with good moisture- retentive soil for strong plants.
  • Fat hen prefers a rich and fertile soil, ideally with manure added, in full sun or part shade.