Thursday, May 31, 2007

Magic: mushrooms at last!

It's hard to remember that April was actually pretty pleasant weather wise, we've had so much rain recently. The wet is great when the sun comes out, but foraging can be tough going in heavy downpours. Increasingly, Nature dictates when and where I forage: rain makes low lying plant matter stick together, mushrooms go soggy, flowers droop or shut themselves up tight. My basket after a wet forage contains more than the usual haul of slugs and snails - yeuch. Why bother: the principle of least effort is a good one to follow!
But in between the storms, it's really quite warm and pleasant. Elderflowers continue to come, I notice the first signs of fruit set, next to a spray of green unopened buds, beside another flower head with trembling, creamy yellow pollen showers. 3 litres of cordial to date - the recipe is so simple, I can't resist making another batch!
St Georges mushrooms - traditionally an April treat - are beginning to show themselves. Maybe it's me and I've been too busy, but it seems as if this spring was the pits for wild 'shrooms. Happily, I gathered enough yesterday for breakfast this morning: St Georges on toast with last night's bottifara negra (Spanish black pudding) , Veggies, avert your eyes! :-)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Wild and Wet in Norfolk

So I should have known better than to book some quality outdoors time with the other half on a British bank holiday weekend. A walk in the countryside? No, a spot of camping was the order of the weekend.
Camping in a lovely 5 star campsite? Er no, wild camping: wild as in remote, in the woods sans mod cons. And rain. Plenty of it too! Still it was a chance to hang out together in the fresh air - literally, as we use a hammock and tarpaulin system for shelter.
Foraging was a mixed bag; to one side of the woods was a field full of baby lettuce, and a few small fat hen plants. The field margins were full of burdock, dandelion, nettle and dock. All a bit too mature for tender eating, and it's been very dry, so a lot of the plants were looking tough and chewy. They may have been ok in a survival situation, but it was a tad too far out of my comfort zone!
Better news on the other side of the wood, which was sandy heathland dotted with oak, hawthorn and rabbit holes: there was a simply astounding red tinge to the grass, which turned out to be the flowering stems of sheep sorrel- yay! Something good to eat! Further on I found some wild strawberry plants - not yet fruited, but noted for a return visit later on this year. Last but not least, a good quantity of very slippery slippery jacks (suillus luteus) They were delicious fried up with an onion and some wild garlic paste and eaten with slices of bread and butter, as we watched the the tree tops whipping around in the wind and listened to the hiss of raindrops on the fire... time to go home, methinks!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Elderflower Panna Cotta with a Strawberry Coulis

The subtle, indefinable taste of elderflower is a wonderful foil to the luxurious texture and muted flavour of panna cotta. I first came across the panna cotta recipe by Richard Phillips from and have since adapted it to intensify its floral flavours by using elderflower infused sugar: (a doddle to make; follow this link to find out how) The strawberry coulis adds a welcome dimension of acidity without overwhelming the elderflowers. Result: a dessert symphony with haunting descant notes of one of the UK’s most prolific, edible wild flowers… enjoy!

Serves 6 - 8

Preparation time: 25 minutes plus chilling – 4 to 6 hours


250ml fresh milk

250ml double cream

25g granulated elderflower infused sugar

2 large heads fresh elderflowers

1 sachet gelatine

For the coulis

300g fresh, ripe strawberries

3 tablespoons elderflower cordial

Squeeze of lemon juice to taste


In a heavy based saucepan, mix the milk, cream and sugar.

Bring to a gentle simmer then remove from heat.

Shake the elderflowers to remove any insects, then place them, stalk side up, into the hot mixture. Leave to infuse for 10 minutes.

Remove the flower heads and re-heat gently, do not allow it to boil.

Add the gelatine to 50ml freshly boiled water and whisk well until the gelatine is dissolved.

Add this to milk and cream mixture. Stir briskly until the gelatine solution is fully incorporated, then pour into individual dishes, or a flexible silicon muffin tray.

Place in the fridge until set.

To make the coulis, simply blitz the strawberries and cordial for one minute with a blender.

Adjust the acidity with a little lemon juice to taste.

Pass the coulis through a wire mesh sieve.

Store chilled and bring it back to room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.

To serve:

Drizzle the coulis around the panna cotta and garnish with a scattering of fresh elderflower blossoms and a little elderflower sugar if desired before serving.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Beech, rain, mushrooms?
In just a couple of wet weeks, the garden has reached jungle proportions... everything is so.... green! The ground squelches most satisfyingly underfoot... Hooray for a bit of wet!

But a week after our return from France, I suddenly noticed the beech trees on my way to work had come into leaf. Delicious silky green foliage- a classic spring moment for me is standing under the canopy of delicate new leaves (ideally in the sunshine for best light effects) munching, basking and foraging: as in: 'one in the bag, one in the mouth, one for the pot, one for me...' lol

Beech leaves have such a short season - they're only edible while soft, and so far, I've only managed to do a couple of things with them... one is beech leaf noyau, a liqueur type of drink and the other - a sandwich made with good bread, a generous slathering of butter, packed with shredded beech leaves and seasoned lightly with salt and pepper. The arterially challenged may prefer olive oil to butter - it tastes just as good!
Mushooms have been dismal so far this year, but I have a good 'shroom feeling in my bones - all this rain plus a bit of sun: we should soon be seeing morels, (see the pic above) fairy ring champignons and St Georges around these parts...