Rhubarb!

Whist I realise that rhubarb isn’t usually wild, it goes tastes so brilliant, its just so wonderful to have fresh home grown food and its goes so very well with wild things that are around, so I thought I would include it.

This evening I cooked a whole panful of rhubarb with just a little sugar and a big slosh of last year’s sloe gin.  The sloe gin was a great success from last year – but I’ve not run out yet!

Rhubarb also goes really well with elderflower, last Thursday’s ‘Times’ recommended poaching it as above with elderflower cordial, but I prefer it cooked with just a little liquid and sugar and served with cream whipped with a spoonful of  icing sugar and a handful of elderflower blossoms.

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Routes to Food

Well, I’m very lucky.  I’m grateful for lots of things that are good about my life, family, friends, nice place to live etc, but I’ve just had some really good news.  I’ve got a new job (an additional job if I can work it out right) and one of the best things about the job is that it will involve a commute.

OK, so it won’t be your average commute – hours of my life wasted in traffic jams or in packed stuffy trains,  no, this commute will be a 45 minute cycle along the canal towpath (I can catch the bus if the weather is nasty).  The route is fantastic for gathering – loads of wild food all the way along, at the moment its abundant in wild garlic, a week or so earlier I would have been picking hawthorn leaves and nettles, and just before that sorrel was at its best.  There are swathes of comfrey just waiting to be stuffed into my panniers and brought home to make tomato plant feed.  I know the rest of the year will bring all sorts of gathering possibilities.

I really hope that I don’t get lazy and worried about time constraints so that I more often than not catch the bus and let this opportunity pass me by

Wild Garlic

Walking along in damp areas you will very possibly come accross the unmistable smell of wild garlic now the flowers are starting to appear.  You can gather either the flowers or the leaves for use in the kitchen.  For instance, this evening, I gathered a handful of flowers, mixed them with a little salt, pepper and balasmic vinegar and threw the whole lot over some roasting veg and some sossys, in the oven for 40 mins – smells great, tastes great!

The flowers are also lovely added to a green salad, sprinkle the flowers in individually for a very lighht garlic-y flavour and scent.

If you find them in abundance, large amounts of the flowers can be gathered and frozen in bags or boxes, each time you need some garlic, throw in a handful of frozen flowers.

Be Sure of Your Identification

Umbellifers – big word!

It describes a family of plants that have ‘umbrella-type’  flowers, usually, though not always white.  They includes many that are edible – Cow Parsley, Hogweed, Alexanders, Ground Elder, Sweet Cicely and Pignut; as well as some very poisonious – Hemlock, Fool’s Parsley and Cowbane.  Carrots, Parsnips, Celery and their wild forebears are Umbellifers as are the contents of several of our herb / spice jars –  Fennel, Angelica, Coriander, Chervil, Parsley, Caraway and Lovage.

There are many more plants within this family, so its very important to be sure of identification.  Some are very easy – Alexanders – its very tall in the hedgerow very early, bright (almost lime) green stems and flowers.  Hogweed -its rought stems and large leaves are quite different from most of its relations.

Others are more simular – Cow Parsley and Sweet Cicely look quite simular, but rub the leaves of the latter and the smell is very aromatic (appartently its like myrrh giving its latin name as Myrrhis odorata), both plants can be used in mixed salads.  The seeds of Sweet Cicely can also be used as a flavouring.

I’m pretty good at my identification of most wild flowers, but last summer I spotted a patch of Umbellifers I didn’t recognise and wanted to identify them, I picked a stem or two and tok them home.  I poured over my collection of Wild Food, Herb and Wild Flower books, I couldn’t tell, I took the books back to the location with me, I still couldn’t tell.  I had it down to a choice of two or three from the 50 or so choices, but I had to leave it as an unidentified mystery.  Needless to say I didn’t try eating it!

The differences between Cow Parsley and Hemlock are obvious when conforted with both and a comparison is possible  or the forager is experinced.  The Cow Parsley’s leaves are delicate, soft green, down-y, the stems are gently hairy and either green-ish or purple-ish or greeny-purple-ish.  The decription of Hemlock is much the same, pictures in books (photos or drawn) are not completly clear (in fact in the 2001 colour edition of Richard Mabey’s book ‘Food for Free’ he has a picture of Hogweed labelled as Hemlock!!) Hemlock’s leaves are a slightly darker green and a little bit glossier, a bit thicker cut, the stems are smooth, and green-ish with purple-ish flecks.  Very subtle differences!

Hemlock was used at least since the Greeks as a poison (Socrates was executed using Hemlock juice).  One of Cow Parsley’s old names is Mother Die.   The most dire warnings are given to ensure that a poisonous plant is not confused with an edible one, please heed them!  If in doubt, don’t pick it!

Garlic Mustard

Well, the bank holiday weather was not as bad as it was forecast, but I still got quite cold when out cycling today with my friend Alison.  We took a back lane route over the hills and far away (we also had a short detour around a housing estate  – I don’t think she will ever trust me to navigate again!).  There was so many wild flowers en route including Bluebells – what a fabulous site they are – swathes of Wood Anemones and Marsh Marigolds (my own special favourite) plus we actually saw Snakes Head Fritillaries (my first time ever!).

On the way home I picked a huge buch of Garlic Mustard (also known as Jack by the Hedge of Hedge Garlic).  I stuffed and wrapped mackeral in it for dinner.  Lightly oil foil and fish, stuff leaves in cavity, wrap fish in leaves and foil, cook in oven for 20 -30 mins, unwrap leaves and foil – eat – simple!