To date, apart from field mushrooms, I have never picked and ate wild mushrooms and I certainly am not confident with my identification skills (yet), but a couple of weeks ago( in the glorious spriong weather we were having before the snow decended!), whilst out collecting nettles and wild garlic for the firts batch of Nettle Soup of the year, I spotted some mushrooms.  Thinking that they could only be some early St Georges Day Mushrooms (so named beacuse they are usually spotted around April 23rd) I picked them to bring home and chck the identification with the books, and internet if necessary.

I checked the books, working through the keys, I checked with a friend by sending photos and got my brother who was staying to check the books again – same conclusion all around – Wood Blewitt, growing in the wrong place at the wriong time of year.  We cooked it and ate it (a little nervously on my part).  It was fine – no ill effects for anyone.  Useful learning process – especially as my brother, who had always claimed that ‘looks like a mushroom, smells like a mushroom, must be edible’ read through most of my books that evening and found that several very poisonious ones do look and smell just fine!


Not very seasonal I know, but I really need to share this with you.  I watched the BBC’s final of MasterChef last night – not usually my sort of thing, but a friend was over and they had been following it and asked if we could watch.  Beautiful, artistic, creative all of those things.  Anyway, one of the finalists created a pudding that had a Acorn Panna Cotta as part of a ‘trio of desserts’.

Acorns, say most of the books, are edible, but its so ‘faffy’ to get rid of the tannins it usually not worth it, but the judge (you know the enthusiastic, bald one) went mad for the wood-y flavour of the acorns.

So this morning I checked the website to see if there was a receipe  – and indeed there is is the link, but just in case it disappears from the web before we are picking acorns in the autum I have copied the text below.  A bit more complicated than my usual suggestions and one that I (obviously) haven’t road tested.


For the acorn panna cotta
  • 30g/1oz shelled acorns (or hazelnuts)
  • 300ml/10fl oz double cream
  • 100ml/3½oz full-fat milk
  • 50g/2¾oz caster sugar
  • gelatine leaves
    1. Acorns need to be soaked several times to remove the tannins, which are very bitter and mildly toxic. Place the acorns into a large pan, and cover them with plenty of water. Bring to a boil and continue boiling for about 15 minutes. The water will turn brown as the tannic acid is extracted from the kernels. Drain the acorns and put them back in the pan with fresh water. Re-boil the acorns, throwing out the brown water several times until the water is clear. The boiling process takes about two or three hours, though the time varies with the amount of tannic acid in the acorns. Then pre-heat the oven to 90C/200F. Place the acorns on a baking tray and roast them for an hour to dry them out. The acorns are now ready to use.
    2. For the acorn panna cotta, preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
    3. Place the acorns, or hazelnuts if using instead, on a baking tray and roast for 10 minutes until they are a deep brown colour.
    4. Remove from the oven and cool for a few minutes, before grinding coarsely in a coffee grinder.
    5. Transfer the ground acorns to a saucepan, and add the cream, milk and sugar. Bring the mixture to the boil, then remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 30 minutes.
    6. Meanwhile, soak the gelatine leaves for a few minutes in cold water until soft.
    7. Prepare the panna cotta moulds by lightly greasing either a silicon mould with small rectangular pockets (a financière mould), or four dariole moulds.
    8. Return the cooled acorn infusion to the heat, and bring up to the boil. Squeeze out the excess water from the gelatine and whisk into the pan. Once the gelatine has dissolved, strain the mixture into a jug.
    9. Pour the panna cotta into the prepared moulds and transfer to the fridge to set.


Hedgerow Jelly

Whilst skimming along a canal in Oxfordshire with my brother, his wife and their new (boat-shaped) home, the hedgerows all along are full of edible fruits.  Ann Marie shared with me her recipe for mixed hedgerow jam.

Take a selection of some (or all) of the following – Rosehips, Haws (hawthorn fruit), Blackberries, Crab Apples (roughly chopped), Sloes, Damsons, Rowan, Elderberries.  Place the fruit in a jamming pan (or huge saucepan) and cover three quarters with water. Heat until simmering, then cook slowly until mushy, stirring occasionally.  Drip thorugh a jelly cloth overnight.  Measure the liquid into a clean pan and add 1lb sugar to each 1 pint of juice.  Boil until setting point is reached, then pour into sterilised jars.

If made with just red fruit (rowan, rosehips, haws) and crab apples this makes a beautiful clear dark pinkish jelly.  Adding darker fruits will make a darker jelly.  Ann Marie used the sloes lately strained from her Sloe Gin – I think that will make delicious jelly!




I came across another example of the value of a mental ‘food map’ this week.  Lots of people have been ‘boasting’ about their plum and damson crops and I was just a little jealous!  Whilst I have lots of apple and pear trees the plum tree on my allotment is bare : (.  But I remembered a couple of years ago picking plums at the edge of a footpath in area of town that no longer forms part of any of my daily journeys.  So  trekked over to the area with a big bag and picked loads and loads and loads of damsons.  Of course I needed have bothered, cos as soon as my friends heard that I didn’t have any I was quickly given two carrier bags of damsons and one of beautiful Victoria plums!!

Another friend sent me the a link to the following blog which contains a receipe for Damson Vodka, as long as I promised to give her a  small bottle when its finished (I did just happen to have a big bottle of vodka – as you do!)  But then she got in touch a couple of days ago to say she had found a tree near to her andwould be making her own, so I don’t need to share!

Hazel Nuts

I had a great day out at Carsington Water this week, and on my cycle around the (severly depleated) reseviour, I stopped along the way every so often and picked hazel nuts.  Like looking for stars in the twilight, at first you can’t see them at all, but then you see one and then a couple more and then you realise the tree is full of them!  Of course they are not ripe yet, but leave them much longer and the squirrels will have had them all!  In fact on one tree they had all fallen and lots had been eaten by mice, but I picked what I could as these were much bigger and more like cob nuts.

For me, the best way to enjoy them, is hazelnut meringue, see post a couple of years ago for the receipe (Oct 2009) , but why not give hazelnut butter a go – an alternative to peanut butter!  Dry fry 300g of shelled nuts  for between 5 and 10 mins, shaking continuously to ensure they are evenly browned.  Grind with a pestle and motar, add 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 sugar and very gradually add up to 1/2 tblsp vegetable oil until the butter becomes smooth.  Store in jars and it will last for sometime in the fridge.


I remember being amazed at how early the blackberries were last year, but this year they have exelled themselves – I have been picking and enjoying blackberries since the middle of July. And pretty special they are too – dark, sweet and juicy! Blackberry crumble is the way that I enjoy them best, but I thought I would share this gem of a reciepe with you for Bread and Blackberry pudding from the wonderful book ‘The Wild Gormets’.

Heat 450ml of milk until just before it boils, stir in 2 tblsp butter and then add 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp nutmeg, zest of a lemon, 2 eggs, 125g soft brown sugar and 4 tblsp brandy, remove from the heat and whisk.  Take 8 slices of good white bread and cut into triangles, pour over the milk and allow to soak for 10 mins.  Grease a dish and layer the bread and 100g blackberries – finishing with a layer of bread.  Cook at 180 for about 30 mins.  (The book gives instructions for cooking in a pan over an open fire!).  Enjoy!


I bet you think I’m crazy and that apple picking was months ago, but as the trees lose their leaves, suddenly apples seem to appear out of no-where

Ben leaping for apples

This picture was taken November 2009 near Henley on Thames and yesterday I spotted two previously unseen apples trees on my canal-route commute which I have been doing since June.  The first one’s apples overhang a pond – so i can count that as inaccessible, but will keep a close eye on the ‘bank side’ of it next year.

The other however, like the one in the photo, is laden, I was on my way home in a hurry with full panniers, but it certainly bears investigate another day.

The apples in the picture, when reached, were crisp and juicy, looking like Golden Delicious, but actually tatsting delicious!

Sloes (of course)

At the weekend I was lucky enough to be invited to join a small gorup of conservation colunteers doing some hedge laying along the Trans Pennine Trail near Renishaw. .  Most of the hedge was hawthorn, but there was some blackthorn amongst it.  So that it would forgive us for the horrdenous thorns, one of two of the bushes were laden with sloes.  I picked them as I went along and by the time I was finished had enough to take home for Sloe Gin.

Its the easist thing in the world to make, and you don’t even have to fret about not having enough cos some got eaten on the way home – (if you haven’t ever tasted a sloe, you should try!!).  Pop the sloes in the freezer over night – sloes needed about a bag full – possibly a lb or so.  Pop them into a large bottle or jar or a even flask, pour over somewheer between 4oz and 8oz sugar and then pour in a bottle (75cl) gin.  Shake it until sughar dissolved and then shake it every so often (at least twice a day) for at least 2 weeks.  Then put it away somewhere dark and forget about it for at least 3 months (year is better, but not usually possible!).  Strain it through fine muslim or net curtain.  Drink it gingerly – like the best ever cough mixture only so so much better!


We’ve bin to France.  Wild Food there is pretty much de riguer.  They even go so far as having boar – and yes, we actually did see some – 3 in fact.  They were in the distance, crossing the road at a trot, but my goodness they aren’t half big!

I wondered whether it was an urban myth that Pharmacists in France are obligied to identify any mushroom they are presented with, but no, this is true.  I didn’t get the chance to test this out, I didn’t see many mushrooms at all, but what I did see were walnuts (and chestnuts, but I saw them in England too).  Walnuts lying all over the place.  No one picks them cos they all have walnut trees in their garden, so there they are just lying around waiting for me to pick them up and lug them home.

Luckily I had room in my rucksack for the two carrier bags full of walnuts that we were able to pick in less than 10 mins from just a couple of trees.  It was recommended that I keep them until next year when they will be eminently more delicious than they are now, but not sure I can wait.  Maybe I’ll keep half!


Wild Fruit Wine

I’m so excited!  I can now start to make wine, I’ve been collecting bits for ages, a couple of demin johns from a friend and one from a car boot sale, lots of bottles (its amazing how easily the acumulate!), a box full of powders and potions from various sources, and now I know what to do with some, all or most of it!!

I also have a freezer full of various fruit – some from the allotment, red and black currants and a few raspberries, gooseberries and a bit of rhubarb, lots of apples but they are destined for pies and crumbles, but lots and lots of blackberries and elderberries.

Transition Chesterfield’s Country Wine Skill Share Workshop took place in my kitchen this afternoon and Ian very kindly left me the demonstration batch which is currently sitting in a demi john (wrapped in a towel to keep it warm and dark) on my sideboard, I am waiting for it to ‘gloop’.  As soon as I get back from holiday it will be joined by as many more as I can get hold of.  I can’t wait to start!

The books all make it sound quite difficult and technical, but after the demonstration this afternoon, I am sure I will be able to manage to attempt it.  It seems to be pretty basic – sterilise everything, put equal amounts of fruit and sugar with some boiling water and some yeast and eventually it will turn into wine.  Hey Presto!  Like magic, only slower!