One of the best wild spring leaves with the punchiest flavour is Garlic Mustard (Jack by the hedge) . It is best before it flowers, but even when covered in its tiny white florets, there are still bright green juicy leaves especially in a good spring like this.
Its good to eat as a leafy snack when walking, but can be a bit strong for some people’s tastes. I chopped a few leaves the other evening and added it to creamy mashed potatoes to go with liver and onions for my dinner and it was most delicious.
This is the question that occupies my thoughts whist all around me imagine what the Easter Bunny might bring them!
In an attempt to be vaguely healthy before the choc-fest begins we went swimming this afternoon…when I say ‘went’ I mean we travelled to the swimming pool and found out that it was closing in 25 mins so went for ice cream instead!
The park cafe is run buy a local award winning ice cream company, which, although being family owned in my Derbyshire hometown since 1898 still claims to be Italian and thus it was to the Gelataria that we went, not the ice cream parlour. Anyway, they have lots of flavours and today my attention was drawn to a large tub of bright green Sweet Woodruff flavour.
i know the plant, but was not aware that it was edible, so came home to check it out in my books. The estimable Mrs Grieve (author of THE herbalist bible ‘A Modern Herbal’ printed in 1931 and never bettered) describes it as fragrant , an ingredient of snuff and pot pori, when dried it has the scent of new mown hay and was used as a medieval strewing herb. She also mentions that it can be added to sweet German winery make a traditional drink named ‘Maibowle’ which Richard Maybe in Food for Free gives a recipe for; he also suggests adding a stem to a bottle of Apple juice for an ‘ambrosial’ taste.
Several of my other wild food books mention it in passing, but alas not one of them actually says what it tastes like, so while you are all enjoying the gifts from the Easter Bunny I shall be imagining the taste of Sweet Woodruff and next time I see some bringing it home and wondering why anyone wants ice cream that smells of hay,
The people in the offices upstairs moved out, so we went on a scavenger hunt…we came back with the sort of goodies you can image – a better flip chart stand than our existing one with the wonky leg, a nearly full pack of blue tac, some post-its, an under the desk footrest – that sort of thing. But my best find (my windfall if you will), mixed in among a stack of outdated boring books on marketing and strategy and procurement, was a beautiful hardback copy of ‘The Concise British Flora in Colour’ – known affectionately for more than 50 years by the name of the author – Keble Martin.
A definitive guide to identification of wild plants is essential for a wild food forager – you have to be absolutely sure of what you are picking – photographs are all very well, but a well drawn guide such as this – or ‘The Wild Flowers of Britain and Northern Europe’ (again known by its illustrator – Marjorie Blamey) is so much better – there is no background to confuse, the plant is shown in precise detail and the features of leaves and flowers are very clear.
So now I have two of the best identification guides – its funny what makes a person happy!
And I mean EVERYWHERE! I even spotted it in the Metro (the freebie newspaper available on public transport not the rapid transit system in the North East – although I have no doubt you would be able to view it from the windows on some journeys!) The Metro on Thursday featured a great recipe for Garlic Paste – which sounds like a pretty good pesto – they recommend putting it with pasta, cooking chicken or fish with it, or even mixing it with cheese for toasties! Anyway this is more or less what they suggested doing…
Whiz 2 handfuls of wild garlic leaves with a bag of spinach leaves, 3 tblsp pine nuts, 2oz finely grated Parmesan and gradually add 300ml good olive oil until it forms a kind of pesto-y consistency. I would love to have tried it, but I don’t have a whizzer, however it sounds very similar to the wild garlic and nettle pesto made by a friend of mine last year which was delicious (he used flower buds instead of leaves and nettles instead of spinach and called it Stinger Pesto – it went down very well!)
Wild garlic is a great starter for new foragers – it mostly grows by water, it likes damp and shady, its instantly recognisable by its fantastic smell when the leaves are crushed (or walked on) and from some distance away when the flowers are out. Its very easy to use anywhere you would normally use bulb garlic, chopping half a dozen leaves or so or a good handful of flowers to replace 1 bulb of garlic in any recipe.
The long awaited for sunshine arrived, if briefly, this afternoon (Derbyshire has been shrouded in mist all week). So a short walk out was rewarded with fields of glorious bright shiny yellow dandelions. Instead of cursing these unwanted weeds – eat them!
For fabulous drop scones pick a couple of handfuls of open flower heads, remove all the petals and put on one side. Make some drop scone mix – taking 4oz SR flour, 2oz sugar, an egg and some milk to make a thick batter. Beat in the yellow lovelyness and drop spoonfuls onto a hot greased griddle. Eat immediately and if you have some rosehip syrup to pour over them they taste even better!!
If you don’t fancy dandelion drop scones but still fancy eating weeds try these nettle ones – http://fromagehomage.co.uk/2013/06/10/blue-cheese-and-nettle-drop-scones/
I have just watched one of your ‘survival’ programmes (obviously one of the endless repeats on a free-view channel) based in the Turkish mountains and all in all I think that you give wild food a bad name.
You were in beautiful countryside one minute – you were building a raft from whippy young trees and climbing down a waterfall – to me that would be the ideal location for food in abundance – the next you were in a desert eating a couple of slugs which you had boiled in a teaspoon a water (and then you drank that) you then proceeded to dig unsuccessfully for water and eat a live scorpion. You then seemed to be surprised that you were suffering from diarrhoea. The only plants you were interested in were ones with soft leaves!
Had you stayed by the river and foraged I am sure you would have found wild foods in abundance, many waterside and woodland plants are both edible and tasty – even you were struggling with swallowing your slug. Later I admit you plucked a nettle, but only to show us how ‘hard’ you are by pulling off all the leaves to make cordage – you could have been making nutritious and tasty soup with those leaves!
Why do you do this to yourself? It does nothing to promote the benefits of wild food foraging, only just how difficult and dangerous it can be.
Sunday was a great walking day – bright sunshine interspersed with face stinging hail! I walked a long walk (to Beeley Moor above Chatsworth) and was amazed by the variety of wild food to be foraged so early in the year. Looking back over past year’s blogs its sometimes not until the end of March that there is anything to be foraged at all. A full list here would be a bit boring – but these are some of the highlights
- a very large patch of Bistort – cooked like spinach – Bistort is like a smaller dock
- some tansy
- first signs of wood sorrel
I was also very aware that whilst the trees are still bare its a useful time to be thinking about your ‘wild food map’ for later in the year – wild raspberry canes are clear in the undergrowth, damson and sloe bushes are coming into flower, as are some wild (or alpine) strawberries in sheltered areas, I also came across two patches of gooseberries coming into leaf (probably garden escapes, but still wild food if they fruit). Definitely one or two places to revisit later in the year.
I was lucky enough to be able to take a day out of my working week to visit Calke Abbey in Derbyshire with my sister and niece for a girlie day out – National Trust cafe and walled garden. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but we had a lovely time 🙂 despite the wind and we back in the car just as the rain started to fall.
A walk through the grounds gave me my first taste of several early ‘ambulating snacks’ – sorrel – so shape and bright, hogweed shoots – peeled of their hairy coat have a peppery-celery taste and… I just had to show off – pinching out the top of a nettle, rubbing it hard between finger and thumb and eating it raw – cool trick – no sting and lots of early spring goodness.
Shipley Park yesterday afternoon was perfect for a bike ride to blow away the cobwebs along with the last of my cold. Plenty of ingredients for a spring salad – starting of with chickweed, sweet and plentiful, a handful of early hawthorn leaves, some cow parsley (be sure of your identification at this early stage), a handful of dandelion leaves – the newer and less toothed the less bitter, some hairy bittercress adds a pop of flavour, as does wild garlic and garlic mustard (jack by the hedge) add to this some chopped early hogweed stem, a few gorse flowers – adding a splash of bright colour (do they taste of peas or coconut?).
Most walks urban or countryside will provide a variety like this, enough to make an interesting mixed leaf salad with far more taste and vitamins than anything you can pick up in the supermarket.
Well, we are at the beginning of March – as I recall pretty near the start of the year, winter is just coming to a close…the media is running with headlines that we are having the warmest day of the year so far…that would be a headline if it was November or even September, but March?? Surely it’s not really news that it is warmer than January or February??
Anyway – rant over – this unseasonably warm weather has resulted in some brilliant very early foraging, before even the snowdrops have finished. The hawthorn leaves have already started to sprout – grab a handful and pop in a cheese sandwich adding a great nutty taste; wild garlic leaves are popping up in all sorts of places – around streams and ponds – it prefers damp growing conditions – use a handful wherever you would use bulb garlic; garlic mustard in the bottoms of hedges – pick it only in those areas not in the DPZ (dog pee zone); dandelions and nettles are both also coming up – nettle soup will very soon be on the menu for my lunch.