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.
Every wild food forager developes a ‘map’ of their local area of where the best foraging of certain plants is to be had. I shared my secret sorrel bank with the wild food walk that I led a couple of weeks ago. I have a ‘pet’ sloe/damson sort of thing (perhaps they are even bullaces) and I noticed that the blossom was in full bloom over the fantastic May Bank Holiday weather, so hopefully there will be a great crop in the autumn. Today I came across another ‘dot’ to add to my map.
I live very near to the Derbyshire Peak District and each summer I kinda don’t get around to going proper bilberry picking – either I go too late, or the place where I go is all heather and not bilberries, or its been a bad year and there is only a handful or whatever. Anyway, today I discovered a whole south west facing slope covered in bilberries in flower being polinated by some very tenacious and determined bumble bees – it was blowing a hooley and the rain was stinging my face on the top of the Edge above but still they were out and about doing the biz!
So, in a month or so I will be out there with a couple of lunch boxes to spend a happy hour or so picking bilberries to my hearts content. Roll on Summer!!
This afternoon, it was one of the pleasures of my job to drive across the white peak – the most beautiful part (I think) of the Peak District – particularly at this time of year with everything so bright green and lots and lots of lambs in fields outlined by the limestone walls.
Sweet Cicely, in my experince, is quite fussy where it grows – many of the wild food books that I have consulted says it grows ‘in the north’, but I have noticed that it grows really well in limestone areas the Yorkshire Dales and the White Peak particularly. So, as I was driving across beautiful Derbyshire and along the roadsides were clouds of Sweet Cicely.
If you know your (edible) Cow Parsley from your (very poisionous and quite simular) Hemlock (quite important, as you might realise!) then you might have a chance at recognising Sweet Cicely. The leaves are a slightly different green and the flowers are creamy and frothy rather than white and lacy and its smells and tastes) amazingly aniseed-y.
Well today, in my business suit and my court siletto shoes I parked up on the roadside and hopped out and filled my lunchbox with Sweet Cicely leaves. For dinner this evening I had palnned to cook north african flavoured lamb meatballs – so added about 4 leaves chopped well to the cinnamon, cumin, corridaner, saffron and tumeric that I was already using. The meatballs tasted great!
Well spring has definately sprung then – in the past fortnight we have gone from no-leaves-on-trees in mid April to glorious-walk-in-bluebell-woods over the Bank Holiday weekend!
Thanks to all the late April showers all the growth is very verdant and non more so at the moment than Jack by the Hedge or Hedge Garlic or Garlic Mustard. A few tiny leaves have turned into hedgerows full of bright green luschious-ness in a very short space of time – it will be in flower in no time.
Picking the bright green leaves while they still look uber-fresh (like they grew yesterday- cos they probably did!) is the best wayto sample it. The taste is very garlic with a little heat after – great for popping into a picnic sandwich, or bring home for addition to a salad. I also like to wrap / stuff chicken or pork with it for a zing.
The people of my home town were treated to a Wild Food Feast over the weekend as myself and the Wild Food Walker led a wild food walk, followed by a sampling lunch.
20 people took part and their taste buds were treated to many delights – the menu included 2 soups – creamy nettle and tangy garlic (both served with exellent locally made bread); pasta accompanied by nettle pesto and a wild leaf salad; a series of pickles (elder buds and ash keys) and wild jams; wild greengage crumble and hazelnut meringue with blackberry colis; dandelion drop scones with rosehip syrup; fruit leather and a taste of a couple of alcoholic delights – May Blossom brandy and Elderflower port.
A awful lot of work by a team of volunteers was richly rewarded by the contented smiles on people’s faces and their many complementary comments.
A suessful event – we can’t wait to do it again in the Autumn!