All of a sudden over the course of just a week everything has turned white – trees, hedgrows, fields – there are white flowers and blossom (what a fantastic language English is where there is a seperate word for tree flowers!) So many of these white blooms are from edible plants – its quite an exciting time of year to be foraging – there is so much to eat out there – I know the spring has been wet and cold and grey, but the growth is so lush it almost makes up for it.
Trees in blossom at the moment are Hawthorn (May Blossom), Mountain Ash (or Rowan) and Elder (just coming) – May Blossom can be dried and made into tea, Elderflowers is famous for cordial and champagne, just mark the location of the Rowan and come back in the autumn for the berries.
Looking a little lower and the next layer down there is Cow Parsley, who’s early leaves are edible (making sure you are certain its not its very poisonous simular relation Hemlock), Sweet Cecily – again very simular, but instantly recognisable by its distinct aniseed smell and the versitle Jack by the Hedge (Garlic Mustard) and lots of White Deadnettle.
In some shady damp areas the brilliant Wild Garlic (Ransoms) are still in flower and their all pervading smell fills the valley.
Down at your feet at the bottoms of the hedgerow there are still more white flowered foods to be picked. Hairy Bittercress and its cousin Shepherd’s Purse – little peppery plants – very welcome in a spring salad. Last but not least Cickweed with its beautiful star like flowers is abundant and luchious this spring, enjoying as it does a damp spring.
There really is so much out there, and remember its all free for the picking!
For me, one of the best tastes of Spring is the sharp lemon tang of sorrel. Wood Sorrel is a delightfully bright green lighting up the woodland floor, delicate white flowers and its clover-like leaves make it very easy to identify, one bite and the distinct taste makes it unmistakable.
The other sorrel is completely unrelated but shares its name due to the simular taste – growing in open fields and a member of the dock family there are several varieties – Arrow Sorrel, Sheep Sorrel- all can generically be covered by the heading Field Sorrel. Recently I led a Wild Food Walk for the lovely chef, Adam, at Nuthurst Grange Hotel (www.nuthurst-grange.co.uk) – after tramping the surronding grounds and fields we took a walk around the walled herb graden, where someone asked for the identity of a plant – bending down I immediatley declared it to be Bistort – also an edible member of the dock family but much larger than sorrel. However I was most surprised when I tasted a leaf to find the distinct citrus of sorrel – it was a huge cultivated version and it was a good lesson that even an experienced forager can make an identification error!
St Georges Day is 23rd June, and this the day traditionally to pick dandelion flowers to make wine as they are usually in full bloom with the first flush of their beautfil yellow faces, this year however they have been out en masse for about a week already and looking glorious until the rain decended!
I was watching Country File on the TV the other evening and was very surpised to see them cooking! They were making dandelion bhajis, which look brilliant. Onion bhajis are very easy to make and taste delicious freshly fried, so I can’t wait to try these. Check out the link
I must say that I think I would just use the flower petals (even tho’ its a bit faffy to seperate them) because I think the yellow would look better and the petals would distribute through the batter more evenly.
Also see my blog in April last year for Hugh’s River Cottage dandelion marmalade
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!
I have never made it, but long wanted to, think I may hunt myself out a birch tree and give it a go after this inspirational post from Speckled Wood
When is a weed not a weed? When its edible? When its really pretty?
Well on my allotment I have a weed that is both – Coltsfoot – its a pernicious weed and it gets everywhere, but its leafless flowers are so pretty that it seems such a shame to eridicate it completely.
Roger Phillips in his Wild Food book advocates using the flowers to make wine, but I think you may need a meadow-full to pick the required 5 pints of flowers!
However, wait until the leaves come through and make some Coltsfoot cream, but chopping and sauteing a couple of handfuls of young leaves, then cover with water and cook until soft. Strain off the water and push the leaves through a course sieve, and beat with a tblsp toasted sesame seeds.
If you wonder what it would taste like – cast your mind back to kids sweets from the 70’s – did you ever have Coltsfoot rock – strangely chalky and a bit aniseed-y http://www.aquarterof.co.uk/coltsfoot-rock-p-271.html
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 http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/acorn_panna_cotta_mocha_93457 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
- 2½ gelatine leaves
- 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.
- For the acorn panna cotta, preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas 4.
- Place the acorns, or hazelnuts if using instead, on a baking tray and roast for 10 minutes until they are a deep brown colour.
- Remove from the oven and cool for a few minutes, before grinding coarsely in a coffee grinder.
- 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.
- Meanwhile, soak the gelatine leaves for a few minutes in cold water until soft.
- Prepare the panna cotta moulds by lightly greasing either a silicon mould with small rectangular pockets (a financière mould), or four dariole moulds.
- 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.
- Pour the panna cotta into the prepared moulds and transfer to the fridge to set.
As the trees come into blossom, do enjoy it for is own sake and smile as it brightens your day, but also check it out a bit closer and make a mental note of where it is. Because of course where there are flowers there will later be fruit!
Blossom right now is most likely to be blackthorn which will turn into sharp black sloes, which in turn can be made into Sloe Gin – which reminds me… Ahh that’s better, nothing like a glass of deep red nectar to help the concentation and lubricate the typing fingers!
Anyway, within a couple of weeks we should be seeing plum and damson, then apple and pear, followed swiftly by May blossom (from the Hawthorn tree) and the fantastic finalie of Elderflower by which time it will be June and it won’t be long before the first fruits start to appear and the cycle goes on.
Wild Food Walker checking in again. Collection of Elder flower buds is going slowly but as the speed of buds bursting increases I should get my first pint for pickling.
In a lot of ways foraging the urban fringe is a more interesting challenge than being out and about in the countryside. Today I was wandering round collecting those buds and found myself at the gates of a reclamation yard where some kind individual had dumped a load of mixed rubble and top soil. I did a triple take on the almost iridescent plants sprouting from it and suddenly it dawned. I was looking at a collection of smooth sow thistles. An unexpected find and only identified by one of the plants being a few days older than the others and having the characteristic “tags” on the leaf stem. Far tastier than the related Spiny sow thistle but after a quick nibble, was left where it was, not because it tasted bad, it was fresh and sweet but I had no idea what was in the pile of soil and rubble. Ah well !
OK, so Spring has officially arrived – that’s it – you can stop waiting. To celebrate the extra day, Spring has arrived in February! Prove it, I hear you cry, OK – 3 reasons that I know spring has come…
1. On the way to work I spotted hawthorn bursting into bud and stopped for a nibble
2. On the way home I picked Wild Garlic leaves just poking through (be certain they are not Lily of the Valley – looks simular, smells very different obviously!)
3. Whilst picking said Garlic to be added to chicken, tomato and basil sauce, I collected enough Field (Arrow/Sheep) Sorrel to go in my tomorrow.
What more proof do you need? Here’s to good foraging in 2012, she says raising a delicious glass of 2010 blackbery wine : )