Open Letter to Bear Grylls

Dear Bear

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.

 

Spring Snacks

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.

 

Spring in Shipley

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.

 

Warmest Day of the Year so Far!

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.

 

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone!  Over the past few years – December and January have been far too cold for wild food, but not so today.  Today was a very mild day for this time of year, if a trifle windy and a bike ride into Derbyshire was very much enjoyed.

I was quite surprised to find the floor of a woodland that we cycled through still  covered in Wood Sorrel leaves – not the fresh green of new spring leaves yet, but still a refreshing lemony snack.  However, further along the route, on the grass verge of a minor road, I found fresh growing chickweed flourishing and looking very tasty indeed!

I am very much looking forward to a year of foraging and will keep you posted on what’s available in the big outdoors.

 

White!

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!

 

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!

 

 

Damsons

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 http://www.cottagesmallholder.com 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.