If you have done much Middle Eastern cooking you may come across the spice mix ‘ras al hanout’. Its base is dried rose petals and this is how to make it.
Take a large handful of wild rose petals and dry them (over a couple of days in the airing cupboard, or overnight by the side of an ember fire). Make sure they are completely dry (but not cooked!).
Into a large dry pan, put 2 broken cinnamon sticks, 1 tsp cloves, 1tblsp coriander seed, 1 tblsp fennel seed, 1 tblsp mustard seed, 12 cardamon pods, 3 star anise 1tsp ground alspice, 1tsp black peppercorns. Heat gently until seeds start to pop, tossing gently to avoid burning. When cool grind in a pestle and mortar and mix with the rose petals. It will keep for a couple of months, but best used in that time.
Everywhere, in every hedgerow the elder is coming into bloom, bury your nose into the flowers and take in the sweet and heady scent! The internet abounds with receipes for elderflower cordial and elderflower champagne (and do have a go at those) but why not give this a try as well…
Gooseberry and Elderflower Preserve (taken fromthe ever resourceful Richard Mabey’s ‘Food for Free’)
Have 4 flower heads with as little stalk as possible to each 1lb of gooseberries. Put the fruit in a preserving pan with 1 pint of water for every 1lb fruit and simmer for half an hour, mashing the fruit to a pulp as you go along. Add 1 lb sugar to every 1lb fruit, stir until dissolved and then bring to the boil. Tie the elderflowers in muslin and add the whole lot, boil until setting point is reached (for more info on the specifics of jam check out http://www.make-jam.co.uk). Remove the bag of flowers and pour into jars as usual. ‘The flavour is quite transformed…and is reminiscent of muscat grapes’.
Can’t be bad!
The books all say that Sweet Cicely is widespread in the North and less common in the South, but in my experince it seems to very much prefer limestone country. I have seen it in abundance in the North Yorkshire Moors area (in the hedgerows, not on the moors themselves!) and yesterday we had a lovely day in the on/off rain in Dovedale where there was more of it than there was of Cow Parsley.
Aromatic and sweetly smelling of aniseed / liquorish its hard to mistake for anything else. The leaves can be chopped and added to salad or leaves and stems boiled. My favourite is to use it to cook with first gooseberries in place of sugar. Aparently, in the style of Comfrey Fritters, it is also sometimes cooked in France, dipped in thin batter and deep fried.
I was out cycling around Carsington Water last weekend and there were loads of spring flowers. It must be very sheltered as it is still only March. Some of our prettiest spring flowers are edible spring, but only in small quantities. Primroses and violets can be used to make crystalised flowers, beautiful on top of Mother’s Day or Easter cakes. Pick a few (but only if there are loads) dip them in egg white and sprinkle with caster sugar.
In times gone by when spring flowers were much more plentiful they could be used to make wine, you can still find receipes (in old books and on the internet I’m sure) for Coltsfoot or Cowslip wines. You would be very hard pushed to find enough cowslips to make wine and even if you did it would be such a shame to pick them for such a purpose, but if you have ground covered in coltsfoot needing to be cleared (as I have seen on some local allotments) let them flower, pick and make wine and then dig them up! (and replant somewhere wild if possible, they realy are the herald of spring and so good to see thier bright yellow)
Today is so Spring!!
Its so spring beacuse today I saw my first butterfly of the year, the frogs have spawned in the pond in our garden and I even caught a glimpse of some Wood Anenomies (Windflowers) .
I vistited the embryonic Rhubarb Farm today (http://188.8.131.52/rhubarb_farm/index.php) a new Social Enterprise Community Supported Agriculture project starting near Bolsover. Beautiful Spring Day, we saw loads of things to eat at the bottom of the hedgerows – enough to make a propoer spring salad – dandelions, garlic mustard, cow parsley, hogweed, dead nettle, sorrel and of course hawthorn itself.
What caught my eye most of all was a whole bank of Celendine. their beautiful star like flowers shining in the spring sun. But everytime I see Celendine it really brings home the reality of starving. You see one of the old names for Celendine is famine food. Each of the tiny plants, if you dig them up, has teeny tiny nodules on the roots and these, if collected and ground up are pure starch. How poor would you have to be to have nothing else? How hungry would you have to be to face such a task to fill your belly? I think I am very lucky to live in the Western World in 21st century.
Whilst everyone has heard of Maple Syrup and the whole thing is quite familiar, suggest to people in the UK that they drink tree sap and they are REALLY out of their comfort zone!
The sap is rising in all trees at the moment, in fact someone told me that if you hold your ear agianst a tree you will hear the sap rushing up the tree and I have tried this, but am never quite sure whether the noise I’m hearing is just the ‘sea in the seashell’ noise or whether it is actually sap rushing around inside the tree.
Just along the street from my house a row of birch trees oevrhang a neighbour’s fence, one branch had been twisted and broken in the winter gales and this week, the tree was put out of its misery and the offening limb has been cut off. The sap is literaly dripping out of the cut, making a wet patch on the pavement. Were it in my garden, I would have installed a bowl bucket to catch said sap. Recommended for making beautiful (pre-sweetened) tea, you could try boiling and then reduciing a pan full of sap down to thin syrup-y stuff to sweeten any dish. Mixing with lemon peel and cloves along with the normal yeast and sugar (or even honey) makes great wine, so I’m told. Birch trees can be ‘tapped’ a hole drilled in the truck (and a cork inserted afterwards to prevent permanent damage) for a reliabel source.
I took my car in for a service this week, the garage I use this little back street guy, tucked away in a unit at the back of a scruffy industrial estate. My point being that in order to gather wild food, you don’t have to be ‘in the wild’. On the walk back from the garage I spied lots of big clumps of Garlic Mustard (Jack by the Hedge) , all coming up in a bit of grass where no one goes. I pulled some of these fresh, green spicy-hot leaves and popped them into my salad in a box lunch. They would go just as well in a ham sandwich!
While you are out and about at the mo, take a look around at all the blossom that is about – plum ‘family’ is one of the earliest to come into flower, make a mental note of where you see it and remember to pop back in the autumn and check for damsoms or sloes.