February. The bright green tips of wild garlic are starting to emerge, one of my favourite foraged greens and a lovely reminder that Spring is on its way! All parts are edible – the leaves, flowers, bulbs and seeds. Many people know it as ramsons and I have also heard it called bears garlic: Legend has it that as bears awaken from hibernation they hungrily search out the bulbs, dig them up and feast on them to Spring cleanse their systems.
These first tips are the tastiest and the tenderest. They are delicious finely chopped and sprinkled into sandwiches, or made into wild garlic pesto (recipe below) As they mature I use them by the handful, in stir fries and with pasta sauces. Cooking them really softens their pungent garlic flavour and means you can use them liberally as a spring green.
To pick them just nip out the tips with your nails, or snip with scissors. The leaves will quickly regrow. I usually find them by the moist and shady banks of the river in deciduous woodlands, often in carpet like swathes and often alongside bluebells so take care not to accidentally pick bluebell leaves as you are gathering them!
The pretty white star shaped flowers also have a strong garlic flavour and look lovely sprinkled on top of salads or used as a garnish.
A wild Spring salad, from last May, with wild garlic flowers, honesty flowers, and a mix of foraged leaves.
The crunchy green seed pods can be pickled in vinegar. As the seeds ripen they turn black and become very hard, at which stage they can be ground in a pepper mill and used as a garlicky condiment.
I will be running a series of workshops using wild Spring greens, my next one is at the wonderful Small World Theatre in Cardigan on Saturday 19th April
Details of my workshops are on my website www.wildpickings.co.uk
After a few balmy, sunshine filled days at the beginning of the month, March has quickly turned cold again, with much of the country wrapped in a blanket of snow. At the moment it feels like we are locked in a battle between Spring and Winter and the tender new plant growth that has precociously sprung up has been blasted by frost. When the hedgerows are battered with bad weather I like to head for the coast where there is usually always some tasty wild food to be found. Late Winter & early Spring is a great time for seashore foraging: we get extra low tides which are ideal for gathering seaweeds and exploring undiscovered bays usually cut off by the sea.
Laver – nori – Porphyra umbilicalis
This is one of my favourite coastal foods and can be found on rocks at low tide.
In Wales, where I live, laver is traditionally boiled for several hours, until thick and gelatinous, then rolled in oat and fried into patties. I like to eat it dried and toasted. It needs lots of washing as sand collects in the delicate folds and dries very quickly in the sun or above a range. Don’t be tempted to dry it in the oven as the house will smell very bad, very quickly! Once dried it can be toasted in a hot oven or frying pan for a couple of minutes – it will change colour and turn bright green. It can then be eaten as a crispy snack or crumbled onto rice or vegetables. Traditionally it is picked in the Winter, after the first frosts and eaten dried from a paper bag as a snack.
Growing up on the Kent coast my grandfather would often take me to a little cockle & whelk shop in Margate. The taste of Dulse seaweed reminds me of all these nostalgic flavours of the sea, in plant form – it is also called vegetarian oyster. I like it dried and chopped up with potatoes or sprinkled into savoury cheese dishes. Dulse needs a quick rinse and can be dried in the same way as laver.
Cut seaweeds with a sharp knife or scissors, leaving a good third of the stipe attached to the holdfast on the rock to regrow.
Rock Samphire – Crithmum maritimum
The fresh tips of this aromatic plant can be found from late Winter, growing precariously on the edge of cliffs and can be picked throughout Spring and Summer. If you nibble it raw it has quite a pungent herby flavour but this softens with cooking. Boil, steam or stir fry for a few minutes and drizzle with olive oil and & black pepper for a side vegetable. It is naturally salty and can also be pickled and is popular eaten with seafood.
One of my favourite old sayings “When Gorse is in Bloom, Kissing is in Season” rings true any time of the year, as anyone who is familiar with the flower will know that there will always be some around somewhere. There are great swathes of it growing on the cliffs near me and the dazzlingly bright yellow flowers and intoxicating smell of coconut is a welcome dose of sunshine, especially in Winter.
Gorse flowers have a slightly bitter, floral flavour, with a hint of coconut. They are a pretty addition sprinkled onto salads and make a delicate, refreshing cordial.
Gorse Flower Cordial
As many gorse petals as you can pick! Ideally, at least a litre jugful.
Juice & zest of 2 oranges
Pick the gorse flowers on a dry sunny day, ideally when you can smell the coconut fragrance as this will give a more flavoursome cordial.
Put the blossoms in a pan and cover with boiling water. You just want to add enough water to submerge the flowers. Leave to steep overnight. Strain through a jelly bag or piece of muslin. Add the zest and juice from the oranges. Measure out the liquid and pour back into the pan. Add 700 g of sugar per litre of liquid and heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Pour into hot sterilised bottles if you want to keep it for a few months, otherwise bottle into clean containers and keep in the fridge.
A little piece I wrote in Autumn 2012 for the lovely ezine Slow it Down
Autumn is here already and although in my neck of the woods much of the wild fruit is not as bountiful as last year, there is still a great deal about if you go looking for it. As a forager, October is both one of my busiest and favourite months of the year. On a sunny day, when the light is warm and golden there is nothing nicer than a wander through a favourite nature spot, where the trees are plump and fruitful, a time of plenty before the Winter sets in.
Autumn fruits are packed full of vitamins and flavour. For modern palates which often prefer sweetness to bitter or sour tastes, eaten straight from the tree or bush they can be quite sharp, or, if you have ever popped a raw sloe in your mouth, eye wateringly astringent. Lightly cooking them with a little sweetener draws out the juices and makes the most of their rich and complex flavours.
If you are lucky enough to live by the coast, you may have come across Sea Buckthorn, the orange berries of which seem to be an acquired taste but I found their sour tartness mouth wateringly good and from reading up on their heath benefits they are cram packed full of goodness, an incredible super food. Picking them is a bit tricky – they are surrounded by a thorny armour and not long after they become ripe burst as soon as they are touched and exude bright orange juice everywhere. Holding a bowl underneath them to catch the delicious explosion seems to be the best way of harvesting them!
Gathering Rosehips also involves careful manoeuvring around thorns but they are well worth the effort. A jelly or syrup made from them and spooned over porridge on a cold Winters morning brings an amber glow to the belly and is like a ray of sunshine. All rose hips are edible – the mandarin shaped soft hips of the Rosa rugosa are the first to ripen, with the harder hips of the native dog rose needing a good blast of cold weather to soften them up. Which ever variety you use they need to be minced and sieved very finely (though a jelly bag) to remove the irritating hairy seeds which are in the centre and have pretty much the same effect as itching powder!
Elder trees produce clusters of juicy dark berries which are reputed to be wonderful for treating cold and ‘flu symptoms. They need to be heated gently, as the raw fruits contain toxins which can cause upset stomachs. They also make an incredible Port-like wine and I have a couple of demi johns bubbling away for drinking next Winter.
Crab apples are often ignored because raw they are incredibly sour, though you may come across a ‘wildling’ which will be sweeter (this is a tree which has grown from a pip, not the true crab apple, Malus sylvestris) but when they are cooked and mixed with sugar, alchemy takes place and their flavour is transformed. They are very high in pectins and adding some to jams or jellies will not only taste lovely but also help them to set quickly.
As with all foraging, make sure you leave plenty more than you take. Birds rely on berries and fruits for their winter foods and the jewel like colours in the hedgerows brighten the shortening days
The recipe below is perfect for making the most of whatever fruit is available to you and is suitable for all the fruits above.
Autumn fruit syrup
This will make about one and a half litres of syrup
2kg mixed fruit. eg Crab apples, rosehips, elderberries, seabuckthorn berries, blackberries, damsons. You don’t need to peel or core, just make sure the harder fruits are chopped up
about 500ml water – a little less if you are using mostly juicy berries
Add the harder fruits to the pan first such as the rosehips & crab apples as they will need to cook for a little longer (try about 10 minutes before adding the rest of the fruit) simmer the fruit until it breaks up. Bash it and mash it a bit with a wooden spoon to make sure that all the juice is extracted. Pass everything through a sieve or leave to drip through a jelly bag overnight (use the jelly bag method if you are using rosehips)
Measure the juice and return it to a clean pan. Gently heat and add 750g sugar for every litre of water. Once the sugar has dissolved and the juice begins to simmer take it off the heat – if you allow it to boil too furiously it may set like jelly (I have done this before, it is delicious but you won’t be able to get it out of the bottle easily) pour it straight into hot sterilised bottles. It will keep unopened for a good few months, just pop it into the fridge once you have unscrewed it.
This is delicious made into a drink, drizzled onto pancakes, icecream, porridge or yoghurt and makes my favourite champagne cocktail!