Friday, 8 June 2018

Elder Flower & Other Forage


Summer finally seems to have arrived. The hedgerows are heady with the smell of Elderflower and we have been busy bottling our cordial and champagne.
Elder Flower
We also collected a load for the Unity Brewing Co, to flavour their, Été  Summer Saison range
Elder Flower
This year, I have also been investigating some other, non fruit, forage. Expanding my knowledge base has been a good thing to work on during the Spring.
Jack by the Hedge 
Jack by the Hedge is one of my favourite plants to nibble on while out walking. Its leaves have a lovely peppery taste, perfect for pepping up a salad, and is actually related to mustard. When they ripen, the seeds explode out of the pods on touching.
Jack by the Hedge 
I have also identified Horseradish in the wild, which will add an exciting new dimension to our cooking and diet. The root of this plant is spicy enough to make your eyes water, as well as your mouth.
Leaves of Horseradish

Last year a friend wanted to obtain Angelica root, to help flavour some gin. Understanding this plant meant that I needed to investigate the Umbelliferous, carrot family (Apiaceae) further. 
Alexanders and Cow Parsley
This is very common hedgerow group is made up of many similar but subtly different plants. Alexanders, Ground Elder, Hog Weed and Cow Parsley can all add tasty dietary variations
Water Hemlock Dropwort
However, picking and consuming them, at all, is complicated by surprisingly common and lethally toxic Hemlock varieties. For this reason, it is best to learn to identify these plants by their various traits over a whole cycle of seasons, before picking them (using at least three id points), or eating any at all. The main thing that you understand by doing this, is how little you actually know. I was genuinely astonished at how common Hemlock was.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Ransom Capers

Although we are often looking out for blossom, as a way of identifying useful fruit trees at this time of year, the first thing we pick is Wild Garlic. Last year we were lucky enough to dine in the Riverford Field Kitchen and, amongst the other delights we were served tasty Wild Garlic Capers with our meal. 
Of course, we decided to have a go at making our own. First we picked plenty of fresh seed heads from Ransoms, in a damp valley of the ancient woods, close to where we live. Wild Garlic is the gift that keeps on giving, you can eat the leaves, then the flowers, then the seeds! 
A week or so before, I had a go at pickling Ransom and Wild Garlic flower buds, I had heard about this process before. I ate a fresh one, still in its sheath, after one of the children dared me. It was very tasty, so we will see what they are like pickled, later.
While picking our Ransom flower/seed heads, we also spotted a vast amount of Skunk Cabbage, which is a strange and interesting swamp loving plant. Apparently it was used by native american Indians for various herbal purposes and to eat, when food was scarce, we left it well alone.
To make the ransom capers, is quite a lengthy process. Initially, we separated the seed heads from the main stalks, then, after getting home we removed the individual seeds from the heads, each one packs a zingy garlic punch and that night, I put a handful into a home-made pasta sauce, as surprise taste bombs.
  1. The Capers initially need to be sealed into clean jars with plenty of salt layered amongst the seeds.
  2. After a period of about three weeks to a month - you can use a sieve to wash the salt away and then gently dry them on a towel.
  3. Once dried you can re-bottle the capers, immersed in vinegar, using small sterilised pickling jars. 
  4. Now you will need to wait for a further two to three months until they are ready to eat.
Who knows, they may make nice Christmas gifts for the more patient pickler.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

A Quick Quiz

I have decided to post a little quiz, to help keep all you readers tuned in, until the Elderflower arrives with the start of Summer.
A keen sense of observation is the main weapon in the foragers arsenal; so here are a couple of questions for anyone hungry for esoteric knowledge and hoping to find a good spot for future fruitfulness...

Take a good, long, careful look at the following two photos, does this look like a good spot for foraging?
Photo 1
 Is there anything here that might indicate forthcoming fruitfulness?
Photo 2
If you have looked and are still not sure what to search for, here's a clue... It's not always the foliage that tells the truth of the tale.

Spoiler Alert!

Look below for the answer...

Last year, in the moth of July, this pathway was over hung by a huge amount of delicious, multi coloured plums
There was such an abundance of fruit that one branch was bent so far that it eventually snapped under the weight, You can still see the sawn off branch, but this was not the answer to the question or the clue...
Many of these juicy fruits fell onto the pavement, where they were crushed by passers by, nobody cleared away the squashed fruit
The acidic fruit juice leaked all over the pathway and, over time, the surface of the tarmac has become bleached as a result of this continuous seasonal exposure. Now have a look back at the first two photographs and the markings will seem obvious.



Friday, 20 April 2018

Spring Blossom

Spring is definitely here now, and my lunchtime walks are filled with wonder. Everything seems to be happening at once. 
I spotted a lovely pair of kestrels, soaring above in the azure. I decided to take some photos to remember the day.
Blackthorn, spires blooming and towering skyward. Pretty but also prickly.
A delightful and very old ornamental Cherry blossoming by the roadside.
A healthy looking cluster of Plum blossom in a hedgerow.
Elder, buds breaking through already, getting ready to begin flowering any day soon.


Monday, 16 April 2018

Ransoms & Flapjack

The plum and blackthorn flowers are wilting, and being replaced by cherry blossom, cheerful daffodils are giving way to beautiful bluebells. When walking in local woodland, bright green leaves are beginning to fill the hedges and trees, and the dappled shade is punctuated by the pungent aroma of wild garlic and ransoms.
April showers had persuaded us to work on some long overdue decorating jobs. The house was still in chaos so the kids and I decided to take a break from the mess and put some of our stored nuts to use, by revisiting one of our favourite recipes for delicious flapjack
We had baskets of hazelnuts and Walnuts left over from last summer and often had cracking/nibbling sessions but this little lot had me sat down with the nut cracker listening to the radio for a quite a while. I find this quite relaxing.
Other than the shelling, the kids did all the baking, and after a couple of hours weighing, mixing and cooking, they had created a superbly scrumptious result.
We have also been experimenting with various Ransom/Wild Garlic recipes. After a quick trip to the local woods, the kids made some delicious Garlic Butter. This is ingenious and can be stored in the fridge, then spread upon toast to create instant Garlic Bread!
We also tried scrambled eggs with shredded Ransoms, this turned out to be a simple but delicious twist on the traditional healthy snack.  We then combined Ransom leaves with further Walnuts, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper to make a very tasty Ransom Pesto to have with pasta. Our next project will be to pickle some Ransom Capers.
Meanwhile, the children have found an alternative use for our nut stash, hand-feeding an increasingly tame local squirrel!

Thursday, 29 March 2018

the Wight Stuff

Snow does not settle very often in Southampton, due to our proximity to the coast and possibly the extra geothermal energy that is used to generate heat for some parts of the city. However, the storm dubbed the Beast from the East did its best, closing many schools and roads. This left children free to sledge down the steepest hills and fill each others clothes with the freezing white stuff. Lovely!
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that most children will be fascinated by dinosaurs and fossils. My son has always been interested in gem stones and geodes. We visited the Isle of Wight, on a wet and windy March day, to try our hands at some amateur palaeontology. We had the added advantage of a brilliant guide from the Island Gems company.
Felicity, our guide, informed us about the unique geology of this part of the coast and then told us what we should look out for. The weather did not dampen out enjoyment one jot, and or the next two hours we wandered the beach, collecting interesting finds and checking them with Felicity. 
We found fossilised wood embedded with glittering Fool's Gold, dinosaur bones, shells, fish bones, sponges and even a piece of turtle shell (all fossilised). The highlight of the tour was probably the gigantic Iguanadon foot casts that littered the beach, but we could not take these home, unlike our personal hoards of fossils and geodes.
A couple of years ago we visited the Oceanography open day last year, where we met some friends of the forager, who had visited the Agglestone after reading about it here and they kindly directed us to a beach on the Island that is known for these sparkling gems. We did not have time to reach it this time, we had to visit a model village, but we will be returning with tents and hammers later this year.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Spring Snow Storms

I know very little about the distance between stars, or the motives of Pepys, but I can always smell the Summertime at the latest by early Spring. 
We are currently bracing ourselves for a big snow-storm, this morning it was -8 when I got on my bike to commute to work. There will be plenty of cold and frost yet to come but the signs are all there, among the flora and fauna.
Plum blossom is beginning to bloom on the branches and this is always my personal first sign of the approaching Spring.
This Winter I have been enjoying the occasional medicinal glass of last year's  Elderberry Port or Vin de Noix to stave of  any colds or other ills. 
The Cider is going down well too, although the Perry still needs a month or so more to age. The Mulberry Gin seems to be vanishing into the ether, evaporating my wife might suggest!
The Pear and Walnut Chutney, a huge personal favourite is still making a regular appearance in the fridge. It goes so well with cheese and perks up my lunchtime sandwiches a treat.
We still have bucket-loads of Hazelnuts and Walnuts left, despite my best efforts to nibble through our hoard during the chilly, dark evenings. So, I think we need to spend some time shelling a whole big load, and then make lots of flapjack and chocolate brownies. It shouldn't be too difficult to persuade the kids to help with that job...