A bit of a pickle

I made it just in time.  A couple of days ago the nasturtiums were in full bloom, a wave of yellow, orange and red across the courtyard.  Today they are the sorry leftovers of a super slug feast.  Like slimy locusts they have laid the courtyard bed bare.  Fortunately I had been in and harvested the seeds a few days earlier and now have my very own homegrown “capers” pickling away.

Harvesting nasturtium seeds is easy.  They are huge great things (for seeds) up to a centimetre long and look a little like mini brains.  They come away from the plant easily and you can often see them on the ground underneath the flowers.

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First you need to wash them and then soak them in brine (about 50g salt to 500ml water) for 24 hours.

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The following day rinse and pack into sterilised jars and cover with boiling pickling vinegar.  In theory you could use standard vinegar but pickling vinegar gives pickles that slightly rich flavour.  You can buy packs of pickling spices or make up your own mix using, for example, mace, cinnamon, cloves, peppercorns, cardomom, coriander, juniper berries, bay leaves.  Add the spices to the vinegar, bring to the boil then leave to cool for a minimum of a couple of hours, though overnight is better.

Seal with a well fitting lid or use a kilner jar.  They should  be ready to eat in two to three weeks. Pretty much any fruit or vegetable can be pickled, I pulled out shedloads of wild leek earlier in the spring and pickled the bulbs.  I also adore pickled eggs and as we have hens it is a perfect way to use up the inevitable excess!

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greenery – drying herbs

Back in the garden the greenery is doing greenery types of things.  Essentially it’s growing.  The Boss goes out with a frown and starts to remove the greenery which is growing where he has plans for other greenery.  I run behind him and rescue his victims.

Then when he has had enough of killing off the greenery I want to keep he goes for a kip and I go and pinch (sorry forage) for more greenery in the fields and woods.

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So far I have collected:

  • Chickweed
  • Cleavers
  • Nettles
  • Elderflowers
  • Plantain
  • Horsetail

From the garden I garnered:

  • Mint
  • Apple mint
  • Raspberry leaves
  • Sage
  • English Mace
  • Bay
  • Tarragon
  • Celery leaves
  • Comfrey

A particularly lovely and refreshing tea is nettle and mint. At this time of year you can use the fresh leaves (don’t forget your gloves!).  But I’m stocking up for the winter months.  You can dry leaves and flowers in a cool (50 centigrade maximum) oven, bottom of the aga or with a dehydrator.  Alternatively  if you want to be completely carbon neutral tie them in bunches and hang in a warm airy room.  If you are drying flowers like elderflower which may drop off then place a paper bag around the  bunch, but make sure to make several holes in the paper to ensure airflow.  Our aga is off for the summer and I like the speed and convenience of the dehydrator.  I dry a lot of plants and it is the easiest way to bulk dry without turning on the oven.

Plenty more to forage and garner but I have had enough for today and am going to settle down with a banana, strawberry, applemint smoothie thinned down with the whey from the cheese.

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penny bun

It has been raining, it is now warm and a little muggy.  The time of year when a girl’s thoughts turn to fungi.  After a couple of false starts things looked up a bit when we collected plenty of jelly ear and milk caps.  The former are a bit of an acquired taste and I know some people put them in spicy casseroles and soups.  Personally I like them dried as a snack.  But I do appreciate I am someone of a loner on that front.

Plenty of LBT  (little brown things that nobody can be bothered to identify)  loads of stinkhorn (shame we can’t find a use for it but even if you can overcome the physical appearance the smell would put you off).

 

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Some inidentifiable Agaricus and then, just as we were on our way back we stopped to let some horses past and I spotted this.

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In all my year I have never managed to get a cep as big and as fresh as this.  Not a mark on it, not an insect visible.  A perfect example of why they are called Penny Buns. This is up there with the 18lb salmon I caught on my honeymoon (and has pride of place in the wedding album!).  Now we just have to decide which of our recipes to use, or whether to just have it lightly fried on toast.  I’m hankering after Papadelle with cep, sage and pancetta.  I even have durum flour for the pasta.

wonderful weeds

I’m sorry if you are a fast reader,  I am having to type very slowly due to the fact that the Devil himself has taken up residence in my right shoulder and is drilling away with a red hot poker.  He has been there for almost two weeks and I was rather hoping he would be bored by now and have moved on to another victim but it would seem that he has settled in for the duration.  Codeine and hot wheat packs are making a small dent in the pain.  I shall pause briefly for you to say “Ahhh” and share some sympathy before moving on to the subject of the day………..

I promised recipes and those you shall have.  All in good time.  We have had a couple of days of sudden and heavy rain and we were rather hoping that there might be some mushrooms in the woods.  There were not.  Not to be defeated we picked our first rowan berries

 

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and some pineappleweed.

 

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It is still quite early for the rowan berries and I will pick more later in the year when they are a richer red.  In the meantime they are simmering away on the stove ready to be made into rowan jelly.

The pineappleweed you will know, and quite possibly hate.  It grows rampantly on driveways and similar hard stoney ground.  If you crush the little yellow buds you will release a beautiful pineapple fragrance.  You can dry it and make tea, but as the only teas I like are builders and apple I won’t be bothering with that.  Instead I whizzed up a cup of buds with two cups of sugar.  The oil in the buds makes the sugar rather wet so you have to leave it out to dry.  It also makes it rather green.

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But it makes delicious cakes and biscuits.

 

Now the salve recipes

Comfrey

  1. Collect and dry the comfrey leaves (I use the dehydrator)
  2. Crush and weigh leaves.
  3. Mix 1oz of leaves to 1 cup of olive oil
  4. Either leave to infuse for 4-6 weeks or heat gently (do not let boil) and leave to infuse for 24 hours.  No prizes guessing which method I use.
  5. Strain through muslin.
  6. Add 1oz of beeswax (grated or use pellets or granules)  to every cup of oil.
  7. Heat gently until wax fully melted.
  8. Pour into prepared jars to set.

Lavender

Pretty much the same method but using dried lavender flowers.

Moisturiser

I used this recipe from Quirky Cooking  I don’t have the specialist cooker/mixer she uses but it worked just fine with a heavy bottomed pan and a whisk.  I used 6tbsp of rosewater rather than rosewater and water, and I added a couple of drops of pure rose essential oil.  Divine.

food from the foreshore

This is how not to do it.

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This is a mixture of pepper dulse and carrageen.  I was running out of bags and thought I would have no trouble separating them out when I got home.  As Julia Roberts said in Pretty Woman “Big mistake”.  Fortunately PM was on the radio and Eddie Mair kept me going.  Thank you Eddie

Finally I had this.

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Carrageen on the left and pepper dulse on the right.  Both will be dried and stored.  Carrageen is an excellent alternative to gelatin and has the advantage that it can be used warm or cold.  Pepper dulse lives up to its name and has a strong pepper flavour and dried is a delicious condiment.

Sea spaghetti will be kept in a plastic bag in the fridge.  I like it just as it is, like samphire, but we had it with a soy sauce dressing on Saturday evening and that was delicious too.

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Gutweed and Sea lettuce are drying in the oven and will be fried to make genuine chinese seaweed (rather than the cabbage or lettuce many restaurants substitute)

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Finally the kelp drying on the line!

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This will be chopped up and fried to make delicious crisps.

In other news the dehydrator has been working overtime and I’m hoping to get going on some salves.  Lime vodka and lemon vodka are on the shelf with their friends and I have a huge bowl of freshly dried lavender for bread and biscuits.

food for free part 1

I promise not to bore you to death with endless posts about foraging but if you really are seeking to downshift, to get away from packaging, to eat truly fresh food then learning to forage is essential.  It is also great fun, what is not to like about going for a walk and coming back with supper?

If you are in the UK (or even not, one of our fellow foragers and his wife are regular’s on Chris and Rose’s courses and they live in Isreal!) then you really cannot do much better than have a look at Taste the Wild.  Chris and Rose and immensely knowledgeable and very good company.  We have now been on two of their courses and I am eyeing up a few more.  I have been on other courses, but I can say hand on heart, their’s were the best.

These were some of the things we found on our hilltop walk on Saturday morning.

Hogweed

 

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This is everywhere and not hard to find.  The buds make a delicious green vegetable and the dried seeds are wonderful in baking.  It is a member of the notorious carrot family  (which includes several severely poisonous plants including hemlock and hemlock water dropwort) Notice the leaves.  If you are unsure then avoid any of the umberliferous plants with small fern like leaves.   Hogweed has larger fully formed leaves.

Chickweed

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You will have this in your garden.  I guarantee it.  If you are a keen gardener you will be intimately familiar with it, well help is at hand, you can pull it up and eat it.  It is easily identifiable and only likely to be confused with yellow pimpernel (which is poisonous) however, the clue is in the name.  Chickweed has tiny white flowers whilst those of the pimpernel are yellow.  Also if you crush the leaf of chickweed it will crumple to mush whist the pimpernel will uncurl again.  Finally, if you snap the stem chickweed leaves a small string between the two halves whilst the pimpernel breaks into two separate pieces.  The stem of chickweed also has a row of tiny hairs along one side – pimpernels are bald!

It is an excellent addition to salads, green soups, stir fries and added to anything where you might use something like spinach eg. fritters, omelettes etc.

 

Sorrel

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Another commonly foraged plant.  Always pick in open grassland in full sun and not under hedgerows or trees where you may confuse it with lords and ladies.  L&L is poisonous but the leaves are fundamentally different.  Sorrell has pointed backwards pointing lobes whereas those of L&L are always rounded. The sorrel flowers are small and red and as they often grow alongside buttercups you can sometimes see a red haze above the yellow.

The flavour is quite strong so is best mixed with gentler flavour leaves in a salad and they make a tremendous sauce or stuffing and are wonderful in omelettes.  However if you were to eat vast quantities of sorrel every day you could do yourself some damage due to the high oxalic acid content.

 

Fat Hen

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I love this name, I imagine a huge great hen waddling round the courtyard.  I have no idea where the name comes from though. It grows best on disturbed, nitrogen rich soil it is very salt tolerant and is thus common along the coast.  It is the bane of almost every gardener and  very easy to find.  However they can be mistaken for the nightshade family so stick to the younger plants which have a distinctive mealy surface or to the fully grown plants with their distinctive spikes of tiny whitish flowers.

Use the leaves as a green vegetable including the flower spikes.

 

Yarrow

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Although umberliferous it is easy to distinguish from the poisonous plants  as the groups of florets are much smaller and the  leaves are long featherlike spears.  Can group up to only about 18″ so is also much smaller.  Use the leaves in salad, they are quite peppery and dried they make a good tea.

Coltsfoot

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Anyone remember coltsfoot rock?    It is made exclusively by Stockley’s Sweets in Lancashire using coltsfoot extract.

The underside of the leaf is downy and the plant produces a flower not unlike that of the dandelion, thought the leaves are distinctly different.  The flavour is slightly aniseedy and can be used as a flavouring as well as in salads.  The flowers are also edible.

Apparently the soft underside is easily rubbed off and before the free availability of matches the leaves were wrapped in a cloth dipped in a saltpetre solution and dried in the sun.  They were then used as tinder.

 

Ribwort Plantain

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There are plenty of plantains and you may well have them in your garden, all over your lawn!  We do,though mainly in the meadow rather than the lawn.

The leaves are pretty uninspiring but the tips of the seed head are lovely in salads, pizza etc. with a mushroomy taste

 

foraging

In a journey towards less, there is more to contend with than removing things from your home.  You must also consider how and why you let things into your home, and indeed your life in general.

I have long been a supermarket avoider.  I am one of the founder members of The Durham Local Food Network, and have over the years made my own  butter, cheese, soap, shampoo, furniture polish, cleaning products, face creams as well as the more usual, preserves, breads, wines, fruit brandies etc.  All were a huge success with the possible exception of butter, which though it tasted delicious was really not worth the effort.  If I had to make all my own butter we would never bake again!

I have always loved foraging. I am not particularly knowledgeable, but have always been eager to learn. I have never poisoned anyone, but there have been some less than successful experiments.  Acorn coffee tasted rather good, but like the butter, was a faff to make.  Adding cleavers to salads enhanced it in my view, but not in that of the rest of the family.  Rowan jelly is delicious after two years, it is vile in year one.

Imagine my delight to discover that the Boss and I were going on a two day coastal foraging course with Rose and Chris Bax and Caco from Taste the Wild.   We went out mushrooming with them in October last year and it was such a fantastic day that when I opened the voucher on Christmas morning I was devastated to realise that I had to wait until August.  It was well worth the wait.

I have pondered whether to give you a blow by blow account in one post or not.    Fearful that some of you might not be able to contain your excitement and could suffer an unexpected early onset life threatening condition through sheer joy I shall sprinkle the reports over the next few weeks.

However, as a small taste of what is to come.

This is me fishing for whiting and cod on “All My Sons” with Sean.  Day one was not a great success for me (though great for the others).  I caught up well enough on day two. On the first evening  I was also suffering from a touch of sea sickness and spent the latter part of the journey, whilst they were emptying the lobster pots, with my eyes firmly fixed on the horizon…

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This is supper on day two… in addition to which we also had two HUGE lobsters, a guarnard, winkles, limpets and some shore crabs.  Anybody recognise anything?!  With the exception of the bread, the salad and salsa verde we caught or foraged all of it.

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I would hazard a guess that depending on where you live, at least half of the “weeds” you are trying to eradicate from your garden you could eat one way or another.

  • chickweed
  • rosebay willow herb
  • fat hen
  • hogweed
  • grape plantain
  • Everlasting sweet pea (NOT the annuals)
  • Ground Ivy

And that doesn’t even begin to include all the things that probably don’t grow in your garden …..