Category Archives: Wild Food

Carl Legge’s Foraged Nettle Permie Pizza

cuttingpizza

If you have been reading this blog for a long time you might recall a post or two in which Mr IronFingers and I went out nettle picking. If I pick nettles I have to wear two pairs of gloves and make a huge song and dance about it. If the bag so much as brushes against my skin once it has nettles in it, I scream – just in case – a bit like the White Queen in Alice in Wonderland. If a nettle looks at me, I quiver abjectly. Mr IronFingers on the other hand laughs at nettles and grasps them firmly and then pops them in the bag. He who is hopelessly allergic to all berry fruit and their little tiny hairs does not react to nettles at all, how strange is that?

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UK National Fungus Day

Bread in Morning Light

Sunday 13th October 2013

Some bread out of the oven cooling in the early morning sunshine.  The one in the front is in reality very small but because of the way the camera works it looks quite big. Thanks to the kefir and whatever yeast (fungus) we use we have bread and can make our own as human beings have been doing for a very long time now.

Fungi and bacteria work with the building blocks of the living world to create and destroy. The more we learn about how they work the more amazing they turn out to be. Maybe we should have a National Bacteria Day too?

Here are some of this autumn’s crop of fungi photographs, taken at Westonbirt, Glos and in the Forest of Dean, which is on the other side of the Severn Bridge, but on this side of the border with Wales. It is a good year for fungi in the UK, so have a go at seeing what you can see, or go to an organized walk or a talk, lots around ! This is the first UK Fungus Day and I think it is a great idea!

I have had a stab at identifying some of them but as ever warn people not to go by my identification as I am not a mycologist. I used to be quite reasonable at identifying about a dozen or so of the edible fungi, but as the years pass I have got out of practice. If you go on a fungi foray with a group or a self-styled forager be sure to ask them how they learnt their trade and ask lots of questions. In these straitened economic times, people turn to all sorts of ways to earn a living and foraging and ‘teaching’ foraging is one of them.

For most of us, wild fungi are not an essential part of our diet, but rather a treat, a flavour, an aroma, something maybe that one wouldn’t desire if not driven by media hype and an urge for different experiences.

I am not saying don’t or that it is wrong to want to taste and touch new things, just be extremely careful. There are cases of poisoning each year, usually well-documented in the press, of people who eat the wrong fungi, or the wrong berries or plants.

What is fun and completely safe however, is to go out and take photographs and look for them. We are sticking to that this year unless we see the ones that I know I can id positively.

And not to create any confusion, we didn’t bring any of the fungi depicted here home with us, only took their photos. Please do not ask me to identify your fungi finds!

larch Boletus Brian Kent

I am pretty sure this is the larch boletus, with its spongy underside.

Yellow Stagshorn Calocera viscosa

and I think this is Yellow Stagshorn( Calocera viscosa) – because it was growing on wood but it’s not one we see very often, it is very small and delicate but has this outstanding glowing colour.

autumn fungi

Haven’t looked this one up yet…

…and finally the most glamorous one we have seen this autumn which I think is a magpie inkcap but I haven’t found an image exactly like it so who knows?

magpie inkcap?

One of the hardest things is keeping the dogs out of the field of shot, as anything that interests us, interests them and we don’t want them to eat the fungi either!

Anyone want to tango with a wet poodle?

Anyone want to tango with a wet poodle?

So for those of you who miss him, here is your small friend Zeb, following an exciting jump into a mud bath on the edge of a small pool which contained a stick of desire that he had to have, (just had to).  We are taking him and his sister to the beach this coming week. I forsee many early evening baths.

The Leaning Tower of Pesto (wild garlic again)

Zeb on the Wild Garlic Trail

The south-west and west of England are a good place to find wild garlic (allium ursinum) though I have seen it growing along the banks of the River Cocker in Cockermouth, tucked in the damp trough of the old Mill Race.

Mill Race At Cockermouth

If it likes a spot it will surely but slowly colonize the ground. It likes damp and it likes light dappled shade, and it comes into flower more or less as the trees start to leaf up, though you can pick the leaves much earlier in the year when it first emerges.  Once the canopy has filled out and the trees are in full leaf overhead,  the leaves shrivel and the wild garlic plants set seed and vanish for another year. You can also buy bulbs from suppliers on the internet if you want to try growing it in your garden.

Garlic Slopes

I first came across it many years ago as a student when I walked from Wooton-under-Edge to Bath on part of the Cotswold Way with two friends, much fitter and light of foot than me. It was a hot weekend and I was glad to get out of the bright sunshine in the cow pastures and bridleways and walk through a cool green wood for a time.  The pungent and distinctive smell of garlic was everywhere, starry white flowers drifting up the slopes, with bluebells and cow parsley layered in.  I remember wrinkling my nose and saying, ‘But that’s garlic!’  I think I thought then that garlic only grew in warmer Mediterranean countries.

Garlic everywhere

The memory stayed with me for many years and when I moved to Bristol eight years ago and found it growing in almost every damp woodland here I researched it, realised it was edible and now pick some every year to use in my cooking. It has become very trendy and fashionable and is sold at farmers’ markets in London and around the country.

 If you were in one of these woods in January you wouldn’t really believe that come May they can be carpeted with garlic, I reckon it is one of the safer plants for the beginner to pick and eat as the smell of the leaves is so distinctive, having said that bluebells and anenomes are poisonous so do make sure that you can distinguish between them. I have read also that some people confuse lily of the valley with wild garlic. I have never seen them growing together here, but again it is worth bearing in mind. I have some older posts on this blog with close up photos but if you search internet images you should find many photos and descriptions to help you. It is worth noting that the plants do vary in size. The ones we picked yesterday were very big and tall, but the ones I see more locally are shorter and smaller.

one last pic of the wild garlicThe plants die back in the summer and all that are left are the bulbs hidden underground till next year, so it really is very seasonal.

I haven’t picked much this year, just one lot that I used in the semolina bun bread last month and at the weekend on our walk I thought I would grab a dog bag’s worth and make some pesto to put in the freezer as the ‘season’ is almost over.

Wild Garlic Pesto

I can tell you what I did and what I put in it, but I haven’t got really good quantiities for you as I made it by eye and taste.  Pesto is one of those Humpty Dumpty words these days as people seem to put what they like in it, some people leave the cheese out altogether, some people add lemon,  but it is a convenient word so I use it here.

Leaning Tower of Pesto

  • A well packed doggy bag of garlic leaves, flowers and buds, probably 500g or so
  • About 200 g of finely ground Pecorino hard cheese ( a sheep’s milk cheese with a strong taste which I prefer to Parmesan)
  • About 150 g of coarsely ground hazelnuts, I like it a bit chunky! It seems a waste to put expensive pine nuts in there as the garlic taste is so strong I don’t think you would be able to taste the pine nuts to be honest.
  • salt to taste
  • Good olive oil or cold pressed rapeseed oil to blend

IMG_1740IMG_1743

We put the garlic in the food processor and added olive oil until the leaves were chopped up, then added the other ingredients and held back on the oil to make a thick creamy paste. I don’t like pesto when it it very oily.

I then spooned it into little 2.5 cm tubs and put them in the freezer. I have read that some people freeze them in ice cube trays and then pop them out and store them that way, but it is one more process and I am a lazy person!

I had held back a handful of leaves and Brian made this wonderful dish which we had for supper with the Black Badger peas that I had cooked a few weeks back and frozen.

The Black Badgers have quite coarse skins but these seem to have softened up in the process of being frozen and defrosted and I think they are fantastic.

Brian came up with this which reminded me of really good hippy food from the 1970s and 80s -think Cranks, and Food For Thought and the Hare Krishna restaurant on Soho Square. We ate them with a piece of Cumberland sausage and some pita bread and some steamed purple sprouting broccoli.

Black Badgers with Wild Garlic and Pecorino and Parsley

Brian’s Hippy Cheesy Garliccy Black Badger Peas

  • 250g of well cooked  British Black Badger Peas (bought from Hodmedods)
  • One Medium Onion finely sliced
  • A handful of wild garlic leaves and flowers chopped lightly
  • ½ teaspoon of cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon mixed spice
  • water
  • 100 – 150 g of left over grated Pecorino cheese
  • a handful of roughly chopped flat leaf parsley to finish
  1. On a low heat in a good heavy pan
  2. Sweat the onion in 2 tbps of butter and  a slosh of olive oil till translucent and soft
  3. Add the chopped garlic leaves and stir for a minute or two
  4. Add the Black Badgers to the pan
  5. Sprinkle the spices in and stir well
  6. Add 2 – 3 tablespoons of water to this to stop the BB’s catching on the bottom of the pan
  7. Cover with lid and check from time to time that there is liquid in the pan, top up if necessary, but you only want enough to stop them sticking, not swimming!
  8. Grill your sausage and steam your purple sprouting broccoli for extra vegetabley goodness
  9. Bake your flat breads – I made pita once more, such fun making pita bread so any excuse!
  10. Before you serve, take the pan off the heat add the grated Pecorino and stir in, put the lid back on and leave to melt in and through the dish.

 If you can’t get Black Badgers, you could make something similar with locally grown peas or beans.  They are full of good fibre and protein and often overlooked in favour of perky fresh vegetable;  we lived on dried pulses in years past in this country, survived on them through the winter and the hungry gap when the new crops hadn’t come through yet.

What were the traditional winter foods where you live – before the days of freezers and 24 hour everything available all the time shops?

Hedgerow Colours and other Bits and Pieces

Rosehip CordialMy gesture towards autumnal hunter gathering (ha!) has been limited this year to these two little projects.  Rosehip and (assorted friends) cordial and the hawthorn ketchup recipe which comes from Pam Corbin’s book Preserves but can be found fortuitously (and probably not very surprisingly) in Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s Guardian Weekend column this week along with other fashionable hedgeforagy ideas. More about haws here in Alys Fowler’s column too.

out of focus washed haws (hawthorn berries)

I managed to make one little jar from 500 g of hawthorn berries. Not sure if it was worth the effort somehow!

I barely picked any blackberries and there were very few sloes, apart from a few I found in the freezer, the damsons were almost non existent and the squirrel has stolen and buried all the nuts – so it goes. And I suspect that this is the same for many people, hence the interest this year in the hawthorn berries and rosehips which are plentiful.

I am working my way through the apples from the garden slowly. I spend a lot of time not doing very much and what I do, I do quite slowly. Here is a squishy apple cake, which I made yesterday from a recipe from Cooks Illustrated by Andrew Janjigian. It is made with oil not butter and has a clever construction whereby you mix egg yolks into part of the batter for the bottom and extra flour into the top part thus creating a layered effect in the cake. I am not sure I did it justice as I was working from cups, which as we know is not my strong point. Edit : My apples are for some reason all floating to the top in any cake with a soft batter. I think it is me as it has happened now in a couple of cakes ! I have added a link to the recipe, which I didn’t have earlier and I see there is a video too… if I had known…. ah well there is always next time !

I had better add a slice shot too

I ‘tore’ up the original bright and breezy tra la version of this post as I need to find a new voice. I am not a good housewife, I am not a good gardener, I am just a fallible and imperfect human being who for some reason strayed into the blog world and stayed for company. I like your company. Truth.

Sometimes I think I am channeling the Guardian.   Alys Fowler confirms that it is perfectly acceptable to rehome supermarket basil in this week’s magazine too. I can report that my two are still rampaging away and people come and lop stems off and cart them off. It really is much the easiest way to keep them going with minimum fuss and outlay. I am not convinced by the micro herb thing. Seeds, though not expensive when you grow full size plants from them, do become pricey for relatively small return when you eat the results so small. They don’t always come out nicely either, sometimes very small and a bit stringy and sad, if you don’t have ideal growing conditions indoors.

Outdoors the flower sprouts, which now dominate the raised bed with their dark and purply presence are…. yes they are…. growing flower sprouts – this is quite exciting for me as I have never grown sprouts in any shape or form. They are frilly and they lie in the space between stem and leaf. Ooh! The broccoli rab threw up two leaves, a yellow flower and died in the shadow of the giant flower sprouts. The winter creeping thyme drowned mysteriously having started off quite well. The half a dozen bulb fennel babies are living in their fortress where I shall protect them from the marauding pigeons if I have to sit on the veg bed with a knife between my teeth.

Brian has taken a beautiful photo of the Trail of Tears beans drying on a north facing windowsill.

And what else did I think might amuse you as you dance through the internet? I attempted to clear one tiny corner of the garden yesterday, with much moaning and wingeing and pulled out the cold frame with Brian’s help to give it a rudimentary tidy up before the winter and managed to disturb Madame Frog. She made me scream of course but then I steadied my nerve and picked her up to move her to an undisturbed spot and I swear she is is smiling here. You have heard of Puss in Boots? This is Frog in Glove.

Zeb went to look for the frog but he has some funny ideas.

No frog in here…

NB For Rosehip Cordial.  Pick as many ripe rosehips as you can manage. Put them in the freezer overnight to help soften them.  Cook them gently in water until you can mash them up. They have little hairs inside so you do need to strain them or let them drip through a fine muslin in order to get the juice out, as you would if you were making jelly which is also an option.

A mixed bag of rosehips, hawthorn (haws) berries and blackberries

I added a handful of blackberries and some other bits and pieces to use them up but you don’t need to do that. Then once you have your strained juice, add 325 grams of sugar or so to each 500 ml of juice, heat till dissolved but do not boil. Then bottle in clean bottles and heat in a water bath if you don’t have a canner. The water bath is basically a deep saucepan with a clean folded tea towel in the bottom full of water in which you stand the bottles up to their necks and then bring the water up to a set temperature for a set time, (varies depending on what you are canning). If in doubt freeze your cordials if you have space and then you won’t have to worry about this.

Zeb in the Wild Garlic

Woodland Walk in April

April is the month of showers and young shoots in England and once again the nettles and the wild garlic are overwriting the brown manuscript of faded winter leaf litter in vivid shades of green;  baby saplings are shooting from where the squirrels have planted forgotten acorns and hazels – and when the sun shines, muddy puddles glint and poodles dive in for a quick paddle.

 

We walked through the woodland at Ashton Court, passing by the new mountain bike trail along the deer park fence; it has weathered and is not as intrusive looking as it was when it was all raw and new and finally came out on this dusty path down the hill with a view to the sky and Dundry Hill in the distance.

The buzzards were busy carrying nesting material around, beautiful big birds outlined against the blue.  There was much rustling and squawking and the alarm calls of birds which I couldn’t quite identify; tall trees creaking and rubbing alarmingly against each other in the wind. We walked softly down the side of the hill and along the lower wall.

Wood pigeons flew out of hollow trees, wrens whirred and fizzed on their short flights from woodpile to streams, goldfinches bathed in the shallows and for a big city there are always surprises. We heard talking up in the air at one point and realised there were two people chatting in one of the ancient pollarded oaks that are cared for at Ashton Court. I took a picture of the tree they were in two years ago almost to the day. It is a miniature ecosystem in itself, with ferns and fungi and grass growing in its centre.

Pollarded Oak Ashton Court

Celandine and wild violets were a couple of the more common wildflowers that we recognised. I nibbled a blooming violet and it was gently sweet.

If you can identify nettles, then at this time of year you have a free source of the most wonderful healthy (and, dare I say it, fashionable)  green vegetable to add into your supper dishes. I saw a piece by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall about them the other day here in the Guardian. Brian’s Dad and Gran always ate nettles in the springtime and Brian says his Dad could pick them with his fingers the way he can – must be a special nettle picking gene!

Last year around this time I made nettle gnocchi and wrote about them in this post. I haven’t made them since, but I remember they were very good and I really should make them again!

 Yesterday we picked (that is the ‘royal we’ – Brian picked the most because he has asbestos fingers and I didn’t have any gloves, good excuse!)  the top four leaves of young nettles on our walk and I picked a bunch of wild garlic.

Both nettles and wild garlic are fairly easy to identify and I have written about the wild garlic on a page here. If you are unsure about any wild plants find someone who is confident about their identification skills and go out with them the first time. Better safe than sorry.

You could always borrow Zeb as he is expert at finding wild garlic.

We made a risotto with the wild garlic and the nettles that we picked which I will post about next.

I held the camera low to the ground trying to grab a picture of this allium, either chives or crow garlic, probably the latter, growing strongly in little clumps at the base of this Bronze Age mound at Badocks Wood.

Zeb always seems to get in the pictures whether I want him to or not,  but I like the way his tail echoes the bent piece of allium so I thought I would show it to you.

I am looking longingly for the first signs of the wild garlic, but it will be a while yet.