May 242013
 

I’ve blogged about wild garlic aka ramsons aka allium ursinum aka bear’s garlic before. A wild relative of chive with a strong garlic flavour, it’s native across Europe and Asia. The ursine botanical name and nickname come from the brown bear’s love of the pungent bulbs, though there are no such bears in my favourite foraging spots!

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This year, we need go no further than our back garden, having transplanted a few plants from my friend FoodUrchin’s backgarden. He has become the ramsons-pimp of the South East.

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A simple way to enjoy some of your wild garlic harvest is to make a seasonal mashed potato; it’s a little like Irish colcannon. Just add chopped or torn wild garlic leaves (and chopped flower stems too, if your plant is flowering – they have the strongest flavour) to your normal mashed potato recipe. We add butter, milk and a little seasoning to ours.

If you have a generous supply, here’s a simple way of preserving wild garlic for use all year round.

 

The yellow raspberries I harvested from the allotment recently were so beautiful I wanted to make something pretty enough to do them justice. Having filled a couple of tubs with blackberries too, a fruit tart seemed an ideal way of putting both to good use.

I’ve peered through the windows of countless patisseries, admiring the artful creations – fruit oh so neatly arranged over crème pâtissière, in little pastry cases. I’ve eaten a fair few too. But until now, I’ve never remotely considered making my own.

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A quick Google revealed thousands of recipes, but I liked the quick and easy nature of a James Martin recipe for French fruit tart, which I used as a starting point.

Blackberry, Golden Raspberry, Banana and Chocolate Fruit Tart

Adapted from a James Martin recipe

Ingredients
packet ready-rolled puff pastry (approximately 400 grams)
1 egg, beaten
50 grams dark chocolate
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
170 ml double cream
170 ml fresh custard
small punnet blackberries
small punnet raspberries
1 banana, halved lengthwise and then thinly sliced
4 tablespoons plum jelly (I used some I’d made a week or so earlier, from allotment plums)

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Method

  • Preheat the oven to 200 C.
  • Divide the ready rolled puff pastry according to the size and number of tarts you want to make. I divided my sheet into two.
  • Lay the puff pastry rectangles on a baking tray covered with either a silicon baking mat or baking paper.
  • Using a sharp knife, score a frame around the edge, making sure you don’t cut the pastry all the way through and prick the base of the tart (excluding the border) with a fork.

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  • Brush the border with a wash of beaten egg.

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  • Bake the pastry until golden brown and crisp (20-25 minutes).
  • Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

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  • Once cooled, gently press the centre of the pastry down to leave a raised frame around the edge.

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  • Melt the chocolate using short bursts of 10-20 seconds in a microwave, or using the traditional bain marie technique.
  • Brush the melted chocolate over the bottom of the pastry. Be delicate as a heavy hand will cause layers of the pastry to come loose and shift.

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  • Leave to the side to allow the chocolate to set.
  • In the meantime, mix the vanilla extract into the double cream and whip to stiff peaks. Fold the custard into the whipped cream.

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  • Spoon and spread the cream mixture over the pastry base.

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  • Arrange the fruit on top as you like.

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  • Heat the plum jelly and, using a pastry brush, glaze the fruit generously but gently.

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  • Allow the tart to set before serving.

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The tart was magnificent, if I do say so myself, and by far the prettiest thing I’ve made, even though I know it looks messy next to the work of skilled patisserie makers, amateur and professional alike.

I was particularly happy with the invisible chocolate layer which added both a thin layer of solid bite and a lovely flavour too.

And the plum jelly worked better than I could have hoped for as a thick, protective and glossy glaze.

I was a little too free-handed when adding the custard (hence the amounts above). I’d adjust the ratios slightly back in favour of the whipped double cream, to give a slightly stiffer texture to the finished cream filling. It tasted fabulous but was a touch runnier than ideal.

Other than that, I can’t wait to make these again with whatever berries and fruits I have to hand.

 

There’s something deeply satisfying about making a meal of ingredients foraged directly from the earth, not by some faceless stranger who’s sold his lucrative hedgerow hoard to a restaurant chef, but by your own hands.

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Common mallow

Of course, there’s the thrifty delight in a free meal. £3 for a bundle of asparagus or marsh samphire for free? £2.50 for a punnet of raspberries or blackberries for free? A few quid’s worth of leeks or wild garlic for free? £2 for a bag of spinach and rocket leaves or black mustard and sorrel leaves for free? You get the idea!

But it’s more than that, isn’t it?

In today’s society of plastic-wrapped supermarket shopping, there’s a joy in reconnecting with nature as you search, pluck and pick wild food directly from the land.

Of course, across much of Europe and indeed, the rest of the world, wild food is still very much a regular part of the diet and entrenched in traditional food cultures. In my mind’s eye is an image of little old ladies across a hundred different landscapes, carefully guarding and passing on their hard-won knowledge of where to find abundant crops of mushrooms, the juiciest wild fennel, a wide array of herbs, fruits and nuts…

Here in Britain, where is this is the exception not the rule, there’s more than a little romance in that image.

 

Foraging and Cooking

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Caroline and Simon

Simon Day, founder of unearthed, has discovered during his travels around Europe, that many areas still have a thriving wild food culture. Indeed, he has found that many producers of local and regional food specialities, of the type he seeks for unearthed, are very much aware of what the land around them has to offer.

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A few weeks ago, Simon invited a small group of food writers and bloggers to join him on a special foraging and cooking day organised and run by Caroline Davey. Caroline is the founder of the Fat Hen Wild Food Foraging And Cooking School, a few miles from Land’s End in Cornwall.

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When you learn about Caroline’s life, it seems almost inevitable that she should be doing what she does now. Much of Caroline’s childhood was spent living in the Far East, Africa and England; everywhere she made a deep and lasting connection with nature. Whether tramping around in the British countryside picking mushrooms, berries and chestnuts or eating lotus seeds in the early morning mists of Kashmir with Mr Marvellous, the flower seller, Caroline developed a fascination with wildlife and wild food. In addition, her Welsh  mother passed on a love of good food, cooking and entertaining that was very much a part of family life. Studying and qualifying in Zoology and Environmental Impact Assessment lead to a 12 year career as an Ecological Consultant, most of it in Cornwall, where Caroline visited many of the county’s wildest corners to record and document habitats and species. She honed her plant identification skills and developed a deep understanding of natural ecosystems, the impact of farming methods and local wildlife conversation issues. But Caroline felt she needed a more interactive relationship with nature than merely recording and reporting on it. As she taught herself about the plants around us, she wanted to know what they meant to us and how we could best use them. After a year as a freelance forager, during which Caroline became intimately familiar with what could be foraged where and when during the year, she started offering foraging courses a few years ago.

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Our day with Caroline was hugely enjoyable. Waterproof coats and shoes protected us from the rain as we took a walk in the local countryside, learning how to identify a wide range of wild plants and how best to collect them, tasting and collecting as we went. Even in the rain couldn’t dampen our enthusiasm as Caroline brought nature’s larder alive for us.

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We returned back to the warmth of Fat Hen, located in a converted goat barn and the family farm house kitchen.

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There, Caroline and Simon had arranged for local chef and teacher Mark Devonshire to give us a demonstration of how to use the wild food we’d foraged, in conjunction with some delicious unearthed products such as rillettes and chorizo.

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Simon and Mark

Mark spent 17 years working for Rick Stein at The Seafood Restaurant in Padstow, the last 8 of which were as head lecturer at the Padstow Seafood School. These days he teaches at Cornwall College where he shares the joys of food with eager youngsters. His latest class were due to graduate just after we attended the course, and his pride in their success and hope for their future was very clear. We sat around the beautiful big table smelling and tasting the tidbits Mark and Caroline prepared and offered.

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After the cooking class, we enjoyed a delicious meal that made full use of locally foraged ingredients.

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Pork Rillettes with Pickled Rock Samphire Served on Soda Bread Toast

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Ingredients
Pork rillettes
Toasted soda bread
Large handful rock samphire, washed and patted dry
300 ml cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
Pickling Spices
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 bay leaf
1 clove garlic
Pinch of chilli flakes
1 teaspoon black peppercorns

Method

  • Heat up the cider vinegar with the pickling spices in a saucepan until boiling, take off the heat, add the rock samphire and transfer to a sterilised glass jar. Seal and leave for at least a month before eating.
  • Serve the pork rillettes on top of soda bread toast with pickled rock samphire laid on top.

 

Rules for Foraging Safely and Responsibly

Caroline was keen to stress to us a number of key rules for foraging, some of which I’ve paraphrased below.

  • Only pick something that you are 100% positive you have identified correctly. As we saw during the day, many plants are easy to confuse and some are deadly. It’s not worth taking chances.
  • Leave enough for the plants to grow back and use a scissor or knife to cut cleanly.
  • Don’t deplete rare species. There are plenty of common plants that grow in abundance.
  • The exception to the above is invasive plants such as three cornered garlic (Allium triquetrum), which originated in the Mediterranean. Three cornered garlic is a different plant to our native wild garlic (Allium ursinum); both can be foraged and used in cooking, but you can also dig up the bulb of the former without worry.
  • Be aware of pollution. Find out if fields have been sprayed, avoid picking along heavily trafficked roads and next to any paths where dogs are commonly walked.
  • Get permission from landowners before foraging on private land.

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I came to wild garlic late. Others have known about it’s deliciousness for many a year, but I first tasted it just a couple of years back.

Last year, I was determined to forage my own and use it in my cooking.

Here’s a quote from a previous post: By the way, in the UK, when we talk about wild garlic we’re usually referring to ramsons (allium ursinum), a wild relative of chives. From wiki, I learn that “the Latin name owes to the brown bear’s taste for the bulbs and habit of digging up the ground to get at them” which also explains another of it’s aliases: bear’s garlic.

My first stash came early in last year’s wild garlic season, courtesy of the lovely MarkyMarket, who generously shared his secret foraging location with me. I had been intending to make a soup but instead used only some of the wild garlic leaves to stuff a chicken before roasting. Lovely!

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With plenty of leaves leftover, I decided to blitz the rest raw with oil and pop them into the freezer, in tiny plastic boxes.

My second stash was foraged when the wild garlic was in flower, carpeting swathes of grassy roadside verges in rural Dorset. Much of this harvest was enjoyed as a wild garlic tempura, which was delicious!

Again, I had leftovers, and blitzed with oil before freezing in small portions.

In the year since then, we’ve gradually used up our stock making this delicious pasta which, after the first time we made it, has become a firm favourite. The mushrooms really absorb the flavours of the wild garlic and the rest coats the pasta nicely.

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In this instance, we happened to use one pot of frozen wild garlic leaves and another pot of frozen flowers and stems.

Wild Garlic Pasta

Ingredients
Some wild garlic leaves and/ or flowers on stems blitzed in vegetable oil
Bacon, pancetta or lardons, cut into small pieces
Mushrooms, sliced
Pasta of your choice

Note: If you are making this with fresh pasta, I would still blitz the wild garlic in some oil as the oil takes on the flavour and is absorbed by the mushrooms during cooking.

Method

  • Put the pasta on to cook (unless it’s fresh and needs much less time).

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  • Fry the bacon until cooked and just beginning to crisp, then set aside.

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  • In the same pan, slowly cook the mushrooms in the blitzed wild garlic and oil. (We give our frozen wild garlic and oil time to defrost before adding the mushrooms).

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  • When the mushrooms are ready (and the pasta is cooked), stir the bacon back in, drain the pasta well and stir it in too.

If you have found an abundant source of wild garlic near you (please forage sustainably), do consider preserving some as we did so you can enjoy this simple pasta dish year round.

 

You might remember from my interview with him last year that Mat Follas, winner of Masterchef 2009 and chef proprietor of The Wild Garlic restaurant, came to cooking only recently. His love for cooking grew out of his love for scuba diving: just a few years ago, he found himself bringing home lots of hand-dived scallops and crab but not really making the best of them. His wife booked him onto a day’s course at Rick Stein’s and it all grew from there. Mat’s passion for delivering great food remains inextricably tied to his determination to use locally sourced produce, a fair amount of it dived and foraged for him by small-scale local providers.

I had been wanting to go on a foraging course for a couple of years and have been looking into the many courses available for a long time. Some were simply too expensive for what they offered, others had only a few dates available per year, none of which suited and another still looked fabulous but I knew that 10+ hours is simply too long a day for me – I just don’t have the stamina!

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So when Mat mentioned his new foraging days a few months ago I booked two places immediately, choosing a late May date just a few days before Pete’s birthday, so we could make a long weekend of it.

For just £65 per person, the course provides two foraging walks (one in the countryside and one along the sea shore), coffee to start the day, elevenses refreshments and a fabulous lunch based around foraged ingredients. Having looked at so many courses I know that’s a great deal, even more so given the quality of the food.

We started the day by meeting for coffee at the restaurant. The other attendees drifted in and we were introduced to Theo Langton who provides the restaurant with foraged ingredients and would be leading the course, alongside Mat.

Theo is an absolutely fascinating character. He’s a passionate advocate of making use of the land – taking what is natural and available, in a sustainable way and living from the land as much as possible. During the summer, he and friends take to the road, and visit the many fairs and festivals around the country with their multimedia arts and craft workshop which is always very popular. Some of the group make healthy juices not just from the normal wheatgrass and carrots but from a wide range of edible, foraged herbs and plants. Theo is also involved in programmes to build community capability and resilience, encouraging communities to learn the skills that allow them to respond to power outages, snow ins, fires and other disasters and accidents quickly – living in rural areas can mean that the regular emergency services can take a little time to arrive.

So how did Theo become involved with Mat? Having grown up in a family with quite a food focus (his mother trained with Paul Bocuse) Theo did trained in cordon blue himself, learning skills that allowed him to travel the world, finding kitchen work as he went. In October, he walked into The Wild Garlic off the street, introduced himself, and asked Mat whether there was work for him in the kitchen during the winter months, when there are no festivals and fairs running – there was. It didn’t take long for the mutual interest in using local and foraged produce to come up, and Theo now provides the restaurant with locally foraged ingredients during the spring and autumn months.

Due to a couple of late arrivals, we got off to a late start, but eventually we were on our way, following Theo and Mat out of the restaurant into local streets.

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Immediately, within just a few years of the restaurant, Theo was already pointing out edible plants and he and Mat would then give us ideas on how we might prepare them. It was a beautiful sunny day and lovely to be outside. The walk was at a relaxed and leisurely pace and, for the most part, us back markers were able to catch up to Theo for his excellent explanations, stories and suggestions about each plant. Often, we would stop to taste them too.

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Before too long we left the regular roads for a narrower path, passing alongside an old church graveyard and then mostly open fields. Here, there were many more plants for us to learn about.

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From the narrow path we turned into a field, tromped across that, past Theo’s place and into a cool, shaded lane lined with more wild garlic than I had thought existed in the whole of England! Just before boarding the coach Mat had hired to take us back to the restaurant (and down to the beach later), we took a quick meander around a stunning glade of wild garlic, tinkling stream meandering through, dappled sun and shade…

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I munched delightedly on raw wild garlic flowers and stems – the stems were too intense for some, but I loved them… so pungent and juicy!

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We had walked for a little over an hour before we bundled aboard the coach and headed back to the restaurant for refreshments. Teas and coffees all round plus a lovely chocolate brownie – we were soon fortified ahead of our next outing.

Back aboard the Wild Garlic bus, Mat absolutely relishing his role as bus driver (apparently it’s been a long-cherished fantasy of his), we drove down to Bridport beach, where a food festival was in full swing.

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For me, this second walk wasn’t as successful, though I think most of the group enjoyed it. Theo strode excitedly off into the distance and I couldn’t keep up. I thought it was just me, with my dodgy hips and knees but there was another couple who were further back then us. The first half of the walk didn’t include any foraging so we fell some way behind, missing out on the excited chattering going on at the front. We clambered up a hill and along the coast, in front of a stunningly-situated caravan park before descending back towards sea-level.

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On a few occasions, as we neared the beach, we caught up to Theo when he’d been stopped for several minutes but we’d missed the explanation of the plant and just had time to grab a taste before he headed off again. I was able to pass on Mat’s message about meeting in the car park at 2 o’clock.

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At this point, I made a big mistake. Somewhat fed up of not being able to keep up and thereby missing all the information and also worried about getting back to the car park on time when we did turn around, I decided to turn around and head back early so I wouldn’t hold everyone else up. I didn’t mention to Theo, as he was still on the move, walking down onto the beach itself, though did, of course, let Pete know as he stayed, quickly catching up to the group.

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I started the walk back, taking my time, snapping some photographs, enjoying the quite spectacular views (not to mention the sweet little bunny rabbits munching grass in the sunshine). When I got back, there was still no sign of the others behind me, so I popped into the festival marquee and had a nice time chatting to some of the stall holders before enjoying the most delicious home-made lemonade ever, chilled and refreshing, for just 50p a cup. I had two!

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Just as I was finishing my lemonade, Pete popped in to find me. The group had been picked up in a car park at the other end of the walk, not very much farther than where I’d left them! Oh Kavey, what a mistake you made, silly girl! Thank you so much to Mat who drove the bus back around to the original car park to collect me.

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Both walks were just over an hour long. The first was really easy, all flat terrain and at a very leisurely pace, with many, many more plants and flowers to learn about.

The second was over steeper terrain, but still perfectly doable for anyone of reasonable fitness, you certainly don’t need to be super fit or anything. And whilst I didn’t enjoy it (which is no one’s fault but my own, as I couldn’t keep up) I am sure that the rest of the group had a lovely time.

So, back to The Wild Garlic for a late lunch.

A number of tables had been pushed together so the whole group could dine together. which was really nice. We sat down and helped ourselves to some lovely bottled apple juices on the table and soft fresh bread rolls.

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The starter was a nettle, wild garlic and vegetable soup served in cute individual pans with bread. The soup summed up the morning’s walk wonderfully.

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The main dish was the star of lunch for me – chicken breast wrapped in wild garlic leaves and poached was so very tender and tasty, served with savoy cabbage, new potatoes with those flavoursome leaves again and a slow-dried tomato bursting with the essence of tomato and yet without the overwhelming nature of shop-bought sun-dried tomatoes which, for me, swamp everything else on the plate.

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And for dessert, a little berry Eton mess!

After tea and coffee it was time to wrap it up, but not before Mat brought out gift bags for all of us. Not only do we now have one of these lovely mugs each but also a little packet of wild garlic seeds! Next year I shall have my own crop of this lovely plant!

Mat Follas and mug

Unsurprisingly, given the incredibly reasonable price, the increasing interest in foraging and Mat’s own popularity amongst food lovers, most course dates for the rest of the year are fully booked, but it may be worth asking to be added to a waiting list in case of cancellations.

You can email Theo directly if you’d like to know more about his multimedia arts and craft workshop.

 

Wild garlic is enjoying a surge in popularity this year, or so it seems to me.

I first had it only last year, at Konstam and absolutely loved the pervasive garlic flavour in the wilted leaves. At around the same time a porkchop-blagging blogger quickly became London’s best-known source. A few months later, it entered my consciousness again, when Mat Follas named his restaurant for it. This year, I’ve seen it mentioned, bartered and used in a variety of recipes by food blogger and twitter friends.

By the way, in the UK, when we talk about wild garlic we’re usually referring to ramsons (allium ursinum), a wild relative of chives. From wiki, I learn that “the Latin name owes to the brown bear’s taste for the bulbs and habit of digging up the ground to get at them” which also explains another of it’s aliases: bear’s garlic.

It was my turn to get in on the wild garlic action. But where to get some? My downright desperate appeals to the porkchop meister had gone unheeded. Luckily, a friend was willing to share his secret location (on the basis of my not passing it on, so don’t ask!) and it wasn’t long before I was pushing my way through some dense woodland foliage to access the pungent plants.

This was back at the beginning of May, so the flowers were just in bud. I harvested only leaves, taking care not to disturb the bulbs, damage the plants or take the buds.

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I wasn’t too adventurous with my first bounty, following MarkyMarket‘s suggestion of stuffing leaves into a chicken’s cavities before roasting it. I also smeared copious amounts of butter onto the skin a la Simon Hopkinson; this is now my default treatment for very quick and succulent roast chicken. The wild garlic stuffing worked wonderfully – the leaves gave a very subtle hint of flavour to the bird and I enjoyed them as a side vegetable too.

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Having picked enough leaves to also make soup, but not being in the mood to make it once i got home, I blitzed the remaining leaves raw with oil and froze them. I’m hoping this paste will work as a starting point to a wild garlic pesto (adding pine nuts and parmesan after defrosting) or maybe a simple pasta sauce (with some pancetta fried in the wild garlic oil mixture.

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Nov 062008
 

Someone on the BBC Food Chat board asked about our memories of food foraging.

My response came out more poetic than I’d intended, as I wrote it off the top of my head, without pause:

  • Cockles gathered on the beach, shuffling through the sand with our bare toes, occasionally getting pinched by a disgruntled crab…
  • Mussels pulled off decaying wooden break-waters…
  • Blackberries foraged in country lanes and out in the fields…
  • Walnuts collected from the ground and dried in the French autumn sun…
  • Chestnuts gathered in a field full of trees — and possessive cows who laid cowpat landmines to impede our passage…
Sep 252007
 

On Sunday Pete and I went blackberry picking with a friend, who we were visiting for the weekend. We started out near her house where she’d noticed some brambles ripe for the picking and whilst we were there a kind neighbour recommended some other locations slightly further afield which we drove to afterwards.

There’s something very fulfilling about enjoying the autumn sunshine, gathering traditional fruits from the side of country lanes, chatting to walkers rambling past…

We gathered three full ice-cream tubs (not to mention the mouthfuls I crammed whilst picking), some of which went into a crumble for dessert on Sunday (I had mine plain with artificial sweetener) leaving plenty for our hosts plus a tub for us to bring home as well.

Mmm!

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