Category Archives: Wild Food

jews ear

Wood Ear or Jew’s Ear Mushroom

Wood Ear or Jew’s Ear mushrooms are found on dead elder wood and are very common – in these politically more correct times they may also be called Jelly Ears. Most books will call them Jew’s Ears and the latin name is Auricularia auricula-judae.

jews ear on logI spotted this log by the side of a canal but once you have seen Jew’s Ear once you will notice it everywhere. It grows pretty much all year round and will be especially common after a spell of wet weather.

The fungus is best picked when pale and slightly velvety – gets quite rubbery and a bit slimy as it gets older. Use a knife or scissors to cut it away from the wood.

There is no getting away from the fact it is a bit rubbery and has quite a bland flavour but it is very common and free. I cook it up with onion and carrots and stock and make a milky soup out of it and whizz in a blender to reduce the rubbery texture!

It also has medicinal uses but not used as much these days as it used to be.  In the old classic Gerard’s Herbal it was recommended to boil Jew’s Ear mushrooms in milk as a medicine for sore throats. It is still used extensively in Traditional Chinese Medicine for a range of health problems and you can buy it dried or even buy cans of Jew’s Ear Juice in Chinese supermarkets if you so desire!

Jew's ear juiceCopyright Michael Saechang’s and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

sweet chestnut

Sweet Chestnuts .. and Parakeets!

Sweet Chestnuts are very commonly found in parks in the UK.  Their latin name is Castanea sativa. These photos were taken in Hyde Park in London on a recent visit to the big city. When we saw this tree there were several parakeets nibbling away at the chestnuts.chestnuts

There are many flocks of parakeets in parts of London that have escaped and adapted to their new found freedom and numbers have grown massively since the 1990’s. There are quite a few parrots too. I never quite get used to seeing parakeets and parrots in the in-laws garden in Croydon!

ringnecked-parakeet-eating-sweet-chestnut

Ringnecked Parakeet eating sweet chestnuts in Kew Gardens © Copyright Christine Matthews and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

In the autumn and winter in France the aroma of roasting chestnuts seems to be everywhere. Marrons are the cultivated version of wild sweet chestnuts and usually have one or two large chestnuts in each whereas wild ones may have one or two nuts but usually some smaller flat ones too.

Sweet chestnuts have a pointed end and conkers or horse chestnuts are rounded and have larger spikes on the shell casing ..birds will eat both but conkers are not edible for us.

sweetchestnut2In October the casings of sweet chestnuts will go brown and fall on the ground when they are ready – just tread on them to get at the nuts and collect the larger ones and not the flat ones. They do need to be cooked before eating but are very tasty, versatile and gluten free too.. will post more recipes soon but I love them just roasted.

The easiest way to cook them is slit the skins with a sharp knife and throw them in an open fire.. leave one chestnut whole and when it goes pop the others are cooked. If you don’t have an open fire just slit the skins with a knife and boil them up for  about 15 minutes, the shell will peel off easily  but the inner membrane is a bit trickier to remove. You can either just eat them as they are or save them in an airtight container in the fridge and use in a recipe later.sweetchestnut1

Cooking with Nasturtium Leaves and Flowers

Nasturtiums are not strictly a wild food but easy to grow and so I think they deserve a mention. They are distinctive with their unusual rounded leaves and colourful flowers. They are related to watercress and have a similar peppery flavour. Apparently Nasturtium translates into Latin as ‘nose twist’.

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Nasturtiums attract bees and other insects so are great things to have in the garden but they are also very happy growing in pots so doesn’t matter if you don’t have much space. Slugs also love them so will prefer to eat nasturtiums than veg plants so it is always good to have them on a veg plot.

I always grow mine from seed but if you buy them be aware they may have been treated with slug pellets which are really nasty chemicals so I suggest if you want some nasturtiums to eat then it is best to grow your own.

If you have never nibbled a nasturtium leaf.. do.. they are very tasty, peppery and actually quite juicy. Lovely in salads and also keep their flavour well when cooked and go very well in omelettes and quiche.

The flowers are an extraordinary taste sensation. They come in a range of colours usually yellow, orange or red but you can get some pink varieties. A mix of the pepperiness of the leaves but also amazing sweetness from the nectar. They are a colourful addition to salads.

Nasturtium Leaf Dip

nasturtium dip

 

A really simple way of using nasturtium  leaves is to chop them up finely and add to greek yoghurt or cream cheese. This is lovely with crisps, carrot sticks, celery or pretty much anything. The dip goes particularly well with wild food bhajis see previous post for bhaji recipe.

 

 

Cooking with edible flowers

Many commonly found flowers are edible and the tastes vary widely from very mild flavours in flowers like violets, borage or mallow to peppery or fiery ones like nasturtiums, chives and wild garlic.

Always make absolutely certain you know what any flower is before eating anything.

I found a short article  on delicious.magazine website about cooking with some easily identifiable edible flowers that you probably have around the house or garden anyway and that is a great place to start.

Here are just a few pictures of things you will recognise that you can eat.

Lavenda flowers

 

Lavender

dandelions

 

 

Dandelions

honeysuckle

 

Honeysuckle

 

oxeye daisy

 

 

 

Oxeye and ‘normal’ daisies

 

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Roses

 

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Nasturtiums

 

Many flowers are lovely just as they are in salads, others make great cakes, syrups or jellies or can be used in pancakes, fritters or other savoury dishes.

If you like the idea of using flowers I really recommend Cooking with Flowers: Sweet and Savory Recipes with Rose Petals, Lilacs, Lavender, and Other Edible Flowers which contains a great mix of sweet and savoury recipes as well as excellent pictures and tips on growing, picking and storing your edible flowers. Click on the image below and it will take you to the book on Amazon – however, I quite understand many peoples have issues with Amazon and prefer to shop elsewhere. If so, have a look at Alibris UK which is like Amazon but nicer and full of independent booksellers.

Fruit Leather

This post originally appeared on my homeopathy website but feel it deserves repeating on here.

There is a huge amount of fruit around this year and if you are getting sick of making crumble or jam  (or still have some of last years goodies in the freezer)  then this is a great solution.

Fruit leather is effectively a kind of fruit jerky and a healthy chewy treat. I don’t add sugar but you can if you want. It is very easy to make and, if properly dried, will keep for several weeks in the fridge. In my experience it never lasts long enough to go bad!

What follows is a general guideline to making fruit leather, there is no set recipe so just see how you get on and experiment.

I used 12 pears and a baking tray approx 30cm x 50cm so you can see from the pictures how much that makes.

Ingredients

  • Fresh fruit  such as apples, pears, grapes, apricots, peaches, plums, berries
  • Water
  • Lemon juice
  • Sugar (if needed)
  • Optional spices – cinnamon and nutmeg work well with apples and pears

Method

1 Rinse the fruit. If you use stoned fruit such as plums or apricots, remove the stones and chop the fruit. If you are using apples or pears, peel and core them, then chop.

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2 Taste the fruit before proceeding and think about how sweet it is. If it is a little sharp, you may want to add some sugar in the next step.

3 Place fruit in a large saucepan. Add about half a cup of water for every 4 cups of chopped fruit. Bring to a simmer, cover and let cook on a low heat for 10-15 minutes or until the fruit is cooked through. Uncover and stir. Use a potato masher or hand blender to mash up the fruit in the pan. Add sugar or lemon juice in small amounts at this stage and keep tasting until you are happy with the flavour. Add a pinch or two of cinnamon, nutmeg, or other spices if you wish.

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4 Continue to simmer for around 10 minutes and stir until any added sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture has thickened. A lot of the moisture will have gone by now and it should be more of a thick paste at this stage. Taste again and adjust sugar/lemon/spices if necessary.

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5 Line a baking sheet with cling film (the kind that is microwave safe). Do NOT be tempted to try aluminium foil or greaseproof paper.. trust me.. the fruit leather will weld itself to anything but cling film! Leave the purée to cool for a few minutes then pour into the lined baking sheet to about 0.5cm thickness.

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5 Place the baking sheet in the oven and make sure the cling film hasn’t folded back over on top of the purée. If this happens, the purée won’t dry out. Heat the oven to 200°F or about 95°C. A fan oven will speed up the process and help dry out the purée. Let dry in the oven like this for as long as it takes, there really is no set time as each mix will be different but 6-8 hours is probably a good guess. We usually keep it in the oven overnight for about 8-10 hours. The fruit leather is ready when it is no longer sticky, tap it with your finger to check and it will be very clear when it is done. It will darken considerably and shrink quite a bit but that is fine.

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If you have a food dehydrator you can use that.  If you live somewhere warm (not Yorkshire!) you can cover the tray with some cheesecloth or one of the mesh ‘cake cosies’ and leave it outside in the sun on a hot day.

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6 When the fruit leather is ready, you can just roll it up with the cling film and store in the fridge if you want. I prefer to peel the cling film off and use scissors to cut it into squares for easy bite-sized snacks. These can be stored in a plastic tub in the fridge and will keep for several weeks but usually get eaten pretty quickly.

Enjoy :)

Lavender scones

This is a simple and tasty recipe for lavender scones from my friend Karen. They really are delicious and taste lovely simply spread with butter.

All lavender flowers are edible and you can use fresh or dried ones for this recipe. There really is no need to buy culinary lavender but do think about where it has come from if you are picking some for cooking – don’t use flowers that have been sprayed with chemicals or might have been weed on by dogs! Just a couple of flower heads is enough for this recipe.

 

Ingredients

12 oz self raising flour

4 oz caster sugar

3 oz butter or margarine

4 fluid oz buttermilk (or full fat milk)

Beaten egg to brush on top

2 big pinches lavender

Adding 1tsp baking powder gives a lighter texture but is optional

 Method

Mix the flour, baking powder and sugar and rub in butter/margarine.

Tip in buttermilk and lavender and combine.

This mixture will look very dry and crumbly to start with but do not be tempted to add more liquid. It should have a consistency like pastry. If the mixture is too moist it spreads when cooking and come out more like biscuits.. but will still be delicious!

Roll out to about an inch thick and cut into rounds, brush with beaten egg and bake 12-15 mins gas mark 7 or 220c

Leave to cool on a wire rack and enjoy these with butter.

lavender scones

Meadowsweet flowers on railway embankmant

Meadowsweet – cordial and medicine

Meadowsweet is a common flower which grows to about 4 feet high and has very distinctive fluffy cream flowers.  The latin name is Filipendula ulmaria or may be in older books as Spiraea ulmaria. It is usually found in wet or boggy ground in places like edges of fields,  grass verges, canal or riverbanks or railway embankments.

The scent of flowers is a bit like honey with a hint of marzipan. The leaves have tiny leaves between the larger ones and when scrunched up give off a smell a bit like old fashioned antiseptic.

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In traditional herbalism meadowsweet has a wide range of uses for digestive troubles, headaches and pain and can be used as a tea – just add a teaspoon of dried or fresh flowers to a cup of hot water and leave to brew for about 5 minutes. Meadowsweet contains salicylic acid which is what aspirin was originally synthesised from.

However if you are pregnant, asthmatic, taking warfarin or have a known allergy to aspiring then it is best avoided.

Napiers Herbalists page on meadowsweet says :-

As with all medicines, this one isn’t always going to be suitable for everyone; people with known allergy or intolerance in relation to aspirin should be cautious when trying this herb as should those suffering from asthma. Salicylic acid also helps to reduce platelet activity in the blood, which is good news in terms of avoiding heart attacks and strokes, but to be avoided if taking drugs such as warfarin or heparin and for the few days immediately prior to any kind of surgery. It should also be avoided in pregnancy.

You would have to take a lot of Meadowsweet to amount to the equivalent of a tablet; on the other hand, due to its soothing, anti-inflammatory effects it is a gentle but powerful medicine and works without the caustic side-effects of its pharmaceutical cousin.

In this short video Monica Wilde of Napiers the Herbalists talks about  how to identify meadowsweet and its historic and medicinal uses.

In this next video Monica shows you how to make Meadowsweet Cordial. Use about 250g of sugar and 1 litre of water for 30-40 heads of open flowers.

Monica also has an excellent wild food and medicine blog Wilde in the Woods with loads of useful recipes, great photos and clear instructions. She also tweets as @monicawilde.

Elderflower cheesecake with goat curd

This elderflower cheesecake was a bit of an experiment but tasted delicious so thought I’d blog the recipe.

BUT… I  warn you..  this was fine  when we ate it immediately but the cordial seeped out overnight. So I suspect the elderflower (or another cordial) may work better in a baked cheesecake with a bit of gelatine or agar flakes to help hold it all together. It was very tasty but this recipe does need adapting.. unless you are going to scoff the lot straight away!

I had a trip up to Hawes recently to visit Iona and Stu at Ribblesdale Cheese to talk about cheese waxing (yes really!) – when I left, Iona gave me a little cheese parcel of goat curd and some sheeps cheese.

BqaJZdXIUAArj1JThe goat curd was mild and creamy so I thought it would make a lovely cheesecake – I have gone a bit overboard with the elderflower cordial this year and have loads of it.. so seemed an idea to put the two together. I realise goat curd is not easy to get hold of – it is very similar in texture and taste to cream cheese so you could just use that.

I have never actually made cheesecake – hubby is an excellent cook and does the fancy stuff like cheesecake in our house so this was a bit of trial and error but I’m very pleased with the result. I discovered after I made this that hubby usually uses two 200g pots of low fat soft cheese and a 200g tub of marscapone and 200g double cream for his cheesecake mix.

Base

half a packet of digestives and half a packet of ginger nuts

50 g butter

Cheesecake bit

250 g goat curd

200g tub low fat soft cheese

100ml double cream

250ml elderflower cordial

Juice and zest of 1 lime

2 dessert spoons castor sugar

To make the base – bash the biscuits or cheat and whizz them in a blender to turn to crumbs.

Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the crumbs, stirring til they are coated and the mix just looks a bit crumbly

Get a spring form tin and press biscuit mix down firmly with the back of a spoon. If you don’t have one of these tins and want to buy one – be warned – you really do get what you pay for – cheap ones often have dodgy springs and/or they rust easily. The best tins are the really old fashioned ones so ask your granny if she has one or have a rummage in your local charity shop! I remembered afterwards that these work best when you line them with greaseproof paper and then can easily lift out the goodies when you release the spring!

WP_20140620_006[1]Pop the base and tin in the fridge to chill while you get on with the cheesecake mix.

To make the cheesecake bit I started off with goat curd, cream cheese and cream then mixed it up and added lime and elderflower gradually to get the right consistency. I did it by hand with an egg whisk and in a very inappropriate pyrex dish as I made it at my dads house and he doesn’t have any big mixing bowls!

WP_20140620_007[1] It tasted a bit sharp with the lime so I added a bit of castor sugar at the end. However, I think if you left the lime out there would be enough sugar in the cordial so wouldn’t actually need it.

Spoon this mix onto the chilled biscuit base and level off with the back of a spoon. Chill in the fridge for about an hour.

WP_20140620_008[1]And now for the tricky bit… getting it out of the tin. Depending on how good your tin is.. the bottom may just fall out when you release the spring.. so be prepared. When you release the spring you will need to lift the cake up to get it out as the spring will not open enough to let the cake drop out downwards.. hope that makes sense.

Always have your hand flat under the base when you release the spring and be prepared to lift it up (or down) gently.

WP_20140620_010[1]Slide it onto a large flat plate or chopping board and you are ready to tuck in.. Enjoy 🙂

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Falling Fruit and Edible Maps

I came across a Treehugger article about  Falling Fruit this week – their website is https://fallingfruit.org/  They have a world map and are encouraging people to add to it to create a wild food larder for anyone to find. A wonderful idea.

From the Falling Fruit website..

Not just a free lunch! Foraging in the 21st century is an opportunity for urban exploration, to fight the scourge of stained sidewalks, and to reconnect with the botanical origins of food.

Our map of urban edibles is not the first of its kind, but we aspire to be the world’s most comprehensive. While our users explore, edit, and add locations of their own, we comb the internet for any pre-existing knowledge, hoping to unite the mapping efforts of foragers, foresters, and freegans everywhere. The imported datasets range from small neighborhood foraging maps to vast professionally-compiled tree inventories. This so far amounts to 745 different types of edibles (most, but not all, are plant species) distributed over 611,390 locations. Beyond the cultivated and commonplace to the exotic flavors of foreign plants and the long-forgotten culinary uses of native plants, foraging in your neighborhood is a journey through time and across cultures.

Join us in celebrating the local and edible! The map is open for anyone to edit, the entire database can be downloaded with just one click, and our code is open-source. If you pick more than you can use or are overwhelmed by the bumper crop from your private trees, we encourage you to donate the surplus produce to charity or your neighbors with the help of local food redistribution programs.

fallingfruitClick on the map and zoom in to see what goodies are in your area.. if there isn’t much then sign up and start pinning!

There are some other cities with well established edbile maps.  Edible York have an edible map of the city and it also has areas of guerilla planting as well as wild food. Urban Edibles is another site which has been mapping the city of Portland, Oregon for a long time.

 

wild food bhajis

Wild Food Bhajis

I did these bhajis at a cookery demo in Leeds yesterday using nettles and they were very popular.  This is a wonderful, cheap and easy recipe for a wide range of foraged, grown or bought food. Bhajis are gluten free and dairy free so if you’re stuck with recipe ideas for ‘intolerant’ friends this is a tasty solution.

You can use pretty much any wild food in these bhajis so have fun and experiment!
Nettles, comfrey, borage, ground elder, cleavers, dandelion leaves and/or petals, ox eye daisies, wild garlic, sorrel, sea beet, mushrooms or any bought or foraged leafy greens like spinach or kale and much more. See pictures at the bottom of this post if you aren’t sure what some of those look like.

Nettles, comfrey, borage and cleavers are hairy things but you don’t need to precook them – a couple of minutes in hot oil will get rid of the hairs but always wear gloves if handling nettles.

Some leaves will shrink quite a bit with cooking so I usually add some thinly sliced onion to bulk things up a bit.

Ingredients
4 rounded tablespoons gram flour (chick pea flour)
1 heaped teaspoon turmeric
1 heaped teaspoon cumin
1 heaped teaspoon garam masala

I often add a teaspoon of either black onion, cumin or fennel seeds but this is optional

wild food bhaji recipePictures are from a batch of dandelion petal and ground elder bhajis

Mix up the gram flour and spices then add enough water to make a consistency like a thick pancake batter
Chop or shred whatever you plan to use and then add to the bhaji mix and stir around so ingredients are covered in the paste. I tend to use scissors to snip leaves and just drop them straight into the mix
Take a small dessert spoon of the mixture and drop into hot vegetable oil in a deep pan or a wok, you may need another spoon to scrape the mixture off
Cook 3 or 4 bhajis at once – they will need a couple of minutes cooking on each side until they start to brown.
Drain on some kitchen roll or keep warm in a low oven until you are ready to eat.
Depending on the bulk of things you add this amount should make between 6-8 good size bhajis or 10-12 smaller ones.

nasturtium dip and bhajis

These bhajis are lovely with a salad and some yoghurt or raita and go beautifully with a nasturtium dip see my blog on nasturtium recipes.

 

 

 

 

 

Some suggestions to try

ground elder dandelion cleavers sticky willy goosegrassGround elder, dandelions, nettles and cleavers (also called sticky willy or goosegrass)

comfrey mustard ground elderComfrey, wild mustard, close up of ground elder