Wild Food

Here each month we will give you some ideas for seasonal wild foods growing in a wood or Hedgerow near you. This is not intended as a guide to identification of species of plants or fungi, edible or otherwise. It is simply intended to give ideas for uses for plants you are familiar with. When picking any and all wild foods you should only ever eat something if  you are 100% certain you have correctly identified it. Both with plants and fungi there are toxic and edible species that appear very similar on first inspection. Remeber if in doubt, leave it out. When learning new plants and fungi it is far better to learn from first hand experience of handling a species rather than from a text book, so try and either attend a course or find a local group to allow you to access the knowledge of people with proper expertise in identification.

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Early Summer

Pickled Ash Keys.

Ash (Fraxinous Excelsior) keys need to be gathered when they are very young, green and if bitten they must still be crisp but succulent. In this condition they hang in dense little bunches and so are easily gathered in quantity.

 

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Once collected they should be washed, the stalks removed and they should then be placed in a pan, covered with cold water and simmered for 5 minutes. Then strain and repeat a second time with fresh water and strain again. This removes any bitterness that may sometimes be present. The Ash keys  are then ready to go into the clean jars leaving space at the top for the vinegar to cover them by about half an inch and leave a similar air gap under the lid.

 

The recipe is for 1 pint of green ash keys:

1 level teaspoon of ground Cloves

1 Level Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon

2 bay leaves

6 peppercorns

1 level Teaspoon of allspice

½ level teaspoon of ground ginger

1 level teaspoon of salt

2-3 tablespoons of brown sugar or 1 tablespoon of honey

¾ pint of Cider Vinegar

 

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Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl, and then pour in the cider vinegar. Stand the bowl in a pan of water , cover and bring the water to the boil for 5 minutes. Allow to cool completely.

 

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Strain the liquid (I use a jam strainer for this as it has a fine mesh) and pour into the jars covering the tops of the Ash keys but half an inch. Seal the Jars, if using metal lids put two layers of greaseproof paper over the top of the jar first. Leave for 3-4 months and enjoy.

 

Spring Greens

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March:

Spring Green Soup made with Cleavers (aka Goose Grass, Sticky Willy)- Galium Aparine, and a few stinging nettle tops Urtica Dioica. The soup base was made with potatoes and onion cooked together ( burdock root could be substituted for the potato for a completely foraged meal,) Add the chopped greens and allow to steam for 5 minutes, blend and serve. If your preparing this soup outdoors, blending can be replaced with fine chopping before cooking. No seasoning was used the natural flavors are delicious and without need of further improvement. Why not try it yourself?

Autumn Treats

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Blackberry Vinegar

Take 1lb Blackberries, and put in an earthenware dish about 1 inch deep. Pour over enough cider vinegar to cover the berries, then cover the dish and stand for 3 days. Drain the fruit for 12 hours, then measure the juice into a saucepan and 200g of sugar for every 250ml of juice. Bring to the boil, stirring gently until the sugar dissolves then simmer gently for 5 mins, skim and then bottle when cold,  in a sterile bottle with a plastic or plastic lined cap (vinegar corrodes metal caps).

 

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Nettle Soup with late growth Stinging Nettles

Collect the tops of the new nettles, a small basket or half a carrier bag full will do, and can be gathered in no time. Gloves are advisable for the feint hearted although you can actually eat the very top leaves straight of the plant, they taste good and don’t yet have the stinging hairs developed.

 Having picked your nettle tops, simply finely chop or blend to add them to a soup. For my recipe I fried some onions, potatoes and celery to soften them, then added vegetable stock ( you can use chicken or a mix of the two) boiled this for ten minutes, added the nettles for the last 5 minutes of boiling and finally added a dollop of crème fraiche at the end and hey presto, a delicious bowl of green goodness.Collect the tops of the new nettles, a small basket or half a carrier bag full will do, and can be gathered in no time. Gloves are advisable for the feint hearted although you can actually eat the very top leaves straight of the plant, they taste good and don’t yet have the stinging hairs developed.
Having picked your nettle tops, simply finely chop or blend to add them to a soup. For my recipe I fried some onions, potatoes and celery to soften them, then added vegetable stock ( you can use chicken or a mix of the two) boiled this for ten minutes, added the nettles for the last 5 minutes of boiling and finally added a dollop of crème fraiche at the end

 

Shaggy Parasol

Cut the mushrooms and check the stalks for any signs of insects. If a cross section of the stalk appears clear and white in appearance when cut through then no grubs have yet come up through the stalk, if however there appear to be lots of little brown dots or holes, discard.

Wash the mushrooms, cut and fry in a little oil and season to taste. I had these as a tasty addition to as bacon sandwich. 

Sweet Chestnut Flour

Roast and grind sweet chestnuts finely, ( ish, they don’t grind up to as fine a flour as grain, if like me you are doing this in a kitchen, I use a moulet though a finer grind may be possible with a stone) for either an alternative to flour or an additive to bulk out flour and add flavour. Very nice nut flavoured flour can be made by mixing 50/50 with  normal flour which then makes for delicious nutty flavoured cookies and biscuits.

 

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Cauliflower Fungus.

Often found in association with coniferous woodland, particulalry pine, this often large fungus is a highly prized find. It doesnt keep or dry well so is best eaten immediatley.Due to its intricate shape it also doesnt wash or clean well, so brush of any pine needles or leaves that have fallen onto the outside, and discard any parts where dirt has got into the intricate delciate structure of the fungi as it will be impossible to remove. Cauliflower fungi is absolutley delicious fried, and is regarded as something of a delicacy, a personal favourite is to batter it as shown below.

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Amethyst Deceiver

Despite the name “Deceiver” this abundant little mushroom is quite easy to identify, first by its colour, although this pales with age from vivid purple through paler shades, but more importantly because only every alternate gill reaches the edge of the underside, which always remains lilac or purple, even when the cap colour fades. I have picked this mushroom both locally to home, and in the new forest, where I fried them in early December with chanterelles and a steak to make a supreme sandwich. Very tasty and though small,  once you find one you will usually then notice  many more hiding among the leaf litter, and its usually possible to pick a good quantity without significantly depleting their numbers.

 

Beefsteak Fungus

Found growing on Oak in Hertfordshire, this Beef Steak Fungus did exude a deep red blood like fluid. I cut it into to strips and fried it, and on cutting it, it is remarkable how similar the fibres of the fungi structure are to steak in both texture and colour. Tasty, substantial and well worth collecting when encountered.

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Chicken of the Woods

This Sulphur Polypore, AKA Chicken of the Woods was found in the same Hertfordshire Woodland as the Beefsteak above. Reportedly some people react badly to this fungus so it should be tried in small quantities initially. Fried, I found it to have a firm texture and pleasant taste with no ill effects, despite perhaps being a little greedy! In the right sauce it would be hard to discern from real chicken due to the texture if not the natural taste. When dried this fungi stores well and can be rehydrated  for use.

 

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