Tag Archives: foraging

Urban foraging, finding a feast in East London.

8 Oct

Whilst it’s been a quiet few weeks on the home cooking front, we’ve been out and about on food related adventures. The first one was a fab urban foraging trip in East London organised by a new social enterprise  The Amazings. The Amazings help people who are about to retire or have retired create  experiences with the skills, knowledge and passion they’ve picked up throughout their life. You get to learn something new and they get some money for sharing their skill, a pretty nifty deal. Off we went one Sunday morning to the east end oasis of Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park to meet Terry, our Amazing for the day.

After a cup of wild tea, yarrow for me;

we were off, following Terry and his assistant into the park to pick our lunch.

The Man and I have been on a foraging course before but it was really interesting to forage in a different environment and one we are more likely to find near to us.

We tasted as we went, and collected leaves for later and I was amazed at the number of things we could eat that I didn’t know about. We also had the chance to test our mettle by picking and eating raw nettles. I didn’t trust myself enough to pick the leaf and roll it without getting stung but I did eat one and can report that I didn’t get stung, and it was tasty too.

After our picking session we headed back to the education centre to cook the results of our foraging.

Comfrey fritters, very tasty but being deep-fried helps. I always enjoy communal cooking but when it looks as pretty as this salad it’s even better!

We also made a really interesting stew with mallow leaves and went away with a jar of jam made with Guelder Rose berries (only edible when cooked) which I can report is delicious! We had a great time, it’s a really interesting way to spend an afternoon sharing someone elses knowledge and enthusiasm. Terry was a really engaging teacher and we cooked up some interesting and tasty food, the realisation also dawned that perhaps we should give up growing vegetables because most of our weeds are edible too! As a taster of urban foraging it was a great introduction and worth traveling into London for and would be a great way of exploring your local area and seeing it in a different light. The Amazings have another foraging events line up and some other awesome opportunities lined up and I’d certainly recommend this one.

hooray it’s asparagus time (and some more foraging)

5 May

This is a mixture of what could have been three dinners ( if there had been enough of each). Linguine with nettle pesto, roast asparagus with parmesan and a foraged salad ( allotment weeds again*) with feta cheese.

English asparagus season is brief, about eight weeks from early May through June, but thanks to the gorgeous Spring we have been enjoying its early this year and has been on sale locally, and in some shops for a few weeks now.

As I’ve already mentioned I love asparagus but wince at both how much it costs at other times of the year and at the ecological of it being shipped half way round the globe (most often from Peru). Also I think the fresh stuff tastes so much better! You can still get ropey asparagus at this time of year but many shops are good at getting it on sale quickly, if you can pick it up from the farm or pick your own, so much the better. So for the next few weeks I will enjoy eating asparagus with a clear conscience, go get some and give it try, but be quick it won’t be around for long!

*Chives, hawthorn leaves, mint, garlic mustard and sorrel.

really wild food : foraging with Fergus Drennan

24 Apr

When society crumbles and supermarket shelves are bare, Fergus Drennan is going to be a very popular man! He used to supply restaurants with foraged foods and now runs foraging courses for small groups in the Kent countryside, he has experimented with living for a year on foraged food and has written widely on the subject, so really knows his stuff.

The Man booked us a day’s foraging course for my birthday last year but we waited for longer days and for things to really start growing. I was really looking forward to it, but I didn’t realise quite how much fun we would have, how much I would learn and what great food we would be eating. At 9am sharp a group of us assembled outside The Goods Shed in Canterbury, then just after 9 Fergus screeched into the car park, apologising for being late, but he had spotted some St Georges Mushrooms and he wanted to pick them for our dinner; you can’t really argue with that! We bundled into Fergus’s car and hurtled off to the first destination, behind an un remarkable suburban cul-de-sac for some river bank foraging.

Fergus was an incredibly enthusiastic teacher, covering the basics of foraging before leading us off, stopping every 30 seconds or so to point out edible morsels or cautioning about what to avoid. The hogweed above was gorgeous (asparagusy) fried with butter, lemon and pepper but the sap can cause burns if it gets on you skin before cooking so you need to be careful! River bank forage complete we were whisked off to the woods to learn how to turn these,

into this;

a chocolate coated, sloe gin infused wood ear mushrooms (incredibly sweet and tasty actually)!

As time went on Fergus was worrying that we were running late and it felt like he was having to force himself to move on the next area. After a quick stop to pick up so super hot Dittander leaves we headed back to his parents house at about 3.30 to make lunch. By this point I was so hungry I could have eaten the cat, but we quickly rustled up a three course lunch of some of the prettiest, most unusual food I’ve ever eaten; most of which I had helped gather that morning.

wild leaf soup with added nettles.
mixed wild leaf salad with feta and radish mushrooms
wild mushroom tart with rye and acorn flour
vanilla panna cotta with carageen, wood avon root flavoured apple and blackberry star

I think we all felt a little guilty leaving so much washing up behind but Fergus was in Mad Hatter “I’m late” mode, he assured us it would be fine, and we still had vodka to infuse, dinner to cook and a whole seashore to explore, so we had better get a move on! Off to the sea-side we went, again at high-speed, Fergus’s eyes always scanning the hedgerows. We picked gorse flowers to infuse vodka, fun but painfully prickly!

Afterwards we moved on to learn about Alexanders ( herbal, celery ish), Sea Beet (salty spinach), salt made from Sea Purslane and the many types of edible seaweed. Always having an eye for a high value item I was thrilled to find a native oyster.

Less impressed to have to leave it, but it was the only one so it wouldn’t have been fair really. Dinner felt like it was the thing we had been building towards for most of the day, although lunch was so huge we thought we might struggle fortunately we all found room. As the light was fading we built fires on the beach, adding to the prehistoric hunter gatherer feel, there is something very ulifting about preparing and cooking a meal together.

We deep-fried seaweed (and nearly Fergus too), it was so much tastier than anything I have ordered from a takeaway, lots of umami and a dash of iodine!

That was just a taster for the main event; sea bass (not foraged) with wild fennel wrapped in laver seaweed, nutty burdock roots and those lovely St Georges mushrooms fried with Alexander stems.

It was very tasty, I think almost anything cooked on a fire has a head start, but the flavours were incredibly clean and contemporary tasting. For pudding we knocked up a crumble from Japanese Knot Weed, (a hideously invasive plant which could see you have your mortgage refused if it’s growing in your garden); but which tastes very similar to rhubarb without the very sharp tang. It was lovely, and exceeded my expectations but to be honest I think we were all struggling to fit anymore food in by this point.

We both finished the day exhausted, with heads too full of information to remember any of it and immensely grateful to Fergus for dropping us back at our hotel. The whole day was a full on, slightly mad cap immersion in foraging that has given us both a different perspective on food. A brilliant birthday present and an experience I’d definitely recommend.

Sloe Gin

20 Dec

I used to hate Sloe gin when I was younger, in fact I didn’t like gin at all, but like blue cheese and olives it is something I have very much grown into. My Dad always used to make a batch and offer it round at Christmas and I always forces some down but never enjoyed it, something I feel very sad about now I have started making my own. A well known brand of gin now sells Sloe Gin I prefer making my own, its easy, probably cheaper and I can get the balance of sugar to fruit to my own taste.

Firstly what is a sloe, Prunus spinosa is the fruit of the blackthorn tree and grows across most of the uk and Europe, once you know what you are looking for they are easy to spot when they are in fruit, with small purple berries with a blue bloom and sharp thorns. Sloes ripen from August onward but are best picked in October or November. Whilst technically they are edible they are so mouth dryingly sour I think the best thing to do is add them to gin.

Sloe gin takes a long time to infuse, but after the initial faff you can leave it alone to make itself. The end result is a gorgeous deep purple, plummy liqueur, perfect for cold winter evenings.

Here is my method.

1 bottle of gin ( I use a well known supermarkets own brand as anything too subtle would be wasted) and a spare empty bottle, both sterilised with boiling water.

150g of sugar ( more or less to taste)

3 or 4 handfuls of sloes per bottle.

Sterilise the bottles and divide the gin between the two. Split the sugar equally between the two. Wash the sloes and divide between the two, pricking the fruit with a fork before dropping them into the gin. Store in a cool dark place for at least two month, shaking occasionally. Strain the sloes out of the gin and re bottle. Apparently it can be kept for over a year and matures well if you can leave it for that long! We never do.

Can be enjoyed neat, but is lovely with soda water or even a dash in some bubbly for very special occasion.

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