Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Wild food from the park – catch-up #2: August

Summer, such as it was in August, continued to bring us fresh opportunities to eat (and drink) out of the Park. Earlier in the (so-called) summer, we spotted a short section of hedgerow in a discreet corner of the Park that had wild plums growing – the identification is uncertain – they might be cherry plums (particularly as the ripe fruits are bright red!). At that stage, they were small, hard, green fruit, a long way from being ripe. By August, the first of the plums were definitely ready for harvesting:

Don't these look great! Sweet and juicy.
It is maybe no surprise that our identification of this fruiting bush is a bit indeterminate - Richard Mabey, in ‘Flora Britannica’, discusses the “lineage of Byzantine complexity” of wild plums in Britain, then describes feral plums as one of the best wild foods, many being edible straight off the tree (unlike sloes). We decided to use our wild plum harvest, with sugar and vodka, to make a wild plum vodka:

First, you add the sugar

Then, you add the vodka. Then you wait...  

 This has already started taking on a red colour from the fruit and will be ready in a few weeks, or at least in time for Christmas.

Ray Mears and Professor Gordon Hillman, in their (BBC) book ‘Wild Food’, write very interestingly on the importance of hazel nuts in the diets of our prehistoric ancestors in Britain. The sophistication of our Mesolithic ancestors’ understanding of how to prepare hazelnuts to improve their palatability and storage potential was impressive. Archaeological sites across Britain have revealed many remains of shallow roasting pits and hazelnut shell middens (waste piles). We have had high hopes for a huge harvest of hazelnuts, which would provide us with lots of recipe options. All summer, we’ve watched as hazelnuts developed in profusion on most of the many hazel bushes and trees in King’s Park.

Then we went on holiday to Pembrokeshire for a week and when we returned, maybe 90% of the nuts had vanished! It turns out that the fiendish grey squirrels are capable of stripping hazelnuts from hazel bushes once they reach a sufficiently palatable stage (which presumably occurred when we were away).

My friend Martin, who is developing a forest garden on the Black Isle using the principles pioneered by the horticulturalist Robert Hart, advises me that where grey squirrels have colonised, as here in Stirling, it may be a waste of time trying to grow hazelnuts as a crop (or, it seems, to look for wild hazels as a reliable source of food) as they'll have the lot. Nevertheless, we persisted and collected a small stock of hazelnuts while they were still green and left them to go brown on a south-facing window sill (I have no idea if it is OK to eat them green).

Hazelnuts, at the stage that we were still hopeful that they might feed us proportionately to the effort it took to collect them

But when we cracked them all in September, 90% were either empty or undeveloped – a poor return for our efforts! How we made use of the meagre harvest, I’ll tell you in a later wild food post.
Wild sorrel (new young leaves only) and wood sorrel continued to be available in the Park and we used them to garnish a wild watercress and bean soup (we picked the watercress in a wee stream at Manorbier in Pembrokeshire just before we came home to Scotland):

Wild watercress ready for cooking

Watercress and bean soup, with wild sorrell and wood sorrell

We also continued to use our harvested raspberries from the freezer on yogurt with honey for pudding or, as here for example, in a (rare) gin and tonic as a fruity garnish:

An additional wild food bonanza landed in our laps on holiday in August in Pembrokeshire, when we found a thicket of densely fruiting damsons growing on the Pembrokeshire Coastal Path and collected a big bag. We used these for damson muffins:

and for damson gin:

One for later in the Winter. Cleaned us out of cheap gin too! Still needs a bit of stirring though, to dissolve all of that sugar...


Wild food from the park – catch-up time #1: July

July? JULY? I realise I haven’t blogged for nearly two months. But time, as ever, rolls on. We have been continuing with our attempts to find different things to eat from the seasonal wild food popping up each month in our local park, the King's Park in Stirling and then writing about it for you - and there’s lots to be written about and, hopefully, read about and so - on on!

July brought some new items to the King’s Park wild food menu, plus more of some we’ve already had. The raspberry canes continued to produce a great crop of juicy sweet berries and we continued to pick them and eat them off the bush or with yoghurt, or freeze them. By the end of July, we did manage to gather and freeze a total of 6kg of berries, which will last us the rest of the year in various uses.

Fine wild raspberries in their prime at the peak of the season

In early July, I spent the weekend (Wimbledon Finals weekend, I think) involved in making this TV show (yes, I'm somewhere in the choir!) and returned home on a warm and beautiful summer evening to find that O had constructed this delight:

They look great, don't they?
It is a chardonnay jelly with wild raspberries (based on a recipe from Nigella Lawson) and was pretty special eaten cold from the fridge, in the garden on a (rare) warm July evening!

We also used the raspberries in a jug of Pimms (posh, what?) with some mint leaves from the garden, shown here with some garlic bread made using the wild garlic pesto we made in April:

Another highly seasonal appearance for a few weeks in July, and a very welcome and exciting one for a wild food project, is the emergence of the flowers of the lime tree.

Lime tree flowers

I wrote about lime trees previously here. Lime blossom is surely one of the most fragrant of any of our native plants and ranks up at the top of my favourite native flower scents, along with honeysuckle. It is also, after air-drying for a few days, the ingredient for the traditional linden blomen tea.  

Air drying lime flowers on the window ledge. A few in a teapot or a couple in a mug with boiling water makes a great drink.

In his mighty 'Flora Britannica', Richard Mabey says of lime trees: “All groups of lime trees, of whatever species, are wonderfully fragrant when in full blossom in July. They are also the noisiest of trees at this time, and the roar of bees in them can often be heard 50 yards away. The blossom makes a rich tea, tilleul, which was recommended as a mild sedative during the last war.” 

Roger Phillips, in his 'Wild Food' book, proffers the following information: “The flowers are used to make linden tea which is famous for its delicious taste and soothing effect on the digestive and nervous system. Honey from lime flowers is regarded as the best flavoured and most valuable in the world and is used extensively in medicine and liqueurs.”

On the warm July morning when I gathered the lime blossom above, the avenue of lime trees in the Park was bathed in a wonderful honey-like scent from the lime blossom and bees were busy, noisily gathering nectar and pollen in the trees. A few of the dried lime flowers above, in a mug with boiling water, makes a scented slightly sweet infusion. Kept in an airtight jar, we’ve found that dried lime flowers will retain this potential for many months, well over a year in fact.

We also made a couple of major batches of elderflower cordial in July although, rather foresightedly, I published a photo of the summer’s whole production in the post on June’s wild food experiences, here – which was written in July. Here’s a photo of the July cordial anyway, just for completeness!

But that wasn’t the end of the cordial developments in July. Despite the general lack of wetlands in the King’s Park (partly down to the major drainage work for the golf course over a large proportion of the park), there are a few wee wet corners and, in one of them in July, we found lots of the large native wetland plant meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria). I wrote previously about meadowsweet in one of my posts of the Ladybird seasons books, here, and mentioned it as the original source of aspirin and that’s an issue for its use to produce cordial.

The recipe we used, from the wild food book 'Seafood andeat it' by Xa Milne and Fiona Houston, points out that people who are allergic to aspirin should avoid it. A better reason for avoiding it would be that it is pretty harsh. The recipe had too much lemon for my tastes and I found the aspirin flavour to be a bit off-putting. Still, I've made a couple of litres and I ought to drink it:

Meadowsweet cordial

 and it is more palatable with some apple juice added so all is not yet lost!

That’s all from the Park for that month but a July wild food addendum was our first chanterelles of the year. We visited our good friend Kathy in deepest Aberdeenshire and her local wood had a few good quality chanterelles which we enjoyed for breakfast:

Hello hello...coming out to play?

Hello again. I've just had nearly two months off from blogging (Lord, I've missed you lot!). It wasn't really planned but we had a couple of weeks away camping in September which broke my blogging routine (and separated me from all my books!).  I have also been spending a lot of time on a PC at work for a big environmental website project that I'll be telling you all about in a few weeks and I couldn't really face spending the evening on the PC at home as well. So, it's been quite nice really but I've missed it and ... I see there's a few new folk following so a hearty welcome and I hope you enjoy the new stuff. Please feel free to comment. I've also been getting in to Twitter over the last couple of months (@scot_nature_boy. If you're on Twitter, come and play!) so hopefully that might attract a few more views and comments from the Twitterati now that I can promote posts over there too.

Anyway, lots of posts bubbling up, and my fingers are twitching at the prospect of writing and so time to press on. There's only really one classy way to return after a long break, and that's the in the manner of Paul Newman's Fast Eddie Felson from the movie 'The Color of Money'...