The Forager’s Kitchen

Hedgerows are always a source of fascination, they are so full of flora and fauna. At the moment, they are dotted with glossy blackberries, and I can never resist picking them as I pass. My mother, the queen of preserves in our family, is already making jam and there has been talk of a blackberry and apple crumble coming our way too…!

My level of hedgerow foraging is fairly basic, but there is lots of ‘free’ food out there if you only know what to look for. My friend Julia Horton-Powdrill is a great forager and it was through her excellent Facebook page that I came across ‘The Forager’s Kitchen’ a truly fascinating cookery book that contains over 100 easy recipes from savoury to sweet, written by a Scots lady called Fiona Bird.

Don’t be put off by the title – this book is absolutely fascinating just to sit and read even if you have no intention of going and collecting any of the ingredients yourself. Not only does Fiona provide lovely (and easy) recipes, she gives lots of additional information about wildflowers, herbs, fruits and berries and more. Should you feel inspired, she also tells you how to forage, essential ground rules (how to avoid misidentification!) and a range of lovely little ‘wild notes’ with really useful hints and tips.

The book is divided up into sections – Flowers & Blossom, Woodland & Hedgerow, Fruits & Berries, Herbs and Sea & Shore. There’s a huge range of recipes – from Christmas Tree Cookies (using Douglas fir needs) through Carrot & Clover Cake to the most gorgeous looking Violet Macarons with Primrose Cream. Fiona writes very well and, whether you live in a city, the countryside or by the coast, if you follow her advice, you will find more ingredients growing in the wild than you could imagine!

Our ancestors knew what to pick and I do think it’s a shame that most people today are so ‘disconnected’ from the countryside and, indeed, wary of it. There is so much beauty in nature and such bounty out there if we only know what to do with it.

Fiona Bird is a mother of six children. She is a self-taught cook and past Masterchef finalist who has always had a passion for cooking and her approach to food is based on her knowledge of tight budgets and limited time. You can follow Fiona on her Facebook page. 

 

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Green & white – a restful combination

This lovely green and white flower arrangement gave me a lot of pleasure during the week or so that it graced my desk. I have a bit of a ‘thing’ about unusual colour combinations with flowers. Indeed my first wedding flowers were green and white with green and white bridesmaids (their dresses, there were no green bridesmaids!).

The roses are old-fashioned English roses, mixed with cow parsley, buddleia and beautiful scented stocks making it a feast for the nose as well as the eyes. Most of the supermarkets have been selling stocks lately and I do so love their scent.

Green and white is a very restful combination and it always reminds me of the white garden at Sissinghurst near Tunbridge Wells. Vita Sackville West called it her grey, green and white garden, and the combination is amazing!

You can make beautiful arrangements that are almost completely green if you can source interesting green flowers. There are lovely green hellebores and of course green orchids to name just two. Another attractive and less run of the mill option is to have an arrangement that is entirely made up of foliage – if you have grey, green, variegated and other interesting leaves in your garden, why not give it a go!

 

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Chillies & strawberries this year!

I don’t have much space in the garden for growing vegetables (nor the time!) as pretty much all the growing space is taken up with flowers and shrubs. However I have got round this by planting some veggies in mid air this year!

I have an old feed basket from the days when Victoria Farm still had cattle, back in the 1960s I believe. There were actually quite a few feed baskets left in the stables and barns that are now the studios. There is one just outside my kitchen window which I lined with moss and plastic and then filled with compost. Now I have a mix, as you can see, of foodie and decorative plants growing together.

The chillies (Aurora (Capsicum annuum)) are just an annual but if I dry all the chillies that come from this plant I reckon I should have enough for months. I am fascinated by the colours of the chillies – the purple ones are beautiful and then they change to reds and oranges – just gorgeous.

I planted some strawberries next to them, partly for the fruit but I also loved the bright and colourful hot pink flowers, which make a nice change from the normal white flowers.

I don’t think I’m going to save any money on the grocery bill, but I am getting a lot of pleasure looking at the plants hanging half way up the wall just outside my kitchen!

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Devon violets: a symbol of modesty or a little flirt?

I was peering in a junk shop window the other day – it was closed so no time for a rummage sadly – when I spotted a little pottery perfume bottle with ‘Sweet Devon Violets’ on it… and I remembered an elderly aunt (who was probably not that elderly at all) who always had handkerchiefs scented with sweet Devon violets.

Devon is a wonderful place for wildflowers and violets seem to grow particularly well in the climate here and are usually plentiful in the springtime. Beautiful and delicate, the pungent perfume of the variety Viola Odorata is used as a source for scents in the perfume industry.

Violet is known as a ‘flirty’ scent as its fragrance comes and goes. Ionone (a chemical substance) is present in the flowers, which turns off the ability for humans to smell the fragrant compound for moments at a time – isn’t that clever?

The Viola Odorata was one of the first flowering plants to be grown commercially and there are records showing they were for sale in Athens 400BC and being grown in specialist nurseries in Attica. Throughout the centuries violets have been a favourite flower, either for their perfume that scented the rooms and floors or their medicinal qualities that are still being researched today.

Dawlish in Devon was the most important centre for the cultivation of violets in 1916 and a special train ran from Cornwall to London carrying all the flowers on their way to Covent Garden Market on a daily basis. By 1936 there was a flourishing trade from this area and flowers were sent regularly to the Queen and ladies at the Court. During the war years, the land was requisitioned for growing much needed food, and violets went out of fashion, sadly never to return.

As a result, nowadays we tend to associate the perfume with elderly ladies and as being rather old-fashioned. As a flower, the violet represents modesty–hence the phrase ‘a shrinking violet’–so perhaps that has something to do with it being regarded as rather shy and retiring and old hat! Yet the sweet violet is really the true flower of Valentine’s Day as legend has it that, while in prison, St Valentine wrote a letter to his lover with ink made from violets.

Sweet Devon Violet products are still popular today with Devon violet soaps, bath bombs, perfume, essential oils, candles and much more, all being widely available on line. Look into any Devon gift shop and you are sure to find some products too! So perhaps the popularity of this lovely fragrance won’t fade away like our aged aunts and does still have a place in modern life, albeit a slightly shy and retiring one!

 

 

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Peonies & clematis… a little bit different!

Much as I love looking at my flowers in the garden, it seems a shame that so many of them are out of sight when you are in the house and so I really enjoy bringing them indoors even if they are likely to be short lived.

I have this arrangement on my desk and it brings me huge pleasure every time I look at it. Peonies are such an amazing flower – and the stems of clematis wrapped around the arrangement just bring a careless country feel to it.

Start with a glass cube vase – they’re endlessly useful and can be bought from garden centres, Ikea and numerous other household type places. Soak some green Oasis in water for an hour or so while you are picking the flowers. Then place the well soaked Oasis in the cube and top up with a couple of inches of water. Take a large wide leaf – it could be a fern, an exotic plant in the garden like a banana leaf or a palm. We are lucky down here and the temperate climate (sometimes!) allows these plants to flourish.  Fix it with a folded hairpin of wire. Then place the peonies low and spread across the vase – in this arrangement I used six. I would usually stick to an odd number but I just couldn’t fit the seventh one in so put it in a bud vase!

The freesias in the arrangement were not from the garden, I cheated as I saw a small bunch in the supermarket and couldn’t resist! Finally cut some long strands of clematis and wind around the vase, again holding in place with wire. I made the clematis into a sort of mini wreath and then lowered it over the flowers and tucked just one long wire hairpin into the oasis to make sure it didn’t slip.

Just something pretty and a little bit different!

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