A forager’s delight

Fiona improvising with a walking stick to make sure she gets to the best fruit!Today, I am delighted to bring you a guest blog from well-know professional forager, Fiona Bird, author of the wonderful ‘Forager’s Kitchen‘. Fiona has been travelling the length of the country and foraging all sorts of wonderful things along the way…

A couple of weeks ago I was invited to leave the Outer Hebridean, Isle of South Uist where I live, to participate at a food festival on the Inner Hebridean, Isle of Tiree. I took the opportunity to head on to the mainland to forage rock samphire and sea-buckthorn for a coastal foraging book that I am writing. I visited lots of lovely people too but exploring autumn Britain, in what has been a mast year for berries and nuts was a forager’s delight.

My mainland travels took me right down to Cornwall and also to Wiltshire where I foraged dusty, blue sloes. They shouldn’t be picked until after the first frost (‘bletted’) but of course wildlife and other foragers may then beat you to them. I forage sloes and pop them in the freezer, thereby avoiding the need to await a frost. If you make sloe gin or vodka it’s a good idea to make it in a wide-necked jar and you can then pick out the ‘alcohol soaked fruit’ with ease and use the fruit in a second recipe. There’s an alcohol soaked chocolate treat recipe in ‘The Forager’s Kitchen‘.

I’m ending my guest blog with a recipe using damsons, which are also in abundant supply this year. It’s a mini variation on a tart tatin and children will enjoy making it too. The damsons could be replaced by cooked quince scattered wild thyme. Wild thyme is fading as the autumn days shorten but, as with all foraged ingredients, ‘once you’ve got your eye in’ you’ll find it on moorland, sand dunes and scrubland. It is milder in flavour than garden thyme, so adjust quantities accordingly. Thank you for inviting me to blog about foraging Joanna, it’s a wonderful way, whatever the weather, to appreciate our beautiful countryside and gather food for free, for your lunch or supper.

What to forage and find:

  • About 200g (approximately 30) wild damson plums*
  • 75g soft light brown (light muscovado) sugar
  • 2 generous tablespoons (35g) butter
  • Plain flour, for dusting
  • 27 x 20cm sheet puff pastry
  • Yogurt or ice cream, to serve with 

What to do:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200ºC/gas mark 6). 
  2. Wash and cut the damsons in half, and remove the pits (stones). In a muffin pan (tin), put 6 damson halves, skin side down, in each muffin cup, filling 10 cups. 
  3. Meanwhile, heat the sugar and butter in a saucepan over low heat until melted. Stir well, and divide the mixture between the 10 cups.
  4. Lightly dust a working surface with flour, and lay out the pastry. Use a cutter to stamp out 7.5cm circles. Put a pastry circle on top of each filled muffin cup.
  5. Bake for 10–12 minutes, until the pastry is risen and golden.
  6. Take the tarts out of the oven, cool for a minute, and then run a knife around the pastry to loosen it. If you are brave: put a tray over the muffin pan, turn the muffin pan upside down, and fingers crossed, the mini damson tartes tatins will turn out. Alternatively, spoon the pastry (base) onto a serving dish, and spoon the damsons back on top. Either way, it’s yummy.

These are delicious cold or warm, with yogurt or ice cream. 

Wild Notes:

* In season, replace the damsons or plums with wild cherries or poached quince.

 

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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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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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A summer soup…

My foraging friend Julia Horton-Powdrill is always introducing new seasonal recipes for either things she’s grown in her veg garden or foraged from some passing hedgerow, beach or field margin.

She currently has an excellent pea crop and, while they are delicious cooked and cooled and added to a green salad, she has also used them in a lovely soup that can be enjoyed hot or cold. It combines the sweetness of the peas with the zing of wild mint! As you will know, mint is a terribly over-enthusiastic plant, so either grow in a pot to try and contain it, or find some growing wild, as Julia has done here.

Wild mint & pea soup

Ingredients: 

  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil + extra for serving
  • 25g butter
  • 1 medium red onion, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and minced or/and wild garlic leaves
  • 750g fresh peas, shelled (frozen peas are great!!)
  • 75g wild mint leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1 litre vegetable stock
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Preparation:

Gently heat the oil and butter in a large saucepan, add the chopped onion and cook on a gentle heat for 10 minutes or until the onion is soft but not brown. Add the garlic (if using) and cook for a further 3 minutes.

Add 3/4 of the peas, the chopped mint leaves, the wild garlic leaves (if using) and 3/4 stock. Cover the saucepan with a tight fitting lid and cook on a medium boil for 10 minutes.

Blend the soup in a food processor; you will have a thick purée. Return the purée to the pan, season with salt and pepper and add the remaining peas and stock. Cook for a further 5 minutes.

Serve with crusty, fresh bread.

This soup is absolutely delicious hot or cold.

You can find out more about Julia’s foraging courses here.

 

 

 

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Go on – get out there!

The garden is a riot of colour at last! It’s been a funny year with some plants doing incredibly well (poppies, lupins) and others hardly getting started before they are over (alliums and dicentra).

In among the riot of colour are, of course, large quantities of weeds! I try not to be ‘weedist’ and leave quite a few of them alone as they are attractive in their own right. Everything has its merits after all and, as Monty Don reminded me recently on Gardeners’ World, the stinging nettle is a marvellous thing in so many ways. He demonstrated how you can pick nettles (stout gloves being worn of course), cram them into a bucket, top up with water and, in two weeks’ time, you get a really good nitrogen-rich, liquid plant food.

It’s easy to look at your garden at this time of year and have a feeling of sheer panic as everything suddenly takes off and sprouts in all directions. What do you tackle first? When should you prune? When do you need to feed? But these days, there’s really no need for panic – the internet is full to bursting with useful gardening tips.

I follow both the RHS and Gardeners’ World online and they pop up every week and remind me what I need to be doing in the garden at that time. They even include links to a huge range of ‘how to’ videos on everything from plant propagation to building decking. They also cater for large and small gardens and there’s lots of really interesting tips about container gardening for those of you with small gardens or balconies.

Have a Google around, find a site that you like, and sign up to it. It’s a great way to get new ideas and inspiration and even old hands can pick up lots of useful tips. I still get a rebellious sense of joy when I water my garden whenever I jolly well like, having spent years restricted by the myth that watering in sunshine burns plants’ leaves – it doesn’t! That’s an old wives tale I debunked in a blog last year along with several other gardening myths.

Whether you are new to gardening or an old hand, there’s plenty of advice out there. It really is such a ‘positive’ pastime – there’s lots of evidence that gardening is really good for you – I do recommend you get out there and have a go!

Gardeners’ World

Royal Horticultural Society (RHS)

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