Category Archives: Wild food
The weather has been amazing in the UK; for Easter Bank Holidays it is unparalleled, not surprising then that I haven’t written anything here for ages. There seem to be pairs of things queuing up; please skip to the bits that interest you most. In the following order we have:
2 Apps; the 360Panorama and the Moleskine
2 Cakes; a giant Jaffa cake and a sweet, tart, redcurrant tart
2 Fungi; A Dryad’s Saddle Paper experiment and St George’s Mushroom
2 Foragy bits; Sea Purslane and an experiment with cleavers and milk in an attempt to make cheese
2 Fabulous cycle rides, mapped from Framlingham, one following the Alde and one Green Bagging in Bow and Arrow Country
2 Local Food Discussions; why does Suffolk have a strong local food culture and a new local food festival?
2 Swims – How is my training going? – first sea swim of the season
Two Apps – 360Panorama and Moleskine
I have recently downloaded two apps for the iPhone that I am enjoying immensely. The first I heard about from @ssilvestori who showed pictures of Lecce using it. Fantastic images; Silvestro is currently cycling around Puglia to generate interest in the small towns of the region. His website is worth a gander, he offers food and wine courses and much more besides. The 360Panorama app allows you to take 360 degree images that can be shown flat, like the one below, or if you have an iPhone, the images can be uploaded and viewed as interactive 360 images.
The second app that I am enjoying is a digital version of the Moleskine note book. I think it is going to be great fun for gardening and foraging notes, especially as it allows you to geotag pictures. Now if it could just capture sounds and smells, and if I could draw a little better….. However I am quite pleased with my cover and a simple gardening note.
Two Cakes – Giant Jaffa Cake and Sweet, Tart, Redcurrant Tart
This being Easter cake baking seems essential. I have been quite pleased with two cakes this holiday so I am recording them here so I don’t lose the recipes. The first is a giant Jaffa Cake. Based on a Guardian recipe designed by Ottolenghi and supplied by the lovely @downatheel, it is a rich almondy, moist cake. I adapted it by adding a jelly layer. Using 300ml of fresh Clementine juice and gelatine at 1.5 times the normal ratio. I set the jelly in a soup plate before scooping it onto the cake. I allowed the chocolate coating to cool as much as I dared before covering.
The second cake is described as a tart but is somewhere between a cheesecake, meringue and a desert sponge. It is sweet-sour and just plain lush. I used frozen currants which worked well but makes the meringue very tricky to apply as it part freezes as you mix them in. The whole cake is gloriously messy to make, but well worth the effort. The recipe can be found on Catalina Bakes.
Two Fungi – Dryad’s Saddle and St George’s Mushroom
Spring is a joyous time for mushrooming, mostly because the spring ones are a bit easier to identify. A friend brought me a Dryad’s saddle. Not many commentators declare this to be edible, but it is supposed to be able to be used to make paper. I cooked it for hours, smushed it, strained it and ended up with some thing crispy stuff – nothing to write home about or on…. but it had an interesting transulcence so it might be useful added to other materials.
Much more exciting was the early appearance of the St George’s mushroom. One thing I have learnt is the earlier it arrives the less likelihood of worm damage. This year there were far fewer, so I only picked two, but they were in tip-top condition. For the record, this year’s photograph April 18th whereas last year they didn’t appear until May 8th – what a difference a year makes. This year I sliced them and placed them with trout and Jack by the hedge, wrapped in foil and cooked on the barbecue.
Two Foragy bits – Sea Purslane and using cleavers to make cheese
Spring is a great time for foraging on salads, two of my favourites at the coast are samphire and sea purslane. The samphire was not much in evidence this week but there were some lovely snacks of crisp, salty, purslane to be had.
Another favourite of mine is cleavers, a fresh pea-pod taste that makes weeding a pleasure. I had read that it was used in the past as a rennet for cheese making. I found a recipe for feta cheese and bought some goats milk. I heated the milk, added the yogurt and then decided to squeeze a massive handful of cleavers into the milk mixture. I left it and left it for days at room temperature. After two days I had remarkably fresh smelling yoghurt, no goaty smell, no cheese though. I think that cleavers other title of ‘milk sweet’ might be interesting to explore further.
Two fabulous cycle rides – Orford/Iken/Alde and ‘Green Bagging’
This spectacular weather has been a great excuse for some serious cycling. Regular readers will know I am hoping to take part in the Dunwich Dynamo so I am steadily increasing my distances. I don’t seem to be able to increase my average speeds though so I think I will be on the bike for in excess of 10 hours. Several chums have asked me how I manage, especially now I have a bike with a more racing style seat. The seat is quite comfortable, I am naturally ‘well upholstered’ and I have recently invested in silicone knickers, with thick padding they are supposed to be good for up to three hours – so do I need to wear four pairs?
Two great rides though. I have remapped these from Framlingham for you, parking in Framlingham is good at the Elms car park. Both rides are mostly on very low traffic routes. The first takes you to Orford, where there are plenty of pubs and the wonderful Pump Street Bakery, I also include a slight side track to High House Fruit Farm where they have fresh apple juice and Asparagus. Points to watch out for on this route too Adders! on the Iken lanes, basking on the tarmac. It is worth stopping and strolling down to the river for a spot of foraging (see above), you may also see Alpacas between Blaxhall and Farnham. Click on the image below to go to the full map at MapMyRide.
The second ride was my Suffolk version of Munroe bagging. I recently downloaded an app called Hill Lists, needless to say Suffolk doesn’t feature. However, if someone would like to create the antidote I think it could be used for bagging greens, bottoms or castles all of which abound round here. In this ride I count nine Greens, it goes over two commons, the one at Wingfield complete with tethered cattle. It is worth checking the Wingfield website before you leave, if you have time to stop they have magnificent arts exhibitions and can offer tea and coffee. There are plenty of pub stop-offs, if your timings suit; The De la Pole at Wingfield, the Low House at Laxfield (actually named the Kings Head, but called the Low House) and the Queen at Dennington (actually named the Queens Head but known as Dennington Queen) all have solid reputations for food and ale. If you just want quick supermarket fayre there is a shop in Laxfield and Framlingham has a full range of shops, coffee houses, pubs and a cycle repair shop. This journey is largely traffic free and you will find miles of Bow and Arrow country – remember too the #bowandarrowtweetup if you are interested in joining a few of us for drinks or to watch The Social Network on 25th May 2011 at Wingfield Barns. As before click on the map below to go to the MapMyRide site.
Two Food Discussions – Why does Suffolk have a strong local food culture and a new local food festival?
One of the features of Twitter is that it is not a forum or a place for lengthy discussions; until one breaks out. A few comments and before long a group of us were involved in a discussion about why Suffolk and Norfolk have a strong local food culture, as opposed to other areas which seem to feel a bit adrift. You can read and add to the full conversation synopsis here. It ranges from great products and producers, through sympathetic media and a relative absence of the ‘big stores’, but covers much more besides.
Pride in local food is important in so many ways. There has been a food, craft and music festival at Framlingham College over the last three days. The pre-publicity did not give many clues about who the exhibitors and demonstrators would be and I knew that a couple of local food related people were not involved so I wondered what the outcome would be. Framlingham has a bit of a reputation for events being called off due to appalling weather, with the Gala rained off, fireworks not even making it to the stage of damp squibs etc. However, the setting could not have looked better in glorious sunshine, looking at the castle across from the college green was a rural scene befitting of Midsommer Murders. There were a few local food suppliers, notably the Chilli Company, Jimmy’s Farm, Suffolk Cup Cakes and local chef Emma Crowhurst was providing demonstrations. There were also suppliers from further afield so it had the air of the food stalls at a county show. It will be interesting to see if the event is run again and grows to include more local suppliers, they certainly had the best possible of weathers and things looked reasonably busy, with plenty of cars in the car parks and people wandering the grounds and at the demonstration. I bought chilli sauces, curry sauces, sausages and enjoyed Emma’s demonstration, not least because real time demos are so much better than edited TV for things like sugar work.
Two Swims – How’s my training going?
I think I’m on track for the Grethathalon two swims; one the Great East Open Water Mile and the other a dip at Dunwich Beach preceded by the 120 mile overnight Dunwich Dynamo bike ride. I am gradually increasing my miles on the bike. I have been doing more reading around the subject and beginning to understand why the training plans also focus on shorter, faster rides. I hope this will make me try and ride faster, to build up the relevant muscles, mitochondria etc to improve my overall performance. It has to be said I am a bit sedentary at the moment.
Yesterday I did my first sea swim of the season, at Dunwich Beach; no way was I going to attempt crawl or put my face in the water though, so back to the old chestnut of controlling the drowning reflex.
If you would like to make a donation, I am supporting Diabetes UK this year. My Just Giving page is here.
We have a little tradition round here, a group of friends take it in turns to host a supper when it is one of the group’s big ‘O’ birthday. This was my chance; ever one to set myself a challenge, I decided to try to source all the ingredients from Suffolk. This is how the meal went, there is a Spotify playlist to go with the post; it was Earth Day too, so celebrating all good things around us seemed particularly appropriate.
The opening gambit from two of the friends when they arrived was, ‘so are we going to have road kill?’ – Little did they know.
Being fabulous people the first thing they asked was, “is there anything we can do?” – I explained that the one product I couldn’t buy locally was Suffolk butter. I poured some cream into a jam jar and asked them to shake it whilst they talked. Passing the jar from one to another; we could eat once when we had produced butter.
Starters: Platters – Salami and Ham from Lane Farm Brundish, Smoked Trout, Mackerel, and Salmon from Pinney’s of Orford, Green Peppercorn Dressing from Suffolk Mud, Mayonnaise from Stokes; mixed leaves from my greenhouse and Road Kill rolls made with white strong flour from Maple Farm, Kelsale.
The Lane Farm meats are dry and not overly fatty so really tasty to eat, especially with something a little spicy like a mustard or the peppercorn dressing. The Pinney’s smoked fish is delicious. The fish is soft and delicately smoked, not overly flavoured. The Road Kill rolls were bread rolls shaped like flattened hedgehogs. Kelsale flour is not bleached, so even their white flour comes up as a brownish roll, perfect for hedgehogs. The flour has a gloriously silky feel when you work with it. I was caught out though by using too much water in the initial mix, so much kneading on a well and frequently floured board was required to bring it back to a good consistency. I proved the dough over night and did a secondary shaping and proving in the morning.
Another time I would make the rolls smaller, they did look rather intimidating.
Amuse-bouche: Weed shot. I made a soup using, Jack-by-the-hedge, cleavers (aka sticky willy), nettles, chick weed, sorrel and land cress from the garden and the lane. I served the soup by giving everyone a shot glass and pouring the soup chilled from a White’s pear juice bottle. Variously described as disgusting, smelling like drains and quite nice; I think it is possibly an acquired taste. I’ll drink the rest for lunch, I guess it will have cleaned the palate if nothing else.
Venus and the Hunter’s return: The main course was a variation on coq-au-vin. Made with chicken breast, Shawsgate Venus, onions, carrots, potatoes, a good bundle of fresh herbs as a bouquet garni and some chopped pickled walnuts (walnuts from one of the friend’s garden) stirred into the sauce. I was trying to keep this course low fat, so didn’t thicken it with a roux and used skinless breasts, the little oil I used to soften the onions was local rape seed oil from Hillfarm. With hindsight this may have been a mistake, the chicken came up rather dry and I wish the potatoes had a bit of a crispy edge to them. Another time I think I would use a deep casserole, slice the potatoes and do as a layered topping. The chicken, potatoes and carrots are all from local suppliers and bought at auction at Abbots at Campsea Ashe. As there were already some veg in the casserole I just served it with a huge deep dish of Birds Eye peas. Now I can’t guarantee these were from Suffolk but there is a fair to middling chance they were; but equally that they may be the last ones we see. I have previously written about the pea harvest in this area; what I didn’t know at the time was that just before this year’s crop should have been planted, Birdseye would pull the plug and not renew the contract. Some of the farmers will have planted beans or other replacement crops, but various contractors have been laid off and had to find new work, all at very short notice.
Cheese: I served, Suffolk Gold, Suffolk Blue from Suffolk Farmhouse Cheeses, Creeting St Mary, and Shipcord, Hawkston from Rodwell Farm in Baylham near Ipswich. Trying to avoid biscuits, I served them with spiced pickled pears that I made last year and some spiced peaches from Laxfield that I won in a WI draw.
At this point a friend that I knew was going to be late arrived. It was agreed that she should try the weed shot before being allowed to proceed, she correctly identified nettles as an ingredient.
Heston vs Delia Desert: I am not a great lover of puddings and often pass on them preferring to tuck into cheese instead; so deserts with me are always a bit of a risk. I gave each person a small plastic tub and a pipette. The idea was to build your own desert taking as many (Heston) or few risks (Delia) as you like from the following list.
- Baby meringues, eggs from garden, Aspall Balsamic Vinegar and Billington’s Sugar, at the time couldn’t find British Sugar.
- Marybelle Creme Fraiche, Yoghurt
- Coffee Granita made with Paddy and Scotts, Great with Friends Coffee
- Tea Granita made with Sencha Wild Grey tea from Butterworth and Son
- Beetroot Jelly made with ‘Beet it’ from Whites
- Coulis – Wild Blackberry and Raspberry from Whites
- Chocolate from Hadleigh Maid
- Walnut Liquor made with green walnuts from friend’s garden (which is what the pipette was for)
Throughout the meal the drinks on offer were Shawsgate Baccus 2004 and a selection of juices from Whites.
The meal was finished off with a gorgeous cake that one of the friends had made, fizz from another friend and there should have been tea and coffee but I think by then I had forgotten that bit – oops.
I am hugely grateful to Eat Anglia, who when I was having problems getting the Kelsale flour called and asked them to deliver some for me especially, that’s service.
The weed eating season is officially here. I love this time of year as it is possible to rustle up a tasty little something from things found in the garden. Jack-by-the-hedge is a weed that will grow taller in the next few weeks. In these early days though, the leaves taste of garlic and are soft; making easy eating. You can add them to salads but I like to use them as I would wild garlic.
So take one jacket potato, that failed to be eaten last night, scoop out its innards and smush a little. Shred some Jack by the hedge. Whisk up an egg white to form a light wind, plop in the yolk, lightly beaten; season. Stir the whole lot together; yes it looks like something the cat threw up.
Drop the mix back into the potato skins and cook at 200c until baked (15ish minutes) and consume.
It helps to have some of these in your garden, then its a zero miles dish. #Suffolkdiet
One thing my ativar doesn’t tell you; I have very curly hair, which refuses to be tamed. My mother seemed to say to me most mornings “were you dragged through a hedge backwards? Go back upstairs and brush it.”
In the lane near my house I can pick sloes, bullace, hawthorns, rosehips, crab apples and blackberries; all within half a mile of the front door. If I can arrange for some people to help a couple of hours can produce quite a haul of fruit. These are taken home cleaned and picked over and weighed to create the right proportions, the actual recipe will be different each year depending on what is available but broadly it goes:
3lb crab apples (slit them)
2lb of reds (Rosehips, hawthorns)
2lb drupes & blacks (bullace, sloes and blackberries)
Juice of one lemon
The fruit without the lemon is cooked up in a pan along with water deep enough to cover all of the fruit until things are soft and the colours are flowing. Then comes the dripping, transfer everything to jelly bags; this is why cup hooks were invented. Don’t be tempted to squeeze the bags as you do not want any pulp to go through, just the juice. Ideally leave over night and the next day you will have a beautiful fruity broth.
Measure the broth and weigh an equal weight of sugar; i.e. in kilos one litre of juice needs one kilo of sugar and in pounds one pint of juice needs one pound of sugar. Bring the juice to the boil and put the sugar in a 100c oven. Also put your jam jars in the oven to sterilise. Once the juice is boiling, add the lemon juice and hot sugar, turn the oven off to let the jars cool to a bit. As the scum starts to form on the surface of your jelly skim with a spoon to remove and continue to boil until the setting point is reached. My preferred testing method is putting plates into the freezer and dropping a small amount of the jelly onto the plate, leave it for two minutes and check that the surface wrinkles when pushed with a finger. Pot and seal.
The resultant jelly is clear and has a fantastically jewel like quality. It is great with meat, as a basis for gravy like sauces and on toast.
This year I have tried a new brew called Pontack Sauce, somewhere between witchcraft and magic; this a glorious concoction made primarily from elderberries, vinegar and spices. I read several recipes and having not managed to pick many berries this was my final version.
Strip elderberries from their stems and put into a pyrex casserole dish with a good depth of vinegar. Place in a 50oC oven overnight. The next day some magic will have happened, the house will be cloaked in a vinegary smell and the mix will have changed into a deep port colour. Then fry off some red onion and strain the mix into the pan squishing well to make sure all the goodness but not the skins has passed through. Add mace blades, whole cloves and juniper berries. Bubble in a pan until satisfyingly brewed. Strain and bottle.
Wait seven years.
Seriously – this is what the recipes seem consistent about; it improves with age and is at its best in seven years time. I doubt I’ll wait that long so will take small samples periodically to test.
I had been looking forward to yesterday since Polly Robinson first invited me to join their Wild Food Safari at Henham a few weeks ago. Despite a pessimistic forecast the worst we had was a strong breeze and the day bowled along to go with the weather. The Henham Estate in Suffolk is a beautiful location, wide open parkland just off the A12 near Southwold in Suffolk, setting of the ‘friendly’ festival known as Latitude which happens in
mid July. Yesterday though the parkland was empty, miles of open track to drive down to the meeting point under a tree, where coffee, scrumptious flapjack and juice were being served. A small contingent of us had ‘met’ on twitter but not face-to-face so “Oh you must be @goodshoeday and @essexgourmet” was not as bizarre a conversation as it might seem anywhere else. The organisers of the day were Polly and Tim Robinson of Food Safari UK they were charming, as was Hektor Rous who is back on this side of the world managing the estate. For those into local history, or even just interested in the way that these large estates and their families have their stories to tell, the section of the Henham web site on history is well worth a read; several of us present on the day live in Dennington so the estate history has added frisson.
Our wild food expert was Jacky Sutton-Adam, to twitterers @wildfoodie1. Jacky has a marvellous way with imagery that means that she provides a full sensory description of the plants that you are investigating. This involves not just the look, taste and smell of the plants but what they feel like and the sound they make when they are snapped in just the right place. Her website is rich with additional detail and well worth a review if you are interested in eating from the wild. Jacky was also full of good advice on distinguishing one plant from another and very sensible about the warnings; only pick what you know and only pick what you need. A wide
range of salad plants were found only a few feet from the car park, with the full knowledge that you had the permission of the owners and that the risk of contamination at the site was minimal. We were introduced to nettle, cleavers aka Sticky Willy, burdock, ground elder, ground ivy and elderflower. The great thing was that even for someone who has tried these before, another person’s take on the topic or the way they use the plants adds breadth to your own knowledge; Jacky even won me round on the topic of ground elder!
After the initial foray we moved on down to the edge of the Blyth estuary, where wild samphire and sea purslane were found and eaten. There is something very special about this area, combining the drama of tidal changes and the history of Black Shuck, having seen the musical last year in the park in Halesworth you could expect to see singing scarecrows and man eating black dogs at every turn. I exaggerate as usual; in the company of 20 very affable people it was a lovely stroll by the river and the succulent little pieces of samphire just thrusting up through the sandy water’s edge were a delight.
The whole party then moved on to the Anchor at Walberswick, where our hosts Mark and Sophie Dorber and their fantastic team had created a meal based on the wild food we had been examining. Before we ate there was a quick tour round their allotment to be introduced to other common weeds that were edible, including poppy and chick weed.
Lunch started with an elderflower beer, fresh asparagus and samphire with gram flour pancakes; these were an absolute revelation, beautiful little light finger foods, we also had hop shoot tempura. This first phase of the meal was taken outside but we then transferred into a converted outbuilding, with one long table set for everyone to eat together. After the second sample beer I found myself deciding a taxi or lift would have been a good idea and will go back to collect the car later, it would have been a pity not to take advantage of Mark’s skills in selecting beers to go with each part of the meal and to appreciate his knowledge of the whole brewing process. The main course was three cousins salad, carrot, coriander seed and fat hen leaves; chicken in the woods risotto (always going to be a winner with me), stir fried sea cabbage and nettle and feta flat bread. There was also a glorious leg of lamb, sausages and crab. The flavours were marvellous and the team had worked well to balance strong flavours and enhance or compliment other more subtle flavours to produce a remarkable meal. At no point did you feel cheated on quality or quantity, these ‘weeds’ had
been given full starring roles. Jacky spoke more about the plants at stages throughout the meal and Mark expounded on the beers. Desert was a sublime elderflower panacotta made by @mikewallfish with gooseberries; this was followed by a wealth of cheeses both local to Walbersick and from Jacky’s deli, from mild fresh cheeses to seriously strong extra-matured examples. The whole polished off with coffee. We stayed way beyond the time allocated, so huge thanks to all for their patience and conviviality; I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday.
WildFood Safari are arranging more days that explore the journey of food from the sea, field, vineyard or brew house to the table and it is possible to purchase vouchers, which would make a great present for any foodie friends.