Category Archives: Foraging

Gotcha!

It’s taken five days and a lot of sneaking about, but I finally managed to get a picture. It’s a bit misty, but that’s what happens when you take photographs through a dirty window.

The flowers are starting to come out too, though spring in this area is advancing by halting steps.

The goosegrass is doing well and this year I’m going to try eating it. I’ve just tried a few bits raw and though the hooks do give it a strange texture it wasn’t too bad, with a bit of a pea taste. I’m going to check out some recipes and give it a go on Wednesday. Will also be picking the first of the nettles for soup and quiche. They say that real men don’t eat quiche, but I’m not sure if that still applies when you make it with nettles.

Purple dead nettles are both showing well, though there is no ground ivy yet. Of the staples, we don’t have much chickweed yet and the mallow hasn’t really started. There are a few borage plants starting to show but no Fat Hen yet.

I will add things to the Wild Food page as I try them. I’ve just been making a few additional notes – things like Fat Hen soup was OK and never eat stonecrop, though to be fair I don’t suppose many people will try eating stonecrop. You have to be desperate for content to do that.

More later, but I’d better get back to “proper work” now.

More on sloes

Further to the last post I’m happy to report that I managed to find two bottles of Sloe Vodka left over from previous years – one is a delicate pink from last year and the other, from three years ago, has taken on the red/brown colour of old port. I don’t think it has matured in the bottle – just that the older sample was darker and less well filtered to start with.

I have also done four hours research (I use the term loosely – it was the internet) and I am now a sloe expert.

Strangely, when looking for words to describe my newly self-declared status, it was a bit of a struggle. There’s something immodest about calling yourself an expert (even in jest). The words that come to mind are mainly from other languages – fundi, guru and maven all spring to mind. I should probably reflect on this meaning that we Brits are a modest race, but I’m sure there are other, better qualified people to do this.

The problem is that fundi and maven aren’t widespread in England and to call your self a guru is to invite a measure of suspicion, as the word has a number of negative connotations (unless you move in circles that refer to “touching base”, “running it up the flagpole” and “singing from the same hymn sheet”.)

Talking of business cliches how about this – “allocating budget to a delivery structure”. It’s a lot of words that mean “do things” whilst pretending that we have (a) a budget and (b) a “delivery structure”. It has inspired me to start a list of such things.

So, here I am, an expert.

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I now know that the best way to make sloe gin. You use cheap gin, or expensive gin. You add sloes that have been picked after the first frost, picked in late summer, frozen, pricked or bashed. Then you add no sugar, some sugar, half the sugar or lots of sugar – because you don’t need lots of sugar or can always add some later (in the form of sugar or syrup).

See – all you need to know about sloe gin – written by experts, people who have been doing it 50 years, people with chemistry degrees, winemakers and people who have just started making it but have read about it on the internet.

You now know as much as I do, but didn’t have to spend four hours doing it!

All you need to decide now is whether to prick the sloes with a thorn from the tree, a silver pin, an ordinary pin, a fork or a device made from cork and multiple pins.

Oh, and you need a position on osmosis.

Now you’ve read all that send me a fiver and I’ll send you a certificate to print out.

Or you can come down to the farm next September to attend our Sloe Gin workshop (yes, I’m serious – putting it together now).

Got to go now – sandwiches to make.

Will be back later.

 

 

Quick week, sloe sherry

Thursday went by in a flash and Friday wasn’t much better, so it’s now Saturday and this is another of those catch-up posts.

First photo is a night shot of the Christmas tree and fountains at Sneinton Market. Technically it isn’t great but it has the tree and fountains and I thought I’d be a bit festive.

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The rest of the time, when I haven’t been catching up on my reading of other blogs, has been taken up with parties, Men in Sheds, sloe gin, sloe sherry, looking up recipes, tidying cupboards and procrastination.

The sloe gin is looking a bit light, though it often does in photographs, but is tasting OK. I’m also making sloe sherry this year, a drink I didn’t know existed until a couple of months ago. After bottling the gin I put the sloes back in the bottle and covered them in a bottle of Sainsbury’s sherry. Yes, it’s that simple. The choice of sherry took more time than the “making”.

In two months I expect to have a dark, sloe flavoured drink that is also good added to stews and gravies. I say “expect” but as yet I have no personal experience. For £5.50 it’s a gamble worth taking.

 

Meanwhile the “shed” is making progress. We now have the skeleton of a vestibule, so the wind won’t be so much of a problem from now on. We also have the stud work up for a wall to shelter us from wind from the back door. Yesterday we sited the chalk crosses on the walls where our new sockets are going to be fitted, so things are looking up. At the moment we’re using just two sockets and a rat’s nest of extension leads, which is, to put it mildly, a practical and Health and Safety nightmare.

Imagine that you are working on the lathe when someone wants to plug the kettle in. It’s rare we manage this without either the lathe going off or one of the lights going out.

Two more donated filing cabinets were delivered yesterday (meaning we have more and better cabinets in the shed than we do in the office).

By the time we come back in January it will be a lot better from so many points of view.

 

 

The Joy of Lists

There just seem to be too many Fridays in my life.

At this point I ought to add that I don’t want to relinquish any of my remaining days, just that it would be nice to slow things down a little.

That’s why I’m spending some of my precious time writing plans. Things tend to get done when you write them down, whilst things in your head tend to slip by. Things like the Wild Food page, which has been dismally neglected of late.

I’ve now started a catalogue of plants to be foraged, as I want to eat more wild food next year and run more sessions about foraging. The result is that I find I know about a lot more plants than the ones I normally talk about, but I’ve also discovered a new plant in the garden. What I had thought was just another colour of dead nettle is in fact ground ivy. I’m pretty sure, looking at the pictures, that we also have henbit around the place. I really need to pay more attention.

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Ground Ivy

In this case it doesn’t make much difference, they are just three more sets of small salad leaves with a few medicinal uses, though if you ate a lot of ground ivy it may prove toxic. Like so many things “a lot” is probably more than you’re likely to eat, like the toxic dose of chickweed, which I’ve seen listed as “several kilos”. I would have trouble eating several kilos of anything, even bananas, so I should imagine that if you manage to eat that amount of garden weeds you have more problems than poisoning.

I’ve also found some more wood sorrel. I think it’s the purple variety of creeping wood sorrel – Oxalis corniculata var. atropurpurea – as we foragers say. I tried some that was growing in a pot in the polytunnel earlier in the year and it is remarkably clean and lemony in taste. If only all foraged leaves were as nice.

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Creeping wood sorrel – purple variety

After two days of making sure I work on my foraging knowledge for a couple of hours a day I already feel like I’ve accomplished as much in two days as I did in the preceding two weeks.

I’m going to be making a list of recipes to try too, so the Recipe page should start being more active too.

And before anyone says it, yes “typical man” and his lists.

A Feast of Lemons

If life gives you lemons, they say, you should make lemonade (though I actually spent the afternoon making apple juice in our newly delivered 250ml bottles).

They don’t tell you what to do to the person who actually hands you the fruit, but if you’ve read my posts before and have a reasonably active imagination I’m sure you can work out that I won’t be handing them over on a silver salver.

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In short, our growing area has been repossessed by the farmer who has decided that he can make a better job of running it than we can. He waited until we went away for a few days then moved in to “clean up” – a process that included felling most of the cape gooseberries (currently selling at around £10/kilo) and some of the tomatoes.

To be fair, he’s not wrong, it wasn’t a traditionally tidy allotment, but you need weeds for wildlife and foraging and you need nettles for nettle soup. We haven’t had the time to work it properly this year and since becoming enthused by vegetables, the farm has been able to put a lot of labour into tidying their half of the plot, making ours look even worse.

He’s a personable sort, prey to sudden enthusiasms and difficult to fall out with, but when you come back to find useable crops dumped on the compost heap it’s hard not to think bad thoughts..

However, I’m not going to waste time, energy or health worrying about it. We still have our own polytunnel and “vertical veg” just became my main interest.

Second lemon – the Forest Schools have stripped all the blackberry bushes between us and them. There are, as I always tell people, very few rules of foraging. One, in order of importance, is only put it in your mouth if you know what it is. Two, almost as important, is never to strip a plant – leave some for other foragers and for the wild creatures who rely on it for food. It’s  a question of manners for us – a question of life or death for the animals.

The third is about never picking below three feet high in a dog walking area.

Next year I’m going to go down early in the picking season and pick what we need. I’m then going to film myself applying copious amounts of personal liquid waste (as Bob Flowerdew calls it) to the brambles. Hopefully I’ll be able to provide my own after my current problem is sorted out. If not I have access to gallons of urine each week from the separator toilets.

After they’ve stripped the bushes I’m going to blog on the subject, provide them with a link to the film clip and sit back smiling.

Wednesday (Part 2)

I’ve now added another piece of foraged food to the list (and will be writing it up in the Wild Food section shortly. Day lily buds. We don’t have many lilies but after watching several school groups grab pieces for their nature bling activity I decided that I may as well have one.

It was quite good. Fresh-tasting, a touch of onion and a flavour of something else I can’t quite place. I would, I thought, be happy to eat them again, particularly sauteed in butter or tempura style as often recommended. However, when I sat down to look at some websites I noticed as phenomenon I’d seen before.

Before you eat something all the websites are glowing, positive and eager to tell you there’s no possibility of misidentification.

After you eat it they are all more cautious. It’s a story much like the dahlia story – there are so many cultivars people are no longer sure what is edible and what isn’t – though in the case of dahlias this revolves around taste rather than possible side effects.

The general feeling is that they want somebody to sit down and eat all the available cultivars, making notes as they go. Sounds like my dream job – eating stuff in an attempt to cause illness and not being paid for it. I wonder why nobody is doing it as we speak…

I’ll cover this more in the Wild Food section

We’re now bottle-feeding a kid. It won’t take a bottle so we’re using a tube at the moment. It seems to be perking up but I’ve learnt never to expect too much from these situations. That’s the best bit of being on the farm without being part of it so we can take the benefit of cute animals without the emotional investment of sitting up all night feeding them. I say “we” but I am absolutely brilliant at delegating. Or lazy, as my wife would have it. She still hasn’t forgiven me for the dik-dik incident.

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I spotted this unusual sprig of variegated mint while I was walking round with the camera. Can’t make up my mind whether to try and breed from it (in case anyone wants to grow anaemic mint in the garden) or leave it. So far I’ve left it. In due course I will probably read about a plantsman who is running an Aston Martin on the proceeds of breeding “Ghost Mint”. Then again, perhaps not.

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Pigs in chamomile

We’ve also viewed piglets, spotted butterflies, captured a mint moth and evicted it from the kitchen and, finally, given Tim (the Xmas Elf) his going-away card. He’s off to work in Europe, though at the moment he’s finishing cleaning up the bee equipment. This involves flame, scrapers and a cloud of wasps.

The cloud of wasps isn’t strictly necessary but it came along anyway.

End of the week

It’s 4.30pm on Saturday (though I won’t be posting until later), or 1995 if you follow the other form of dating I’ve been using. In 1995 I’m married with kids, happy and couldn’t tell you what was happening in the outside world because I didn’t have time to notice.

Wikipedia tells me that John Major called a leadership election to confirm his leadership of the party. I mention this only because it gives me chance for a John Major anecdote. I met him once and was introduced. About an hour later I met him again and he remembered my name. There was no need for him to have done that and it struck me that a man who could remember names like that, and appear to be pleased to meet you for a second time, would probably rise high in politics. He did.

There’s probably room for a whole digression on leadership and what it takes to succeed in politics here, but it wouldn’t be as interesting as cookery and gardening. I wish I’d realised that years ago.

Here are some pictures of a Wild greens quiche with guinea fowl eggs. My wife is making me describe weeds as wild greens now. Some years ago we went through a similar process with a product I now call “manure”.

It’s onions, blanched nettles and fat hen in  a ready made pastry case. After adding the eggs and milk I dropped torn up chive blossom, calendula petals and whole borage flowers to the top. I will have to work on preserving the colour of the petals.

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The water I blanched the nettles in took on a lovely green colour after just a minute or two of steeping and after removing the leaves I drank it. Much nicer than the cup I made earlier in the week, and much fresher tasting, though it did have overtones of calabrese. Compared with overtones of fox I’ll go for that.  With hindsight I should have strained the insect shaped bits out of it, but I’m not a vegetarian so no harm done.

We have another school next week, a planning session, part one of my takeover of the catering side and I’m going to do some cuttings with willow water. The comfrey plant food is decidedly murky now – you wouldn’t want to swim in a pond that colour- and the indoor salads are really getting a move on now, in contrast to the disappointing outdoor salads.

Finally, after seeing my display of Wild Salad at the Open Farm Sunday I’ve been asked if I can do one at a buffet in  a few weeks time. My weedy fame is spreading!