Bath Asparagus, Ornithogalum pyrenaicum grows in scattered pockets along the hedgerows of country lanes near Bath. It also exists in more expansive colonies in certain woodlands thereabouts. Thought to have been a Roman import, the plant has flowers that give rise to it’s other name: The Spiked Star of Bethlehem. Though a protected species, the tasty young flower buds and stalks are often cut down in their prime by the dreaded hedge strimmers – this green roadkill then makes for a delicious meal! My favourite thing to do with this wild vegetable is to steam it for a few minutes, season then add a squeeze of lemon juice. For a breakfast to remember, serve it on sourdough bread with hollandaise sauce and poached duck eggs. This year, with the late season for St George’s mushrooms I might make a mushroom and asparagus risotto- the taste of Bath Asparagus is less strong than it’s cultivated cousin, so it won’t overpower the flavour of the mushrooms.
Bath Asparagus growing in woodland near Bath.
The young shoots and green flower buds of Common Hogweed Heracleum sphondylium are one of our best wild vegetables. They are fantastic in risottos, fried in coconut oil and eaten as a green or as tempura (see picture and recipe below) As well as this, being a cut and come again vegetable, you can enjoy harvesting from the same patch for weeks on end.
Some caution needs to be taken as the sap from the plant can cause phytophotodermititus; a burning of the skin, when exposed to sunlight. For this reason gloves should be worn when picking and the plant should not be eaten raw. Take care not to mistake Hogweed for its relative: Giant Hogweed, which has more serrated leaves and a purple, blotchy stem. Another, deadly member of the carrot family is Hemlock and eating just a small amount of this plant can be enough to kill you. You really need to be 100% certain you can identify plants in this family before consuming any of them. I’ll write more about the carrot family soon but for now I recommend going out with an experienced guide who can show you what to look for. There’s some excellent reference books out there, including Miles Irvin’s Forager’s Handbook with silhouette images of plants (good for pattern recognition) and useful descriptions of the characteristics of different species.
This is a lot of fun to make, utterly delicious and you will love some of the alien-like shapes which manifest. Like a lot of my favourite recipes, it works well with various ingredients; Nettle leaves, Wild Garlic seed heads, Ground Ivy leaves, Oxeye Daisy leaves and flowers… to name but a few.
- A few handfuls of Hogweed shoots/ green flower buds
- 150g plain flour
- 1 tbsp of cornflour
- 1 egg
- 100g sunflower oil
- 400ml of cold water
- Soy sauce
Sift flour, egg and salt into a bowl. Whisk in the water, but don’t over beat as you want the mixture to be light and fluffy. Coat the Hogweed shoots and flower heads then deep-fry in batches.
This idea came from forager Henry Ashby. It’s a simple recipe that works really well. Hop shoots have a delicate flavour so the important thing with this recipe is go easy on the Wild Garlic leaves!
- Sunflower oil
- Hop shoots: A handful, washed and trimmed
- Leftover cooked new potatoes, sliced: 300g
- Eggs beaten: 5
- Wild Garlic leaves: 2 or 3
- Cream: 1 tablespoon
In a small non-stick frying pan, heat oil over a medium heat. Add potatoes, then fry until beginning to crisp (about 8 mins). In a bowl, whisk together eggs, Wild Garlic leaves and some seasoning. Turn on the grill. Add eggs to the frying pan, mix quickly, lower the heat, then sprinkle over cheese. Once the top side has almost set, pop under the grill for a few minutes, until cooked and golden. Slide out of the pan. Serve and enjoy.
There are numerous versions of this savoury pudding recipe. The one I have used and adapted is by Roger Phillips. Instead of Bistort I used Dandelion leaves. Bitter or aromatic flavours work particularly well so you could try Cow Parsley, Ground Elder or Sorrel. That is if you are one hundred percent certain that you can safely identifying these plants.
- 450 g Dandelion and young Nettle tops
- 1 large onion
- 125g Pearl barley
- A large knob of butter
- 1 egg
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon pepper
Chop the greens and onion finely and sprinkle the washed barley among them, adding the salt.
Boil in a muslin bag for around one and a half hours, then strain.
Before serving, beat the mixture in a dish with the egg, a large knob of butter, salt and pepper. I add oatmeal and breadcrumbs to the mixture as well.
Form into cakes, roll in more breadcrumbs, then fry in sunflower oil.
Serve with potato wedges, on a bed of Sea Spinach or with a wild leaf salad.
Adding foraged ingredients to couscous works really well. You can truly let your imagination run wild, adding various leaves, shoots and seeds as well as store cupboard ingredients until you are satisfied. I always taste what I’m making as I go so I don’t overdo it with any one ingredient and I have favourite additions which I include every time; toasted pine nuts, lemon zest, avocado and Elderberry vinegar work really well. Leaves-wise this time I added Wild Garlic, Three Cornered Garlic flowers, Common Sorrel, Alexanders, Hairy Bittercress, and Garlic Mustard. I also added some Lady’s Smock leaves (chopped finely as their taste is particularly strong), Fennel and Yarrow leaves.
Regular couscous is good but I love the spelt variety with it’s nutty taste.
I added my own dressing to taste. This was made from Elderberry vinegar, apple cider vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, whole grain mustard, paprika, olive oil, thyme and seasoning.
Chutneys are a great way to combine wild food with home grown produce. Every Autumn I have a huge surplus of runner beans and this is how I put them to good use:
Makes 5 medium sized jars.
- Three cornered garlic bulbs 25-30
- Malt vinegar 150ml
- Allspice berries 9
- Coriander seeds 1 tsp
- Garlic Mustard seeds 2 tsp
- Runner beans 750g
- English mustard powder 1 tbsp
- Wholegrain mustard 2 tsp
- Turmeric 2 tsp
- Cider vinegar 150ml
- Organic cane sugar 200g
- Salt 1 heaped tsp
- Tomatoes 300g
- Cornflour 30g
Peel and halve the three cornered garlic bulbs, put them into a medium-sized saucepan with the malt vinegar, coriander and Garlic Mustard seeds. Bring to the boil then lower the heat and simmer for 8 minutes.
String the beans, removing the stalks. Thinly slice each bean, cutting diagonally to give fine shreds about 4 or 5cm long. Bring a pan of water to the boil, add the beans and cook for a full minute. Drain and set aside.
Mix the mustards, turmeric, sugar, salt and half the cider vinegar in a small basin. Dice the tomatoes then add to the saucepan with the vinegar and garlic bulbs, stir in the beans and mustard mixture then add the remaining cider vinegar. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 15 minutes, stirring regularly. The beans should be tender but don’t overcook – remember they will soften in the jars.
Remove a few spoonfuls of liquid and use it to mix the cornflour to a paste. Stir gently back into the beans. Leave to simmer for a minute or two until the mixture has thickened slightly. Ladle into warm, sterilised preserving jars and seal.
You could substitute the Garlic Mustard seeds for bought yellow mustard seeds as it is too late to forage your own seeds at this point in the year – I collect them during mid-late Summer and store for later use.
Three Cornered Garlic bulbs can be found all year round but you could use shallots or onions instead.
These vinegars were made from allotment black currants, foraged Blackberries and Elderberries. Last September I made enough Elderberry vinegar to last through the year and it’s proved to be one of my favourite kitchen ingredients.
- Raspberry vinegar can be used to deglaze cooking pans after sautéing lamb. The delicious fruitiness lifts the caramelised flavours off the bottom – no more scrubbing sticky pans!
- Add Elderberry vinegar to olive oil for a mouthwatering salad dressing, the perfect accompaniment to all your foraged salads.
- Elderberry vinegar is also particularly good with game.
- Make a refreshing cordial by adding vinegars to iced mineral or soda water.
- Lastly, surprisingly, vinegars work a treat drizzled over vanilla ice cream.
Full of vitamins, anti-oxidants and anthrocyanins, your fruit vinegars can help keep colds at bay throughout the winter months.
Vinegars still contain quite a lot of sugar – but less than things like jams, jellies and fruit leathers. Use unpasteurised apple cider vinegar in your recipes and you’ll be getting even more goodness.
More or less sugar can be used according to your preference. Add the sugar to taste when you heat your vinegar before bottling.
- Using less sugar means you’ll have a more vinegary tart flavour.
- Adding more sugar and you’ll end up with a more syrupy consistency.
Below is a basic recipe for making Elderberry vinegar which I’ve taken from Miles Irving’s excellent book The Forager Handbook. He credits the recipe to forager-herbalist Mandy Oliver. You can use the same method to make other fruit vinegars.
Elderberry vinegar recipe:
Freeze Elderberries then when you are ready to make your vinegar remove from the freezer, prizing them from their stalks using your fingers. Discard any that don’t look good.
Allow 500ml white wine or apple cider vinegar for 350g fruit. Add the vinegar to the fruit, leave covered for 3-5 days, stirring occasionally, then strain off the liquid.
Add 350g sugar per 260ml liquid, boil for 10 minutes then bottle in sterilised bottles.
You can try reducing some of the liquid for a further 10 minutes or so to make a balsamic glaze which is fantastic on deserts.
A simple meal with super fresh home-grown and foraged ingredients. This is very much my kind of food.
You could use different greens and whatever herbs you fancied and of course ingredients don’t all have to be home grown or foraged.
Here’s the recipe. I haven’t added quantities as this dish was improvised. Add ingredients as you see fit.
- Green lentils
- 1 red onion
- Wild Horseradish
- Large Sea Aster leaves
- Sea Spinach
- Sea Lettuce
- 1 courgette
- Yellow and green beans
- 1 hard boiled egg
- Chorizo (pre-cooked)
- Wild Marjoram
- Wild Thyme
- Purple Sage
- Cumin seeds (crushed)
- Caraway seeds (crushed)
- Sesame oil
I began by sweating the onion for five minutes. I then added the horseradish plus chorizo, garlic, cumin and caraway seeds.
Meanwhile I cooked and drained the green lentils and boiled an egg.
I then steamed my vegetables;
Sea Aster leaves, Sea Spinach leaves, green and yellow beans from the garden and a courgette.
After this I shallow-fried some Sea Lettuce, which had been marinating in sesame oil, frying each strip separately until it turned crisp.
Finally I added all these ingredients to the pot along with some Wild Thyme and Marjoram flowers then let it cook for a few minutes longer.
Once again I’m getting in a right pickle here. But that’s okay. Pickling is fun. As with brewing the anticipation is half the pleasure.
Sea radish pods are lovely- they taste like sweet radishes. I picked these a couple of weeks ago from a spot near the Severn Bridge and its not too late to harvest them but I’d get a move on. You want the ones with a bit of ‘give’ when you squeeze them (if they are too hard they’ll be crunchy but not in a good way).
Firstly bring salted water to the boil, then add radishes and remove from the heat. Leave for five or ten minutes to soften then drain the pods thoroughly.
Place radishes in sterilised jars and add a bay leaf, some chilli flakes, one clove of garlic, a pinch of salt in each jar and some wild thyme (I cheated and picked thyme from the herb garden in my local park which still felt more like foraging than buying it from a shop).
Bring some cider vinegar to the boil, then simmer for a few minutes before pouring into the jars.
The pickled radish pods will be ready to consume in about two months. In the meantime enjoy fresh pods chopped and added to salads.
Pickled Thistle. Ouch that tastes good!
Wearing THICK gloves we harvested then trimmed the thickest looking Marsh Thistle stems we could find and peeled the skin and outer layers using a cheese slicer (making absolutely sure all the spines had been removed).
We then chopped these into pieces, washed and sautéed for a few minutes to slightly caramelise them.
Next we heated 60/40 water and white wine vinegar, simmering for a few minutes, poured into hot, sterilised jars adding our thistle pieces, a tablespoon of honey, a little salt, one or two cloves of garlic chopped Clove Root, Ramsons seeds and Alexanders seeds.
These were left for a day or so to pickle. They were delicious! It’s a lot of effort, granted but worth the trouble as they have a great taste, similar to artichoke.
Once pickled you can also add thistle pieces to jars of oil and I think this is how I like them best!