Long slow spring…..

Today heard the first cuckoo, in the woods fringing Glen Garr. Was with HNC Countryside Management atudents and the last time I dragged them for a walk we saw the first swallows down on the Tay Estuary – so I think the class are my lucky spring charms. They do seem to expect

Long time no blog – winter went on and on, nothing much to report and I realise I am about to repeat everything I wrote about last year if I don’t watch out. Will try to be selective….. the apple mountain finally petered out late February, with the blackbirds getting the last of them. Andrew borrowed the Carse of Gowrie cider press and the crucial crusher and made 11 gallons of cider and perry – we are still drinking it and mist of it is truly excellent. We have added to the fruit trees in our garden about 11 apples, 3 or 4 pears including the famous Perthshire Jargonelle, and a couple of plums and a damson. They are all leafing out nicely.

Have made wild garlic pesto and earwigging to Radio 4 and the like tells me the whole world is making stuff with wild garlic these days! It’s much in demand from customers too. Bistort, nettles, ground elder, comfrey and ladies mantle have all been et – both in and out of Dock Puddings, and Solomon’s Seal has produced its delectable shoots. Magnificent!

Have not found any St. George’s mushrooms yet. We found a red Peziza type fungus the other day – Scarlet Elf Cup – which we’d not seen before. Inedible but very pretty. Nearby we found a lizard out basking, which reminds me – on a student trip to the Rhinns of Galloway a morning walk at Portpatrick yielded a BEAUTIFUL adder by the path, fulmars and nesting ravens, and a stoat.

 Well, a new season dawns, and my “pet” early potatoes called Bonnie Dundee (but labelled Claverhouse out of badness) are coming up….

snowed under…

There is a lot of snow. Several inches over the week or two before Christmas, and a couple of massive falls in the past four days. 30cm last night. Temperatures: -11.2 the lowest so far recorded in the garden, -8.5 today. It went up to -4.2 and felt quite warm. Small birds are suffering. I have been feeding them; especially on apples. There are still two crates of random apples in the back porch and birds and possibly small mammals have helped themselves. The apples have frozen and thawed a few times, but seem still usable. Blackbirds love them, and I have had two fieldfares coming to the bird table every day, beautiful, fluffed up creatures looking for fruit and seeds. Sparkly speckly starlings come, too and a wood pigeon joins the collared doves who are resident. James over the road has had a spotted woodpecker.

There is no foraging to be done but we reap the rewards of a year spent squirreling away wild foods. At Christmas we broached the cider – it is sparkling, and not at all bad, but think will be even better in a couple more weeks. Got freshly pressed apple juice out of the freezer, too, and had plenty of rowan jelly for the turkey (yes, succumbed to a turkey even though we have home raised cockerels in the freezer), chutney for the sausage rolls, blaeberries and raspberries for the trifle and more home made wine and sloe gin that we can decently drink. Roasted hazelnuts from the copse, and a late jarring of rose hip syrup to keep up the vitamin C levels. Log foraging has sort of paid off – plenty of fuel for the stove but would be a darned sight more useful had Someone agreed with my desire to build a new log store out the back – wet logs in plastic fertiliser bags that fill with snow are limited in value.

My nursery is covered in snow. I cannot do anything about it and probably will lose a lot of plants in the extreme cold. I am going through the seed catalogues half-heartedly but not counting on an early start to production!

Drowning in Pomes….

It’s not that we haven’t been foraging, just that Andrew KEEPS BRINGING HOME MORE APPLES AND PEARS and I think we are drowning in them, so have scarcely had time to blog. (plus lots work on at college at present).

The worst is, they are all different varieties which he’s trying to identify or photograph or just moon over and there are crates and crates of the b**gers I’m not even allowed to touch, then all of a sudden they are fermenting all over the floor and it’s all a bit mind-boggling really. I am an apple widow.

Anyway that aside I’ve foraged and made these since I last wrote: rowan jelly, rowan berry wine, hazelnuts, elderberries for freezer, brambles, elderberry wine, quince jelly (using japonica quinces) and Andrew has permitted a small selection of the apple bing to be made into cider. It is a disgusting, thick brown soup of a cider at present, emitting a sludgy foam from the top of the demijohn. It is to be regretted that before we made it I had been suffering from a gastric bug (NOT from wild food!), which has affected the way I view the cider jar. Nevertheless, I am sure the end result will be as good as it was last year, and am optimistic His Lord High Appletreeness will eventually permit the remainder of the bing to be thus processed. Maybe even some of the pears.

The biggest problem we have with cidermaking is crushing the apples. We have a lovely little press, but unless the fruit is well mashed you don’t get the juice from it and it is a long, slow process. A 10lb weight into a bucket is OK but broke the bucket; James’s mechanical chip-maker is a start but we really have to get a proper mincer. The off-putting brown colour comes from tannin, and won’t do any harm, some apples just have lots in them. Keswick Codlins made up the large amount of the apples we used, but there were others – James Grieve, Lord Derby, Grenadier, Bramley and “various Laxton type things” (quote). No real cider apples – told A he needs to develop a Scottish cider apple.

The Quince Jelly also benefitted from a dose of Bramley for setting quality – and it is an exquisite jelly. I know Japonica quinces aren’t strictly wild food but they might as well be, as so many people grow the things as ornamental shrubs with never a clue they are cultivating a valuable food source.

Not been much on the fungi front – we have had a few weeks of dry weather and haven’t found anything new or in remarkable quantity or quality for a while. A very interesting mushroom is developing on a log in the garden; yet to be identified. More later!

PS. Sloes about ready to pick….

Russula Mushrooms

My favourite fungi to eat at present are Blackish-Purple Russulas (Russula atropurpurea). They are SO tasty and have a lovely nutty texture. Be very careful not to muddle them with the poisonous scarlet red Russula emetica (The Sickener) or the Beechwood Sickener, which is also bright red but found under beech of course. R. atropurpurea is claret-coloured, with a distinctly darker, blackish centre. We are finding many on the village green at Pitcairngreen,  also there are Charcoal Burner Mushrooms (Russula cyanoxantha), Common Yellow Russla (R. ochroleuca) and R. xerampelina. All edible and very tasty.

Found other species of Russula on our latest wild food ramble, including – we think – the rare Russula obscura, which we didn’t pick of course.  Lots of Tawny Grisettes, Chanterelles and Boletus species too – some early Bay Boletus and a couple of Ceps (B. edulis) which were appallingly maggoty. Rowan berries were just about ready, but I’m holding off till the crab apples over the fence are ripe as  I like to add them to Rowan berries when making jelly to get a better set. Meanwhile Andrew is coming home regularly laden with “feral” plums, damsons and cherry-plums of differing shades (Prunus cerasifera), which I really love. They all go off quickly so have made plum and courgette chutney as well as several crumbles, and will be making some jam this week too.

At Elcho Castle we helped pick some of the first eating apples (Discovery and Beauty of Bath) and bore home a big bagful to finish ripening. Have also eaten brambles off the bushes, so it’s that season again, summer nearly over and autumn fruitfulness to enjoy!

Blaeberry Harvest

We’ve been entertained since last weekend by a huge caterpillar on the willow herb outside the kitchen window – an elephant hawk-moth. S/he is still there, on the second full stem which is being systematically stripped of leaves, but is getting fatter and slower. The cat is scared of it.

We also had visitors, Tim and Gill and their daughters Lucy and Alice, and as is customary they were pressganged into picking blaeberries (bilberries). This absorbing task yielded enough of these tasty and nutritious fruits for jam, cakes, puddings, breakfasts and the freezer…. and there’s plenty more if we are back in the right habitat, which is acid woodland. Lucy was quite revolting with her blaeberries – squashed them to a mush in their plastic bag, bit off the corner of the bag and sucked the pulp out. Ugh! Fruit Smoothies the rustic way I suppose. Tim and Andrew were sidetracked by some nice big chanterelles, and Tim and I collected honey fungus on the way back – a big show of these and more to come. They were delicious in omelettes. There are a few other mushrooms about just now – several of the Russual genus are showing their faces, but not enough to get a selection of edible species, and in the Millenium Wood Tawny Grisettes (much chewed by slugs) mix with The Blusher (Amanita rubscens). We don’t eat the Blusher. It’s said to be edible, but a. it looks a bit like the poisonous Panther Cap which is also about just now and it wouldn’t take much of a deviant Panther Cap to get mistaken and b. so many creepy crawlies have already eaten it by the time we get there anyway.

Hazelnuts are swelling and becoming obvious in our local copse.

Wickedly Wild Strawberries

With so much fresh food coming out of the vegetable and fruit garden just now, there’s hardly time, let alone need, to forage for anything wild. It’s been hot and dry, so I’m not expecting much in the way of more fungi, but this week we’ve had a couple of downpours, so I must go and check out the woods soon.

I don’t have to wander far for one wild food mainstay, the wild strawberry, which starts in June and continues right through to the autumn. Andrew had one plant – one! – in his latest abortive attempt at a rock garden by the front door and from there it has smothered the alpines, flowed freely along the cracks in the paving, inserted itself at the base of the wall and marched off down the path towards the gate.

(I digress, but, much as we love alpine plants and admire them,  people like us shouldn’t be allowed to own them. Any plant so lacking in thuggish attributes doesn’t stand a prayer in our garden, given our predilection for rampant weeds like variegated ground elder and croppable monsters like Burdock and Bistort. And after all, there are some excellent botanic gardens and plant collections around here where we can visit happy alpines that are cared for as they deserve.)

So the wild strawberries hold sway, and we share them with a number of birds, for there are enough for us all. (Although I have to say the sheer greed of our resident blackbird is awe-inspiring. He pigs so many of our raspberries and blackcurrants sometimes he is seriously challenged when it comes to flying off and just squats still all day in a feathery-bothered heap under the bushes.)  I sprinkle them liberally over my breakfast cereal, make wild strawberry smoothies, muffins and any number of desserts. Gathering enough for a decent batch of jam or wine would be possible, but so far I haven’t had the patience! The fruits are small, but packed with flavour. We’re also gathering wild bilberries, or blaeberries, now – these are incomparable, messy and tasy, and make excellent jam. Maybe I’ll try a mix of the two.

I gathered the last of the elderflowers today and made another batch of cordial. Maybe it’s the recession making me act like there’s rationing and making me horde food, but, well, we gave one bottle of cordial away and there are only two more in the freezer…. Three weeks till the elderflower champagne is ready – I’m looking forward to that!

The “Humble” Potato and Respite from Spinach

Ian from the church (who has previously cheered my dietary life with a bag of apples) has given me a big bag of potatoes from his farm! Suddenly I don’t have to eke out tatties for the rest of Lent – I have plenty. This is reassuring, and potatoes aren’t known as versatile for nothing. Having an abundance of them and very co-operative hens just now, I made a pile of savoury potato bubble and squeak “pancakes” – mashed potatoes, combined with beaten eggs, herbs, seasoning, onion and assorted greens, and fried. Very tasty – as a meal, accompaniment to breakfast, or a snack. Cottage pies of various  types come to mind – had I enough fat left I could even make crisps (but then I’m forgetting I don’t actually like crisps).

Things running out:
All freezer vegetables
home made soft cheese
hazelnuts
Fresh onions and leeks (beetroot and celeriac already gone)
Venison fat

Things still plentiful:
Meat (alive or otherwise)
Frozen soft fruit
Donated apples and potatoes
Herbs, dried and fresh

New foods appearing:
Comfrey, Ground Elder and other weeds for greens
Orpine, wild garlic and other wild plants for salads
MINT!!!!  and other aromatic plants at last for teas – which have suddenly become more palateable

The now rapid growth of spring greens (even seedling brassicas that I’ve sown are coming on now) means that I can have a rest from spinach. There’s still some in the freezer, but not much else veg wise, so I’m ekeing it out. With four weeks to go, I am nearly half way through Lent, and I think my body has now adjusted to the change in diet. My thinking has changed a lot – no longer panicking about what I am going to eat, no longer really thinking about it very much either. Sometimes I manage to make something really enjoyable like the potato pancakes, sometimes I think “oh no not another egg”, but I’m not craving other people’s food all the time now. I just know I can’t have it and so long as I’m not hungry Im not bothered. This is a new experience for me!

I realised I am still eating apples in mid-March from last autumn’s harvest, and enjoying them. OK so they have to be peeled and are a bit wizened and spotty – but perfectly edible. Normally I’d have fed any apples still hanging around by now to the hens. Now I value them and will be looking for varieties to grow that are good keepers.

Confess your sins Margaret. I nearly slipped today – the other half asked me to test his rice to see if it was ready and it got right to my mouth before I realised what I was doing. And then I needed to fry a potato pancake to go with my vegetable stew, and as the venison fat is running low, I decided it was both practical and allowable to fry it in the pan in which HE has just cooked a chop….. well it saved some fat, but the pancake did taste faintly and delightfully of pork…..

Feb 25th-27th

Lent begins. On Shrove Tuesday, there was a pre-Lent good life banquet at the church, with everything donated and home grown, or wild. The main course was a wild deer – very fat he was too, and I brought back the fat for rendering, as well as the bones for stock. The fat was easily processed; it is very hard and white, and gives a good flavour in cooking. It solves, at least for now, the issue of whether I am allowed cooking oil during my Lent challenge. As for the bones, after boiling for stock I got four portions of meat from them.

Ash Wednesday, the hens having begun an untimely strike, I breakfasted on a fruit compote consisting of home grown raspberries, blackcurrants, strawberries, with brambles and elderberries from the freezer. I didn’t eat again till about four, then used a portion of the venison and some stock to make a sort of stew with a Jerusalem artichoke, a carrot and an onion from the garden, and some spinach. It did me for lunch on Thursday too. Later, I sorely missed my evening snack, but could only find a few hazelnuts I couldn’t really spare to scoff.

I am finding having to go in the garden to find an edible herb every time I want a hot drink a bit of a pain – especially as hardly anything is really growing yet – and also boring! Tried gorse flower tea on Thursday – tastes like hot water. Cleavers (known here delightfully as Sticky Willy) is about the best; sage is OK but not very flavoursome at this time of year. Passed a garden with a healthy clump of Sticky Willy growing in it. When the householder came out of his door, I only just avoided saying, “Scuse me mate, can I have a bit of your sticky willy?” This kind of thing can get you into trouble. As an alternative, I’ve spun the fruit compote into smoothies – astonishing number of pips! I am allowing myself home-made wine, but have been too wobbly so far to dare drink any.

By today, Friday, I need a rest from venison, good though it is. Hens deigned to lay some eggs, so omelette for breakfast (with half a leek) and a sort of Spanish omelette (the other half of the leek, carrot and defrosted runner beans) for dinner. With which I had roasted beetroot and artichoke with mixed herbs from the garden. Not too much wild stuff yet, but I did have a brilliant salad for lunch – miners lettuce, sorrel, garlic mustard, rocket, spinach leaves and the first ground elder, chopped finely with half a cooked beetroot and a chopped apple. Made a sort of dressing with Rose next door’s accidental cider vinegar that was meant to be apple wine and my redcurrant sauce. It offset the bitterness of the leaves and I really savoured every mouthful – something I’ve noticed that’s different in my eating experience!

Also I can feel myself becoming, of necessity, much more resourceful. As I write, the first bucket of sycamore sap is reducing gently on top of the stove. Collecting Sycamore Sap for SyrupA gallon of raw milk donated to the banquet that didn’t get used is curdling in the kitchen, hopefully to become curd cheese. Ian at the church gave me a bag of apples from storage from his orchard – as I am badly missing snacks, I intend to dry some as rings to carry to work with me. Traded one of Rose’s spare cockerels for some venison, and it’s stashed in the freezer. And I am noticing the emergence of every weed – today I saw the first shoots of Ramsons or wild garlic – and remembered I have some rather rubbishy cultivated garlic in the veg plot – suddenly reject vegetables and the tops of leeks become highly desirable!

As the warm weather continues, I hope to see an acceleration in the wild food options in my diet. I am hungry, and craving bread, oatcakes and biscuits especially. But so far, so good – even when I had to go to the pub quiz on Wednesday and drink a pint of water –  on the rocks.

September and October Catch-up

September passed in a bit of a blur, to begin with – as always the start of this month dominated by the Dundee Flower Show and its pre-math and aftermath, coupled with the start of a new term at the college, which was more complicated than usual!

So what follows is by way of a summary for a month that is actually a good one for foragers usually – just needed a bit more time in our case.

On 10th, I foraged along Crieff Road in Perth for fruits and nuts for purely educational reasons, but noted some excellent elderberries on campus, and some tedious municipal planting yielded a nice bag of Japonica quinces (Chaenomeles japonica). These fragrant fruits (they are pomes to be exact) make a lovely addition to fruit pies and puddings. Blackberries ripe trailing over our back wall from the neighbours – started to harvest and freeze them.

angels20wings20web

 

On 14th, we went fungi-foraging and netted some Slippery Jacks, one Cep, Bay Boletes and several Angel’s Wings. Angel’s Wings are Pleurotellus porrigens, related to Oyster Mushroom but subject to some doubt in internet circles as a couple of folk in Japan once were ill on them. We’ve eaten them regularly for quite a while, and so have many others, so I am suspicious about the identification in the case in question. Worth bearing in mind, though that people can react differently to individual species, hence the confusion when one book says “edible” and another says “best avoided” or similar ambiguous verbage. The other find on the 14th comes into this category – Plums and Custard (Tricholomopsis rutilans). It’s easy to identify because Plums and Custard perfectly describes the colouring, so is good to eat on that score. Can be slightly bitter, but we eat it anyway. Braised it with shoulder of lamb and cranberries from our garden.

 

On 19th, it was rowan berries day. Collected a big heap of them and made rowan jelly – delicious. That week, the boletus and chanterelles I dried in July and August were put into jars for winter use, and noted the rose hips were looking good. Shaggy Ink Caps were spotted at the college, but turned to ink before I could pick them. On 26th, we raided one of our usual haunts and found, apart from the usual fungal suspects which we rounded up, a new one – Hydnum (or Sarcodon) imbricatum – a type of Hedgehog Fungus. They were tea-plate sized, scaley fruiting bodies by the edge of the path, quite spectacular. As we had never seen it before we only took one for identification, and I’m glad because they are apparently quite rare, pinewoods in Scotland being the preferred habitat. Edible though – and delicious!

Puffballs were taken with roast beef on 28th, and a dessert of blaeberries, brambles and cranberries completed Sunday Dinner.

October

Now I look at it, October is also at an end!

On 4th, we harvested a large crop of wild hazelnuts from the plantation, and so did our friends. There were plenty left for the two wild food workshops we held this month, but I seriously think it is time to coppice the hazels – the nuts are getting too high to reach! We gathered rosehips too and made syrup, and brambles continued to provide sustenance and desserts.

Removed a large Sweet Cicely that had seeded itself in the wrong place in the garden, and turned the large fat roots into soup, along with other vegetables. The aniseedy flavour when cooked is mild and enticing, blending well with other tastes.

The two workshops found plenty overall to forage, but fungi were not so thick on the ground as we might have hoped – a cold dry snap had temporarily put a halt to fruiting. Nevertheless, one high point was a massive fruiting body of Grifola frondosa which our neighbour Geoff served as a starter on the evening of the first workshop. Andrew and I squabbled over identification, I thought it was Cauliflower Fungus (Sparassis crispa) to start with, but we all realised it was just too “chunky”. Next week we found Cauliflower Fungus as well and were able to compare them side by side. Geoff found a very young Beefsteak fungus (Fistulina hepatica) – this is significant because it didn’t have any maggots in and we all got a small mouthful. Yum. A range of other edible fungi have been eaten – some good – no excellent – crops of Honey Fungus in the Forest Enterprise wood, plenty of Lycoperdon perlatum puffballs and when all else fails, Common Yellow Russula. (All else did fail, for a brief spell last week and I bought some chestnut mushrooms, reduced. Then honey fungus appeared on the lawn). We normally get a reliable crop of Shaggy Ink Caps in the hen run, but not this year, I suspect the ducks of eating them.

 

Nut front – Bankfoot chestnuts produced niggardly little nuts, no use to man nor beast, but James next door brought back some fat Surrey ones from Bisley, which we are roasting on the stove merrily, with the hazelnuts. Andrew went on a cider making course and has been scrumping furiously the apple crop of our other neighbours (with permission!), along with any others he can find. I went to Northumberland and found a great apple tree right in the middle of the sand-dunes at Bamburgh. We have got out our old cheese press and are also producing fresh apple juice, which is astonishingly good. Pete, who came on the second workshop sent us a tiny, but perfectly formed, pear to identify that he had found while scrumping. We were stumped, but Andy my colleague at college identified it as the Plymouth Pear, Pyrus cordata.plums20and20custard20web

On 19th, I gathered elderberries and made a gallon of wine, and froze two boxes of them. Fished some out last week and made Elderberry Muffins. More Plums and Custard found on 26th.

Wild weather has seen off the rest of October – firstly howling gales and cascades of rain, then snow, followed by a big freeze. Time to stay by the stove and roast chestnuts!

August 2008

August – Weeks 1, 2 and 3.

More chanterelles, more wild cherries. We think it’s odd that the several fairly old cherries in a hedge line from which we gather the fruits all seem to produce fruits of varying sweetness and colour when ripe. One is almost black, another, barely red. All delicious, though. Any theories, anyone?

One long walk on 10th produced in addition to a sack of chanterelles, Plums -and-Custard mushrooms (Tricholomopsis), Birch Boletes and larch Boletes, and tawny grisettes. The chanterelles from this trip we dried, by threading them onto cotton and hanging them as garlands in our warm shed. When they are nearly dry I will de-thread them and spread them on trays over the boiler to finish before putting them in tightly sealed jars for the winter.

On the 11th, I macro-foraged! In that I went sea angling from Arbroath with friends, and caught 7 big mackerel. I hadn’t been before and must admit the sea was choppy and a tad nauseous, but I got over it and would definately like to go again. As my friends were going on holiday the day after, I managed to “forage” (borrow? steal?) 5 of their fishies too to make a round dozen which I have cleaned, filleted and frozen, or eaten. The same day, Andrew brought home a bag of field mushrooms he’d found at work, which I turned into a delicious soup.

Then we went on a week’s holiday to Norfolk, and got to try out some wild foods on Andrew’s unsuspecting (or suspecting?) family. At Holkham Beach we gathered samphire, oh how I love samphire and it especially nice after being exiled from this East Anglian delicacy for a couple of decades. Steamed for 15 minutes and tossed in butter, this unprepossessing-looking product of mudflats with its fleshy, salty stems is incomparable. We didn’t gather any more, no-one seemed that enthused except us, but perhaps we shouldn’t have inflicted the seaweed Sea Lettuce on them in the same meal. Filamentous pale green sheets you’d think wouldn’t take much to cook, but in fact it was a bit chewy. Next time I would make more of a meal of it, with some flavouring, longer cooking, combined with mushrooms perhaps…. not really a side vegetable with roast pork. The apple sauce, though, was made with a combination of wilding apples from the hedgerow, “scrumped” eaters from an abandoned garden, and wild water mint, and it went very nicely. Likewise, we all enjoyed (I think that’s the word) the mind-banditing sharpness of Sea Buckthorn berries growing on the dunes near Old Hunstanton, and Andrew brought the pips home in a hankie…..

We kept a supply of fungi going through the week – puffballs, horse mushrooms, grisettes etc. – some of which were appreciated, the rest we just ate ourselves.

Horse Mushroom

Horse Mushroom

I was specially excited by the Roman mushrooms – found while exploring the site of a Roman fort at Brancaster. Resisted some big Parasol Mushrooms (Lepiota procera) at Wretham Heath – after all it was a nature reserve – look forward to finding some more before the summer’s out.

Parasol Mushroom

Parasol Mushroom

Back home, we realised the fridge was empty so went out after more chanterelles and found, in addition, an absolute HORDE of Boletus edulis, the Cep or King Bolete. However, most of them were coated in white and contorted or deformed in a most sinister looking way. We think – but please educate us if you know better – these specimens had been affected by the torrential rain which had obviously been plaguing Perthshire in our absence and fallen foul of some predatory fungus themselves. Luckily there were some good specimens, as well as a variety of other boletes and the first Slippery Jacks. We have cleaned, sliced and set these to dry for winter, but the Ceps are for tea tonight. While out we snacked on some lovely little wild gooseberries, and checked the progress of rowan berries in general.