Losing It.

This week I’ve been increasingly bored with what I’m eating, and failing to do much about it. High point was James next door discovering a row of parsnips he’d forgotten about and didn’t want; lovely roasted with pheasant on Sunday, but then it was on to another week of variants on stew which all tasted the same. On Thursday I even forgot to take the food flask to work, so went from 7am to 6pm on a boiled egg and some REALLY boring yarrow tea. My students offered me various Pot Noodles and Crisp Rolls but I resisted; even the cake, with which one student insisted on rewarding me  in shock at passing an assessment, I passed on to a colleague whose birthday it was. By the time I crawled home, I considered myself crazy to be doing this.

And then I ate a baked potato and a poached egg and was full, and couldn’t be bothered to eat or prepare anything else. Not surprisingly, I am losing weight. I need a belt to keep my trousers up. What’s helping me lose weight? Not avoiding carbohydrate (as a one-time (briefly) Atkins diet veteran, I couldn’t go through that again). I am eating less carbohydrate – and what I am eating is mostly the starchy kind. But then I’m eating less of everything. No dairy produce – apart from the small quantity of home made cheese I’ve now discarded (partly suspicion it didn’t smell so good, partly because I dropped it in the washing up water).

Anyway – crossly I chopped up skinny leeks and bits of vegetables and herbs, pushing aside  packets of biscuits left out to annoy me and odd bunches of dried chillies…… hang on. How could I have forgotten? I GREW THOSE CHILLIES – AND DRIED THEM IN 2007! So I could use them! Why hadn’t I thought of that before? Chopped and chucked one into the stew – would it still have any power? It did! Oh joy, a change in flavours….. and I had the first of my forced rhubarb for pudding; so tender and sweet I had only to add a touch of redcurrant jelly to make it palateable.

Sweeteners – honey and sycamore syrup – are getting low, it’s a good thing I am getting used to sharper tastes. Wild greens are forming a larger part of my diet. Orpine (Sedum telephium), a native succulent with fleshy, crunchy leaves, is available, nice in salads and I’ve added it to stew as well. Nettles are appearing, and I’ve seen the first Bistort coming up, so will try a variant on Dock Pudding soon. Comfrey and ground elder remain mainstays – going in everything. Wild garlic and Welsh Onions and Three-cornered leeks are lined up to replace garden leeks of which I have only 4 left. No hardship in wild greens – they have always been one of my favourite foods. I like their strong, pronounced flavours and the freshness after months of root veg.

I also noticed Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria) coming up – a beautiful white flowered native found in dampt meadows andboggy ground. It contains salicylic acid, and aspirin was first synthesised from it. I made some meadowsweet tea forthwith, it is a quite distinct flavour, can cure a headache (not that I had one) and as welcome a change drinks wise as peppermint was last week.. I am now past the half-way point to Easter Sunday, a challenge coming up next week when I go off to Ullapool for a 3 day student trip, if I get through that I’ll be on the downhill stretch.

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…..

Spring Greens – and Winter Returns!

It has been icy today – a freezing wind, with snow and sleet. The sycamore is refusing to draw up any sap at present and I don’t blame it. But because I am worried about running out of frozen veg (that’s all the beans gone, most of the courgettes too) I decided it had to be wild spring greens today.

I dredged the largest of the little shoots of comfrey out from under the hedge and laboriously picked tiny leaves of ground elder wherever they were to be found (this covers most of my garden actually, but the best bits are round the compost heap!). Still noy enough, so I added several young dock leaves. I’ve stood up in front of numerous SWRIs (Scottish Womens Rural Institute) and stated that dock is edible at a pinch, but this was the first time I’d tried it. I boiled them all quickly together and had them with a slow-roasted cock (au vin, elderflower to be precise) for dinner. Last night’s dinner was adventurous too – eggs florentine, topped with my home-made curd cheese. Stomach must be shrinking – I couldn’t manage it all and had some for breakfast this morning.

Not much else to report – still bored to racking sobs with every “herbal” or weed tea I try; I went for gold with an infusion of dried apple and lemon balm, a favourite garden herb that smells overpoweringly of lemons and can be used in cake-making (when one is allowed flour) and let’s say it DID taste of something, but I woke early this morning from a glorious dream of REAL TEA with milk…… ah well less than 5 weeks to go now……

Andrew returned from the sunny south today and was delighted to find the peach coming into leaf and the apricot in flower bud – this is unexpected good news as he told me he wasn’t going to let it fruit for another century (or something). And I love apricots almost as much as I love tea. He didn’t bring me any wild food from Devon or any filched vegetables from his brother’s garden (difficult on a megabus anyway) but did bring me some Somerset apple juice and a couple of sponsors (Thanks Di and Betty!)

Food or First Aid? March 6th

A couple of uneventful days up till now. My wild salads consist of: ground elder, miners lettuce, rocket, hairy bittercress (not too bitter this time of year), fennel leaves from the greenhouse, lemon balm from a pot I have put above a radiator to produce rapid leaf growth, and Brooklime (Veronica beccabunga), an aquatic weed I have growing in a small pondlet which makes good watercress. A couple more days and shoots of Orpine (Sedum telephium) will be added. As there’s not much green, I have added chopped apple and beetroot – but down to my last half beetroot unfortunately.

Actually a bit worried about running out of stored and frozen veg before Easter. I remembered today (in the course of chasing the ducks off them) that I have some celeriac in the ground still- pretty minute but packs a lot of flavour. Spotted comfrey coming up today which is a great relief as it produces lots of leaf and is quite filling, but unless we get a week or so of warm sunny weather it won’t grow very quickly. Yesterday it snowed again, and the frosts are fearfully hard just now.

This morning I put some of my curd cheese in my omelette; thanks to the garlic and herbs it was most tasty (not exactly gourmet cheese mind). Hens churning out eggs well, ducks and goose show no signs of activity. They should remember I quite like roast duck. Anyway, whilst peeling celeriac for yet another stew (this one I nearly burnt and rescued by chucking in some fish stock I had in the freezer – tasted good!), I peeled deeply into the top of my thumb. It was excruciating and bled copiously. With a big pile of washing up to do and food to both find and prepare, it had to be stopped and from past experience I know the remedy. Yarrow.

Out to the nursery to see if any had come up yet – yes, it had! Then I remembered that yarrow tea is pretty acceptable compared with rosemary and wild strawberry – do I save it for tea, or stop the bleeding? (never mind the customers, their time will come). I chose healing. Made a poultice  by grinding the yarrow, applied it to the cut  and bound it with cotton wool and tape. Then donned a disposable glove to get everything done.

As is the way with yarrow, the pain stopped almost immediately, though the blood soaked the cotton wool. When I changed the dressing an hour later, the cut had very nearly sealed over.  It should by rights be throbbing, but hey, this is one old hippy remedy that WORKS. It’ll be fine tomorrow!

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.

July 2008 – Week 1

Discovered the first Tawny Grisettes (Amanita fulva) in a local wood – rather dry and battered but fingers crossed for rain and more. It dropped spores on the kitchen counter overnight but didn’t get et. Andrew reports Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) now a bit tough, but still lemony-sharp. Elderflowers have been picked and processed into wine, cordial and fritters so far. Gooseberry and elderflower jam in process of being made. Dryad’s Saddle (Polyporus squamosus) growing high up on the Birnam Oak – the last of the trees of Birnam Wood that DIDN’T make it to Dunsinane. Jack-by-the-Hedge leaves still good in salads (Alliara petiolaris). Wild strawberries mixed with garden raspberries and blended with home-made blackcurrant cordial make the most astounding smoothies. Tried some Brooklime (Veronica beccabunga) in salad – alright I suppose if you like a bitter taste. Gathered firewood from fallen branches.
Tawny Grisette

Tawny Grisette