At last the countryside is springing into life once again. Wild garlic is in full flush all along the roadside here in East Cork and in many other parts of the country. It looks like white bluebells but smells distinctly garlicky. This type is called Allium Triquetrum because of its three cornered stem but the other wild garlic which is sometimes called ramps or ransoms prefer the dappled shade of a woody area. The latter has broader leaves and a ‘pom pom’ flower which blooms a little later. The latter name is allium ursinum.
These are just two of the over 60 edible wild plants that we found on a recent Spring Forage. Pennyworth, little fleshy discs with a dimple in the centre were popping out of the stone walls asking to be picked and nibbled to quench the walker’s thirst or enliven salads.
Bitter cress, ground elder, dandelions, fat hen, good king henry, chickweed, sweet woodruff and several types of sorrel are all perfect at present to add to a forager’s soup or salad.
Fiddlehead ferns just ripe to be fiddled with and they are a fiddle to prepare…….
Comfrey can be made into fritters or added to a soup. Young nettles in profusion to be made into a predictable but delicious nettle soup or less predictable, nettle pesto or nettle champ. Emer Fitzgerald, in-house forager and fermenter here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School , made delicious nettle beer which nearly blew our socks off but so worth making.
Saturday Pizzas were also in a foraging mood; Philip Dennhardt made a delicious woodfired wild nettle, caramelised red onion, ricotta and pecorino pizza that had the punters begging for more. (Every Saturday 12.30-4pm at the Ballymaloe Cookery School).
There was tansy growing on the ditch perfect to add to your drisheen should you have a notion to make some. Lots of salad burnet, silver leaf and sweet cicily, a sweet perennial that we particularity love with rhubarb.
On two local beaches we found rock samphire, limpets, periwinkles, wild mussels and many types of seaweed including laver, pepper dillisk and kelp, sea beet, sea kale and sea purslane along the coast.
On the way back along the little boreen, there was gorse in full bloom, young tender white thorn leaves, so good for your cardiovascular system. No flowers yet but the blackthorn is already covered in white blossom, harbinger of a good crop of sloes in the Autumn.
So make a mental note of where you saw them so you can make sloe gin or vodka for Christmas presents.
The alexander’s, the tall pale yellow green umbelliferous plant that grows by the roadside which we have been enjoying since the end of January are almost over by now but the angelica is perfect for candying as is lovage. The new season’s lovage is about 6 inches tall; I’ve just tasted some angelica and lovage gin that Emer made last year, both were good but the lovage gin was particularly good and worth making again.
There was so much more nasturtiums, sedum leaves, alchemilla (our lady’s mantle), tucked into the flower border, all edible and nutritious and edible.
These wild foods and so many more provide us with vital minerals, vitamins and trace elements at a time when the mainstream processed foods is becoming more and more nutritionally deficient.
However, tread carefully, don’t overdo it. Introduce a little at a time so your system becomes accustomed to new flavours and nutrients.
Do a foraging course, equip yourself with a good foragers handbook, nowadays there many. Here at the Ballymaloe Cookery School we do several foraging courses throughout the year , check out the website or enquire about a ‘bespoke course’ for a group of friends or colleagues. A walk in the countryside or on the seashore will never be the same again….
Wow, it’s all happening in West Cork. Three different restaurants I ate in recently, Pilgrims in Roscarberry, the Glebe Café and The Mews in Baltimore, all had foraged foods interwoven through a variety of dishes on their menu. I particularly remember Macroom buffalo mozzarella beetroot, pickled fennel and hairy bitter cress and gorse ice cream at Pilgrims, John Dory on seabeet and wild cabbage served with mangalitsa pork from Nick Newham in Ballydehob. Loved the sound of potato and forest Kelp gratin as well as a spring foragers soup at Glebe as well. Both the Mews and Pilgrims had an interesting list of natural wines from Le Caveau in Kilkenny. Good Things Café recently moved into Skibbereen from Durrus is also making waves to add to the already exciting mix.
Cór Cois Farraige will hold their annual charity concert in aid of the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association at the Garryvoe Hotel tomorrow night Sunday May 15th at 8pm. Tickets are €10.00 and available at the door.
Food for the Future
Kinsale College is hosting a one day conference on Friday May 27th , from 9.30am-5pm, with keynote speakers focusing on issues like food security, food waste and redistribution, the power of consumer choices, community food projects……For bookings and further information tel 021 477 2275 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeremy Lee of Quo Vadis at the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine
This year, the flamboyant and fabulous Jeremy Lee of Quo Vadis, London will be giving a cookery demonstration. I love Jeremy’s simple but utterly delicious food, the sort of dishes you’ll really want to rush home to cook for your family and friends – on Saturday 21 May 2016 at 10am.
Pennyworth Fritters with Aoili
200 g (7 oz) white rice flour
20 g (¾ oz) cornflour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon cayenne
230 ml (8 fl oz) cold sparkling water
200 g (7 oz) pennyworth leaves, chopped
Aoili (garlic mayonnaise)
Deep Fry at 190°C/375°F
First make the batter. Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl. Stir in the sparkling water with a wooden spoon. Don’t over mix! Add in the chopped pennyworth leaves.
Spoon scant tablespoons of the mixture into the fryer. Turn half way and cook until lightly golden.
Drain on kitchen paper and sprinkle with a little salt.
Serve with aioli garlic mayonnaise or chilli sauce.
Alternatively, dip the whole pennyworth leaves in the batter and cook as above.
Lovage or Angelica Gin
We have so much fun infusing all kinds of aromatics in gin and vodka, try this – so light and herbaceous. The lovage gin is particularly good, really, really worth making….
200g lovage or angelica stalks, with leaves
150g granulated sugar
Roughly chop the lovage or angelica. Place in a large Kilner jar. Cover with sugar and gin. Shake well. Leave in a cool place for six weeks, shaking regularly. Strain out the lovage or angelica. Bottle. It will keep for a year or more, but why not enjoy earlier.
Throughout the seasons one can gather wild greens on a walk in the countryside – foraging soon becomes addictive. Many greens are edible and some are immensely nutritious. Arm yourself with a good well-illustrated guide and be sure to identify carefully and if in doubt – don’t risk it until you are quite confident. Don’t overdo the very bitter herbs like dandelion.
50g (2ozs/1/2 stick) butter
110g (4ozs) diced onion
150g (5 ozs) diced potatoes
250g (9ozs) chopped greens – alexanders, nettles, wild sorrel, a few young dandelions, wild garlic, borage leaves, wild rocket, ground elder, beech leaves, chickweed, watercress
600ml (1 pint/2 1/2 cups) light chicken stock
600ml (1 pint/2 1/2 cups) creamy milk
75g (3ozs) chorizo or lardons of streaky bacon
extra virgin olive oil
wild garlic flowers if available
Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan. When it foams, add potatoes and onions and turn them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes. When the vegetables are almost soft but not coloured add the hot stock and boiling milk. Bring back to the boil and cook until the potatoes and onions are fully cooked. Add the greens and boil with the lid off for 2-3 minutes approx. until the greens are just cooked. Do not overcook or the soup will lose its fresh green colour. Purée the soup in a liquidiser. Taste and correct seasoning.
Heat a little oil in a frying pan. Add the diced chorizo or lardons of streaky bacon, cook over a medium heat until the fat starts to run and the bacon is crisp. Drain on kitchen paper. Sprinkle over the soup as you serve. Use the chorizo oil to drizzle over the soup also and scatter a few wild garlic flowers over the top if available.
Roger’s Nettle Beer
This recipe comes from Roger Phillips’ excellent book, Wild Food. It makes delicious beer – sweet, fizzy, perfect for summertime.
Makes 12 litres
100 nettle stalks, with leaves
11 litres (3 gallons) water
1.3kg (3lb) granulated sugar
50g (2oz) cream of tartar
10g (1⁄2 oz) live yeast
Boil the nettles in the water for 10 minutes. Strain, and add the sugar and the cream of tartar. Heat and stir until dissolved. Remove from the heat and leave until tepid, then add the yeast and stir well. Cover with muslin and leave for several days.
Remove the scum and decant without disturbing the sediment. Bottle in secure ‘clip top’ bottles and drink. This will be ready to drink in 2 days and will keep refrigerated for up to 3 months. If too much gas builds up the bottles can explode so be careful. The bottles may need ‘burping’ every few days to release build-up of gas. Drink sooner rather than later.
A little bit of tansy really wakes up an omelette and might be just the thing to cure a Sunday morning hangover!
2 eggs, preferably free range organic
1 dessertspoon water or milk
1 teaspoon tansy, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 dessertspoon clarified butter or olive oil
omelette pan, preferably non-stick, 23cm (9-inch) diameter
Heat the omelette pan over a high heat.
Warm a plate in a low oven. Whisk the eggs with the water or milk in a bowl with a fork or whisk, until thoroughly mixed but not too fluffy. Add the finely chopped tansy. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Put the warm plate beside the cooker. Have the filling also to hand, hot if necessary with a spoon at the ready.
Add the clarified butter to the hot pan, it should sizzle immediately. Pour in the egg mixture. It will start to cook instantly so quickly pull the edges of the omelette towards the centre with an egg slice or plastic spatula, tilting the pan so that the uncooked egg runs to the sides 4 maybe 5 times. Continue until most of the egg is set and will not run any more, the centre will still be soft and uncooked at this point but will continue to cook on the plate. If you are using a filling, spoon the hot mixture in a line across the centre at this point.
To fold the omelette.
Flip the edge just below the handle of the pan into the centre, change your grip on the handle so you can hold the pan almost perpendicular over the plate so that the omelette will flip over again. Finally, half roll, half slide the omelette onto the plate so that it lands folded in three. (It should not take more than 30 seconds in all to make the omelette, perhaps 45 if you are adding a filling). Serve immediately.
Rhubarb and Angelica Tart
Pluck some leaves from the angelica plant to decorate the serving plate for this creamy custard tart.
8 ozs (225g) plain flour
6 ozs (175g) butter
pinch of salt
1 dessertsp icing sugar
a little beaten egg or egg yolk and water to bind
450g (1lb) rhubarb cut into 1cm (½in) pieces
1/2 pint (300ml) cream
2 large or 3 small eggs
4 tablesp castor sugar
110g (4oz) finely chopped, candied angelica
1 x 30.5cm (12in) tart tin or 2 x 18cm (7 in) tart tins
Make the shortcrust pastry in the usual way (see recipe) and leave to relax in a fridge for 1 hour. Line a tart tin (or tins), with a removable base and chill for 10 minutes. Line with paper and fill with dried beans and bake blind in a moderate oven 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4 for 15-20 minutes. Remove the paper and beans, paint the tart with a little egg wash and return to the oven for 3 or 4 minutes. Allow to cool.
Place the sliced rhubarb evenly in the cooked pastry base, sprinkle with the finely chopped angelica.
Whisk the eggs well, with the sugar and vanilla extract, add the cream. Strain this mixture over the rhubarb, and bake at 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4, for 35 minutes, until the custard is set.
Serve with a bowl of whipped cream, best while still slightly warm.