Tag Archives: foraging

Blackberry and apple muffins

With all my talk of things that have not been good in the garden this year, (and then reeling off a list of the things that have done well and caused envy in several of you – sorry),  I can report that blackberries have done really well this year. We have several blackberry brambles in our hedge – which says a lot for my weeding skills.

It has been lovely to watch the girls crouching by the hedge feasting off the goodies. Although, this has occasioned me to stand over them a few times reminding them that they must only eat the berries that look like purple raspberries and not to eat any that are single purple berries (again my lack of weeding skills and the habit of deadly nightshade liking to grow in hedges). Am I coming across as paranoid? If I am, then it’s because I am.

I formed a bad habit of giving the girls something to eat when I meet them from school. This means a trip to the shop next to their school for a mint choc chip ice cream a couple of times a week, or a chocolate bar fetched out of my bag. But I do try to cook them something once a week. I was inspired by Michele’s recent post about bran muffins. The ones I cooked in the end are roughly based on my mini chocolate muffins  but are probably healthier. I wondered how they would be received by the girls, as they can be fussy little blighters. I am pleased to report that they really enjoyed them and ate several.

This recipe makes 12 mini muffins (fairy cake size) and would make 6 normal sized muffins.

60g wholemeal flour
60g plain flour
30g oatbran
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground cinnamon

100ml milk
1 egg
25g melted butter
50g muscovado sugar
1 eating apple, peeled, cored and cut into chunks
50g blackberries (frozen, if that is what you have)

2- 3 tsp of demerara sugar for the topping

Method

Measure the flours, oatbran, baking powder and cinnamon into a bowl and mix well.

Put the milk, egg, melted butter, sugar, apple and blackberries in a large bowl and mix these well. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet and mix lightly. Do not overmix. Divide the mixture into 12 fairy cake cases. Sprinkle each one with demerara sugar.

Bake in a preheated oven at 180°c, gas mark 4 for 15 -20 minutes until golden and firm on top.

 

 

Crabapple jelly

I was reading Cathy’s post about the beauty of design in nature and found it very inspiring.  I immediately felt the need to take a walk to experience some of this beauty just outside my door.  The perfect excuse for this was provided by the heavily laden crab apple in the hedge.  It has been a few years since I have seen such drooping branches.  The crab apple is a beautiful fruit, a miniature apple made all the more beautiful by its scars and blemishes. I filled a large bucket with carefully picked beauties and wandered back admiring the beginning of autumn and the hues of red, brown and gold peeking between the green.

A quick rinse of my 2½ kilos and they were destined for the preserving pan.

How a green bitter fruit can turn into an amber jelly is one of the magical acts of cookery. When you cook those apples into a green sludge you do wonder how the jelly will be transformed into something that you may want to eat alongside your roast lamb. But, honestly, you will enjoy every sweet appley mouthful and it feels even better that all you paid for was the heat and the sugar.

As many crabapples as you want to use ( I picked 2½ kilos)
Enough water to just cover them in the pan
Granulated sugar  450g for every 600ml of strained juice
If you wanted a little spice then feel free to add a cinnamon stick, 4 cloves, coriander seed or  a star anise into the pot

Method

Rinse the crab apples and place whole into a preserving pan (if you have time and patience you could quarter then to reduce the cooking time a little).  Add enough water to barely cover them (I needed 3 litres for my 2½ kilo). Bring to the boil and simmer until the fruit has turned to a sludgy mush. You can give them a stir to help them break up a bit.

Allow to cool a little and then pour into a jelly bag and leave to strain overnight into a large bowl. Do not squeeze the bag or the jelly will be cloudy.

Measure the strained juice and pour back into the preserving pan.  Bring this slowly back to the boil.  measure out 450g sugar for every 600ml of juice you have and then add this to the boiling juice.  Stir until the sugar dissolves and then leave the juice boiling rapidly until setting point is achieved.  You can tell setting point by placing a few saucers into the fridge when you start to boil the fruit and then testing the jelly by taking a spoonful of the mixture and pouring onto the cold saucer.  Leave to cool and then push your finger through.  If it wrinkles it has reached setting point.  Carefully pour the hot jelly into hot sterile jars and seal immediately.  Leave to cool before labelling. My 2½ kilos made 7 jars.

To sterilise your jars and lids, wash well in warm soapy water and rinse with clean water.  Place in a roasting pan, lids as well and place in a low oven for 10 minutes (the simmering oven of the Aga is ideal). They should still be hot when you pour the mixture into them.

 

Crystallised Violets

Violets are a flower I am rather sentimental about and they are one of my favourites. This year seems to be an exceptional year for them.  The field near us has more than I can ever remember  before.  So, this morning the girls and I took a morning walk and picked a few to crystallise.  It is very easy but it is time consuming and it helps if you happen to have a few little hands that are willing to help.

When these are properly dried tomorrow I will remove the stems and we plan  to use them later in the week to decorate a cake.

1 egg white
caster sugar
freshly picked violets

Method

Paint every crevice of the violet with egg white.  You can use a paint brush for this, but as I didn’t have three clean brushes in the house we used cotton buds, which did the job perfectly well. Then sprinkle with caster sugar until completely covered. Place onto a silicone baking sheet or greaseproof paper and  leave to dry.

 

Bacon and wild garlic spaghetti

The wild garlic season is in full swing here.  It hasn’t flowered yet and the small leaves are beautifully tender and full of that garlic zing.

It grows in great swathes in the shade of the trees.

Last night I made this pasta and a wild garlic bread to go with it.  It was very tasty and full of the essence of spring. Just remember to wash your wild garlic well, you can never be sure how many domesticated and wild animals might have visited the same patch before you ;). Also be sure to have identified it correctly using a hedgerow plants guide.

4 rashers of bacon snipped into bite size pieces
2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
frozen or fresh peas
handful of wild garlic leaves, sliced
spaghetti (I used 200g for 2 adult  and 2 child size portions)

Method

Bring a large pan of water to the boil and add plenty of salt.  Add the spaghetti and cook until al dente (follow the pack instructions).

Fry the bacon pieces at a high temperature until beginning to brown, add the peas and the crushed garlic cloves and continue to fry but reduce the heat a little to prevent the garlic from burning.  When the spaghetti is cooked ladle a spoonful of the pasta water into the bacon pan and then drain the spaghetti and tip it into the pan.  Add the sliced wild garlic leaves.  Turn everything over to get well covered in the bacon fat and serve in warm dishes.

Elderflower cordial

My oh my, it’s been such a long time since I posted last.  Sorry, sorry.  Choclette has even asked me if I have disappeared into another ash cloud. It is starting to feel that way.  I have a list of jobs as long as my arm ( and someone else’s) and it seems if I dare to turn my back more weeds have grown to monstrous proportions in the garden.  Oh well, mustn’t complain as there are some good things growing there too. I am hoping to harvest a few broad beans tonight for the first time, and we are on our last root of Charlotte potatoes from the polytunnel, just in time for those in the garden to be ready.  The first strawberry is turning a crimson shade today in the old sink, ready for the girls to pick tonight. The girls have been disappearing  for about twenty minutes every night just before bed to emerge smeared with redcurrants.  The onions and garlic are nearly there too and we have been enjoying them the last couple of weeks.

My mum, who of course has a garden in which there is not a weed in sight, gave me some wonderful beetroot this week which I roasted and enjoyed very much indeed. Even Mr OC who has for years had a fear of the beetroot (something to do with pickled beets and the way they bleed into everything on your plate) had one and said it was ‘alright’!

One of the best things about this time of year though is the hedgerow and the wonders that can be found in it.  We are very lucky to have some really good elderflower trees nearby, which are well away from the road and which, this year, are brimming with flowers.  So, on Sunday evening, with the sun still shining I went off with my scissors and bowl and cut about 30 heads of elderflower.  The smell of these flowers is so beautifully sweet and delicious and really is the essence of summer. When I poured the just boiled water over, the smell permeated the whole house all evening, making it worthwhile making this cordial simply for that reason.

However, there is another very good reason for making this cordial and that is that it is really delicious and thirst quenching on a hot day, or even a cloudy and showery day like today.  I also intend to have a go at making an ice cream or a sorbet with it.  Should you be planning a summer barbecue, then make some quick as it makes a really good drink for those who wish to forgo the alcohol.

I have taken the recipe from The River Cottage Cookbook (Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, 2001, HarperCollins, ISBN: 0 00220204 2) in which Hugh advises that if you want to keep this for more than a few weeks in the fridge then you should add a heaped teaspoon of tartaric acid for every 500ml of strained juice. It should then last for a year.  I haven’t added any to mine as I don’t expect it to hang around that long.  Don’t forget that the cordial needs to be diluted by at least one part cordial to five parts water before you enjoy it.   I am going on the hunt for a recipe for blackcurrant cordial next.

Make sure you are careful when you pick the elderflowers as you don’t want to lose the precious pollen in each of the tiny flowers.  Give them a very gentle shake to get rid of insects and then start the recipe as quickly as you can once they are picked.

20-30 heads of elderflower
zest of 2 lemons
zest of 1 orange
350g sugar for every 500ml of strained juice
50ml lemon juice for every 500ml of strained juice

Method

Place the heads of elderflower in a large bowl and grate over the zest of the 2 lemons and 1 orange.  Pour enough just-boiled water over the elderflowers to cover them completely. Cover with a cloth and leave overnight.  The next day strain through a muslin or a clean tea towel and measure the amount of strained juice you have.  Then pour into a large pan.  For every 500ml of strained juice add 350g of sugar and 50ml of lemon juice and heat over a gentle heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar has completely dissolved.  Bring up to a gentle simmer and spoon off any scum that rises to the surface.  Leave to go cold, then strain it through a muslin or tea towel again and then decant into clean bottles.  Store in the fridge and then dilute by at least one part cordial to five parts cold water.  Add ice and enjoy.