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Leeds, United Kingdom
Welcome to Edible Leeds - Wild & Wonderful. I'm passionate about collecting, eating, preserving and experimenting with wild foods - the best that nature has to offer, whatever the season. I specialise in wild food & fungi walks/courses, wild food foraging, preserving, cooking, education & identification. I hope that my blog will provide inspiration, enjoyment & a connection with the natural world.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Foraging, Chefs & the Natural Wild Larder: Explore, Discover, Connect...

Cracking day out yesterday introducing two very talented, creative, food passionate chefs to a range of natural, native & non-native wild edible seeds, roots, tubers, foliage, nuts, berries, herbs, spices & fungi. I took a range of preserves, pickles, tinctures, drinks, syrups, dried goods to demonstrate some of the techniques/practices I use with wild foods, they brought plenty enthusiasm, ideas and fun, oh and a bottle of elderflower fizz that fell out of the back of the jeep and met a grizzly end on the tarmac 
Alex Bond is setting up his own restaurant in Nottingham later this year and Liam Sweeney will be joining him as Sous Chef. Both already had a good take on many wild edibles but required some assistance in fine tuning and developing their knowledge further (where I came in to the equation) so as to be able to play/experiment/understand and get creative with their menu. I learned plenty great ideas/techniques on the cooking/cuisine/creativity side from them both - though I will have to pester them in the future to re-jig my memory on some stuff they mentioned. I find it very exciting that chefs have the desire and passion to explore our natural wild larder alongside a dependency on more commercially available or homegrown foods. I appreciate that for many chefs and their teams that not realising or knowing about wild foods is a factor, alongside the time aspect - make time I would say My understanding is that all fruits, vegetables, grains etc initially came from a wild ancestor and they are very often, very exciting and can teach us much about our culture, evolution, nature and ourselves... 


Here are some of the treats that I harvested for myself while out with them. 

Unripe Figs
Chaga
Scarletina Bolete
Noble Fir
Mugwort
Angelica






The Figs have now become:
Unripe Figs in Syrup
http://edible-leeds.blogspot.co.uk/2016/07/preserved-unripe-figs-in-syrup.html  









If any chefs are interested in learning more about the natural wild larder and it's culinary potentials, I'm available for 1 - 1 or group tuition. Email me at: edible.leeds@gmail.com or call Craig on 07899752447 Happy foraging folks 

 ‪#‎wildfood‬ ‪#‎foraging‬ ‪#‎naturalconnections‬ ‪#‎thebiggerpicture‬‪ #‎naturalnotfashionable‬  ‪#‎wildedibleexploration‬  ‪#‎creativecuisine‬ #wildandwonderful 

Unripe Figs in Syrup

Preserved Unripe Figs. Batch #1 
I recently acquired a copy of 'The New Wildcrafted Cuisine' by, Pascal Baudar (many thanks to Dominick Tekos for sending it me). Despite the fact that Pascal resides in California, much of the books content is applicable with regards to techniques, philosophies, creativity and inspiration, and some of the wild plants, regardless of where in the world you reside.
Understanding our native floras & faunas is the same the world over I guess (or is this a misinformed statement?). Climates, habitats, techniques, cultures etc do differ but I firmly believe we all have innate and transferable wisdom, knowledge and practices, whether they be ancient or modern (some yet to be rekindled/discovered/attained), and we can adapt them to our own wild plants, landscapes, seasons, resources and requirements.

                 
                       


Now, moving swiftly on to the main theme of this post, the figs. Pascal has a recipe for preserving unripe figs in syrup that really captured my attention, I'm aware of a number of fig trees located in and around Leeds, I've never once, despite seeking, found a single ripe one and therefore this recipe seemed a perfectly logical and exciting way of ensuring I could partake of this edible fruit, the harvesting, preparation, consumption of it and the connection. I've used Pascals basic guidelines but adjusted the type of syrup, flavours to suit my local landscape and season and use some of my already acquired and prepared wild foods.



Preserved Unripe Figs. Batch #2

Ingredients:

Figs
Sugar Syrup (prepare during one of the fig boiling phases), dissolve 600g of sugar in 1L of hot spring water
Herbs/Spices/Flowers/Flavours

Gather your unripe figs when the season dictates, take them home, remove any excess stalk, pierce each one several times with a cocktail stick or other spiky item, place them in a pan with warm water, bring to the boil and boil for 15 minutes. Strain, return figs to the pan, top up with fresh warm water, bring to the boil, boil for 15 minutes and strain again. This time taste a small piece of one of the figs to ensure the bitterness is reduced to your liking, if not put them back in the pan, add warm water and boil again for 15 minutes (mine took three boilings to remove the bitterness). Once satisfied with the taste, gently place the figs into clean sterilised jars, adding herbs, spices, flowers etc of your choosing as you do so and then cover with the sugar syrup. Place lids on jars (I used Kilner 500ml screw-top jars) but not too tightly and then place filled jars in a deep pan (covering the bottom with several layers of kitchen roll to prevent the jars from coming into direct contact with the bottom of the pan), top the pan up to the base of the jar lids, bring to the boil and boil for approx 30 minutes. After 30 mins, turn off the heat source, remove jars very gently and place on a wooden chopping board, leave 12 hours and test the lids have sealed properly - as the jars cool after the boiling phase, an air vacuum will form and pull the lids tightly onto the jar.

Batch #1: I used my Douglas Fir Sugar to make the syrup for two of my jars, adding, Elderflower, Meadowsweet flowers, Red Clover flower heads and slices of lemon to them but not following the same combination. To the third jar I used a simple sugar syrup and added Noble Fir sprigs, Elderflower and Lemon slices.

Batch #2: Golden Granulated Sugar w/ Honeysuckle & Lime Zest & Rose, Orange & Cloves.

For info and updates on my foraging activities that I don't pop on this blog visit my facebook page and if you like what you see give it a 'like' to receive updates: www.facebook.com/EdibleLeeds/

Happy foraging! :)

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum).

'What did the Romans ever do for us' is a phrase synonymous with the UK. Many ancient tribes, cultures and societies have landed on these shores and settled here. Some came with peaceful intentions and others not so (the Romans). Contrary to what is/was reported, there are many members of these various tribes still scattered around the UK. Not only did they leave their genetic imprints behind but also many a plant. I'm not going to delve into the 'horrors of histories past' but I am going to delve into one of the plants of histories past.

Alexander Shoots & Seeds
Smyrnium olusatrum or as it is more commonly known, Alexanders, is a member of the Apiaceae or Carrot family. Native to the Meditteranean region, it was apparently introduced by the Romans (ta da!) and used widely & extensively as a fodder crop, pot herb and vegetable (all parts are edible and tasty), until it fell out of favour and was superseded by celery. Given the Romans occupied much of the UK, both inland and coastal areas, it's strange that it is rarely found inland, head to the coast however and you'll often find it growing in great profusion. You will find it growing atop cliffs, along coastal paths & close to ancient, historical sites; churches, castles.  Also, head a couple of miles inland from the sea itself. Most wild food books will also refer to this as a 'coastal dwelling plant' - which is what led to my confusion a couple of years back. I had recently moved house, was spending a fair amount of time outdoors, exploring the locale for potential wild food sources. One particular route I discovered became one of my favourites, not only did it provide me with an abundance of wild edibles, it was also a green corridor to a popular, local urban area. Anyway, one afternoon my attention was drawn to some fresh, bright green growth and after a quick glance (naughty naughty), a crush and smell of a leaf, I concluded it was Hemlock Water Dropwort (highly toxic) but my senses were tingling, something didn't make sense, the aroma was as powerful, yet more pleasant on the nose, there was no water present - Hemlock WD likes to have its feet in water -  it was nestled on the fringes of a beech/birch woodland and although the leaves had a vague resemblance to HWD, they differentiated. Earlier I'd posted an image on twitter, had added some blurb 'odd place to find HWD'. A reply came back with the word 'alexander' in it. Aha! After after comparing it did indeed turn out to be Alexanders - I had never found Alexanders before and hadn't expected to find it growing in the middle of inner-city Leeds, 80 miles from the coast. An important lesson learned.
Since then, I've stumbled upon a few coastal patches with my favourite being on the East Yorkshire Coast, I have visited said patch on a number of occasions since mid-December 2015 and I've harvested seeds, fresh shoots/stems, flower pods and foliage and made a variety of products and eaten a fair amount fresh too. 

Alexander showing the root
Identification  

Please don't use this guide as a definitive to actually identifying Alexanders. The following are features to look out for, always consult up to date field guides and/or join a wild food foray with a respected & knowledgeable  guide. I'm hosting two East Yorkshire coastal forays in March 2016 & we will meet Alexanders: http://edible-leeds.blogspot.co.uk/p/foraging.html

Root: dark brown outer, white flesh inside, shape is as ones pictured (right), often much fatter. Permission to uproot can be obtained via the land owner.. Collecting seeds and planting at home a good alternative?


Leaves: shiny, glossy appearance, finely toothed, shallow lobed & twice pinnate



Alexanders in flower
Stem: up to 1m tall, green, paler toward stem base


Sheath: broad pinky/purple colour, found at base of flower buds and stems


Flowers: yellow, in umbels




Pink/Purple colouring
Seeds: green when young & fresh eventually turning black, aromatic when crushed


Aroma: A very powerful and aromatic plant, sweet, almost perfumed and reminiscent of parsley/celery, 'soap' like. NB.aroma, & taste, are very subjective to the individual





Alexanders stems/foliage can be harvested any time from early December in a mild winter, right through until late spring (they will be at their best these times). Seeds can be harvested from late summer through to winter (maybe even spring of the following year).


Edibility

All parts of Alexanders are edible & delicious, I love it! Recipes at bottom of this section!

Leaves: Raw they are almost over-powering, with a strong lingering after-taste, therefore I use sparingly, scattering a few shredded leaves into salads or as garnish to other dishes and in wild foraged cocktails. 

Crab & Alexanders


Stems: The stems when steamed for 6-7 minutes are sensational (cooking reduces the powerful flavour and aroma), smother in butter & add a little fresh ground black pepper, great on their own or added to the top of Crab on Toast (right). 
Stems can also be candied to make a lovely sweet treat! 
The stems and foliage make a great soup. Try mixing the stems with young forced rhubarb and seville oranges to make a jam and pop some of that onto soft goats cheese - serious yum factor!



Dish w/ sauted flower buds
Flower Buds: The unopened flower pods are fantastic, blanch or steam for 6-8 minutes, cut in half and then gently saute in plenty butter (image right). 


Roots: The roots are also sensational, peel, cube, par-boil and roast with honey or boil and mash either on their own or mix with other vegetables/potatoes. 




Alexander Seeds
Seeds: Use as an aromatic alternative to black pepper. Adding crushed seeds when preparing jams or adding to the juice helps restore any flavour lost during cooking.


Juice: Juice is great added raw to cocktails/smoothies, especially Alexanders Cocktail and also added to make Alexanders Liqueur. Juice is very volatile when heated, rapidly losing it's flavour 


Alexanders Recipes 

Alexanders Liqueur & Alexanders Cocktail: http://edible-leeds.blogspot.co.uk/p/alcoholic.html



Float By Boat: Foraging & Floating on the Shropshire Union Canal

Foraging and wild food

Foraging and wild food
The emerald-lined waterways thread seams of intact flora and fauna where man’s manipulation is at a minimum.  Wild plants and animals flourish more freely here than in built-up or agricultural areas, making canals ideal places to forage for edible wild plants and fungi. Searching for wild food is a skill that requires attention to detail, patience and a slow pace. It is not so dissimilar to meditation. In fact the two complement each other beautifully. All this said, perhaps it isn’t so surprising that Float by Boat joined up with Craig from Edible Leeds to host a unique foraging holiday.
2015-06-01 14.46.02Everyone arrived just before lunch on Monday 1st June in the quaint canalside village of Audlem on the Shropshire Union canal. It was raining lightly and stormy winds were predicted for later on that day. It felt more like March than June but our small group of floating foragers were undeterred and eager for the adventures that lay ahead. Conversation flowed freely over lunch with lots of chuckling and banter. It was immediately apparent that this was a delightful group of folk and we would enjoy sharing the next few days together. We weren’t disappointed.
I was immediately surprised by the variety and abundance of edible wild plants. On a busy village mooring, we hadn’t even set off or moved from where we made our initial greetings, Craig announced that he could see at least 6 edible plants. And that was without actively searching for them.
Despite the weather – we’d normally hurry to avoid the wind and rain – we made slow progress up the locks in Audlem. Even on a mile stretch, there was so much to see. Craig’s passion and knowledge is enticing. He helped us to see the borders of the towpaths differently, opening our eyes to nature’s intricacy and the wealth of detail available for people who are willing to notice it. We stood beneath a Scot’s pine tree tasting its spongy flower cones that had just passed their best and started to pollinate. We learned that a Scot’s pine has irregularly placed branches, rather than concentric rings, and needles that come in pairs. Who’d have thought the needles could be used for tea or flavouring vinegar? I certainly wouldn’t.
lowresP6010543At the end of the locks, we all dived indoors for hot chocolate. We lit the fire, enjoyed the warmth and slowly dried out. Craig had found some fairy-ring champignon mushrooms nestled in the grass by the mooring ring outside. He brought them in to give us an overview of the wonders of mushrooms. I have to admit that, even being vegetarian, mushrooms are the final frontier of food for me. I just don’t like them. Listening to Craig talk about their ability to send spores into the highest stratosphere of our planet and travel round the globe, twice even, before landing. Knowing that they’re neither plant nor animal, and reflecting on their ability to absorb and process all manner of pollutants, chemicals and heavy metals, even I became entranced and amazed by fungus.
lowresP6010548Dinnertime was upon us and with it our first foraged meal. Normally for Float by Boat breaks, I write a menu according to guests’ likes and dislikes, shop to the menu and then cook it.  It’s very simple. Not this time though, I had to prepare a menu based on unknown ingredients that we may or may not find in the wild. Fortunately, Craig gave me lots of help and we sketched out some versatile dishes that would work with a whole host of ingredients. Monday night’s tea was a Wild Spring Risotto, to which we added handfuls of foraged ingredients; including St George’s mushrooms, wild garlic leaves and seeds, bush vetch, dandelion leaves, nettles, white dead nettles, ground elder, chickweed, cow parsley (or wild chervil) and garlic mustard (or Jack by the Hedge). Incidentally, the only shop bought ingredients were rice, garlic, stock, butter and onion. I’d made a rustic loaf of spelt bread, which we doused in butter and garlic to make a delicious garlic bread accompaniment. Apart from the St George’s mushrooms, which Craig had found the previous day near his home in Leeds, all of the foraged ingredients had come from the towpath.
In meditation that night, as the storm raged outside, we tasted a tangible peace and stillness inside.
The lowly nettle. A prolific 'weed' with a wide range of nutritional and health benefits.
The lowly nettle. A prolific ‘weed’ with a wide range of nutritional and health benefits.
The morning came and the storm had subsided with birdsong ringing out across the tree tops, welcoming us into a new day. It was a slow start with a meditation session before a lazy breakfast as everyone emerged at their own pace. I baked a malted loaf and a Dorset pear cake as we engaged in a fascinating conversation about the ethics of what we eat, and the complexities involved in deciphering the best way for each individual. We talked about what it means to be wild and how best to care for the earth. Around the table sat omnivores, veggies and pescatarians from different cultures and backgrounds. We gently shared experiences and ideas, all talking from a common perspective of trying to have a positive impact on the world around us. It was inspiring.
2015-06-01 14.54.54Later on that day, Craig had gone ahead to prepare a lock. The wind had picked up and hounded relentlessly. Heavy rainwater had drained into the weirs catering for overflow around the locks, resulting in torrents outpouring at the entrance to each lock. It wasn’t ideal conditions for a 69ft, 25 tonne vessel with a little propeller and a 42 horse power engine. I was at the tiller chugging across the lock pound hoping that, at any second now, the gates would open. Craig was nowhere to be seen. One of the guests, Sarah, ran ahead to see what the hold-up was, only to find Craig in a tree with armfuls of elderflowers. You can’t knock the man’s dedication and commitment to delicious wild food. At the next lock, he thrust a head of dandelion leaves into my arms as I passed by. Fortunately, with Craig’s efforts, Tuesday night’s dinner was a dining experience apart from any other in my life.
2015-06-02 21.43.19Sat around the table, we each had a mat, a nori seaweed sheet and a bowl of sticky sushi rice. In the middle sat a tray laden with plants foraged throughout the day’s excursions. Craig talked us through each plant, encouraging us always to “Give it a nibble, see what you think”. What blew my mind was the amazing depth and variety of flavours. Naively I assumed that all foraged greens would merely taste green; like spinach, cabbage, kale and lettuces. Ok, they are each slightly distinct and unique but I do think there’s a kind of generic greenyness about them. The wild edibles that Craig sourced that day were nothing like this. We tasted sweet, minty watermint, and peppery large cress, and garlic mustard, which clearly tasted like both garlic and mustard. For me the best by far was sorrel with its distinctive tart cooking apple taste; it was delicious. Maybe it was because they were natural and uncultivated that the flavours were so sumptuous and striking.
2015-06-02 21.56.59Layering the nori sheet, the rice and then the foraged goodies, we topped it all off with a selection of Craig’s pickles that he’d brought along with him.  These included pickled sea purslane, kelp, rock samphire and scurvy grass. Once rolled and sliced, we each engaged our creativity to dress our sushi with flowers, seeds, soy sauce and homemade raspberry vinegar. They almost looked too pretty to eat, almost.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Sap-solute Magic

'If magic is to be found you will find it in the woods, you'll find it in the trees'

The name Birch is derived from the ancient Sanskrit word 'bhurga' which roughly translated means, 'tree whos bark is used to write upon' - a reference to it's use as a paper resource. This is just one of the many attributes of this common, very useful and delightful tree.

Birch are extremely common in northern temperate regions of the world. In and around Leeds birch can be found in pretty much all the woodlands, yet until this year, I'd all but ignored this tree but for the beauty it lends itself to our parks, woodlands and wildlife. After reading posts and articles about 'birch sap', I felt that it was time to acquaint myself with this practice. So it was, early in March, I set about testing whether the 'sap was rising' or not. I headed to a local woodland and after locating a healthy tree and after seeking permission, I 'tapped' into it using my penknife, I prised open a small cavity and within seconds one clear droplet of sap appeared and, given info I had read, estimated that it would be at least another 7-10 days before the sap flow increased enough to guarantee a good harvest. In the meantime, I invested in a cordless drill, roles of cellotape, string, tubing and buckets/bottles. Approximately 10 days after my initial test I located some trees close to my house, drilled into one and to my joy, the sap flowed very generously, I then proceeded to tap three other trees in close proximity but not neighbouring each other and returned home anticipating tomorrows findings. On returning next morning all bottles had small quantities of sap but weren't full, I was puzzled, I removed the tube from one tree and it released a 'gasp' and 'pffut' of air - I hadn't allowed for pressure building in the bottles - all part of the learning curve - I put an extra small hole in each of the bottles lids I returned that evening and all but one bottle were full to the brim, fab!

Sap Tapping

Plugging the hole
Prior to tapping you may wish to seek permission from the tree itself. Only tap a tree that has a circumference of at least 9" or 22cm. Harvest no more than 4.5litres from any one tree - the sap is vital to the life of the tree, you wouldn't want anyone taking more than say 3 pints of your blood.
Should you 'plug' the hole after extracting sap? There is some debate about this and from my online searchings a 50:50 split regarding this - I'll let you and the tree decide. If you do plug afterwards do ensure a tight fit (I did plug certain trees in 2015 and left others unplugged, this is part of an experiment to monitor and record the results). Depending on the temperature collect your sap every 24 hours and ensure to use the sap asap or freeze it, it can spoil very quickly and that's a real waste for the Birch tree itself and a waste of your time and energy.

So what have I done with that sap besides drinking it fresh, which is delicious & using it to heal bramble scratches (collecting birch sap in the middle of the night without a torch has it's hazards!).



                                                                                             Birch Sap Wine
 Birch Sap Wine. 3 different types (a 4th is on the go)
I love making and drinking home brews - I'm also partial to supping others' home brews too (invites warmly and graciously received!). I find a deep sense of satisfaction and connection to the many gentle and practical facets of home brewing; locating and gathering the necessary wild ingredients, visiting the home brew shop for supplies and having a good natter, starting the brew, watching and listening for the fermentation to take place, the racking and bottling processes and of course the grand finale (or more appropriately, the grand opening) of a nicely matured bottle! Admittedly, this is the first time I've used any tree sap in place of tap water for wine making and for me, there's an added magical element to brewing with birch sap, unlike with tap water,  I've made many a wine using tap water and find the process of attaining it, more a functional necessity (albeit a valued one), yet it's a function devoid of any wild, romantic, spiritual, pleasurable and connective processes. Yes, the water has journeyed, it has evaporated, condensed, formed clouds, crossed the oceans, fallen earth bound, filtered through soil and rock, though nowadays most, if not all of the water 'on tap' has journeyed further through our sewers than from elsewhere  prior to making it's way to our taps but it has been undeniably interfered with and treated with chemicals in order to render it 'safe' & 'clean' for 'human consumption'. Sap too, has gone through a process of journeying prior to collection but one which in my mind is far more natural and organic, this liquid has been filtered through organic matter, absorbed by tree roots, stored by them for a period of time and then slowly, as the tree awakens from it's winter slumber, is drawn up the tubes of said tree and by said tree (clever stuff!). Birch trees are also known for their antiseptic/antibacterial qualities and birch sap is reportedly imbued with these very same properties.especially as it has avoided any 'human interference' stage. Now some claim there's no definitive distinction to the final products taste whether brewed with ordinary tap water or birch sap and despite having never sampled a 'sap brewed beverage' before, I'm not really in a position to claim otherwise, yet I find myself claiming otherwise, if only on the strength of the journeying and collection process - the heart is powerful!

The three pictured wines (above) are all made using 4.5l of birch sap. To each I have added either natural golden granulated sugar, demerara sugar or honey (more a mead than a wine), various wild herbs including elderflower & sweet woodruff and also, lemon/orange juice/zest, raisins and specific yeasts purchased from http://www.abbeyhomebrew.co.uk/.

Basic Birch Sap Wine Recipe

4.5l Fresh Birch Sap
Zest & Juice of 2 Organic Lemons
Zest & Juice of 1 Organic Orange
1kg Organic Golden Granulated Sugar
500g Organic Sultanas or Raisins
Yeast nutrient or 250ml of White Grape Juice Concentrate
1 Sachet High Alcohol Country Wine Yeast or other of your preference

Bring the Birch sap to 75C & keep at this temperature for 20 minutes. Pour onto sugar, sultanas/raisins & zest of the citrus fruits, which by now should be in a brewing bucket, stir to dissolve sugar and leave to cool. Once cooled add the juice of the citrus fruits, yeast, grape juice concentrate or nutrient* (*follow instructions on packet).
Cover with tightly fitting muslin cloth and keep in a warm room (approx 21 Degrees Celsius) for 5 days. After 5 days strain the contents through clean, double layered muslin cloth into a demi-john, place airlock on top, and leave it to do it's thing - ferment -  for approx 2-3 months.
After 2-3 months rack-off the wine into another clean, sterilised demi-john & leave for approx 6 more months, after this time if it hasn't cleared, put it somewhere colder like a cellar or outhouse (just don't let it freeze), this will help it clear. Once cleared siphon into clean sterilised bottles, cork and store until required. This wine is perfect for using as a base for making Wild Foraged Vermouth: http://edible-leeds.blogspot.co.uk/p/alcoholic.html



Melomel

Wild Flowers & Magic Wands awaiting the cooled sap
A Melomel is basically a Mead but because it contains fruit (in this case some Vodka Damsons I
recycled after making, erm, Damson Vodka) it moves categories. I suppose it's more a cross between a Mead & a Wine. The results were fantastic and my friend, the master of mead, Andrew McFarlane gave it the thumbs up after sampling it when staying over at mine on his way to Edinburgh in early December 2015. What you decide to pop into yours really is entirely up to you. I used Birch Sap I collected earlier in the year and I'd frozen for later use.



Wild Yeast only Melomel Recipe:

4.5l Birch Sap (filtered through muslin cloth to remove debris)
Pink Elderflower (pick fresh on a hot dry sunny afternoon)
White Elderflower (pick fresh on a hot dry sunny afternoon)
Ox-Eye Daisy Flowers & Leaves (pick fresh on a hot sunny afternoon)
Vodka Soaked Damsons (added once fermentation starts)
1.5lb Raw Unpasteurised Honey (I used Heather Honey)
Magic Wands (Heather Sticks) http://edible-leeds.blogspot.co.uk/2015/06/experiments-adventures-in-mead-making.html

Bring the birch sap to 75C, retain that temperature for 20 mins & then remove from heat and leave to cool. Place all ingredients, except the Damsons, into a fermentation bucket and pour the cooled birch sap onto them. Stir vigorously to dissolve the honey and cover with tightly fitting muslin cloth. It's very important that you keep this at an even temperature of at least 19-21C and at least 3 times a day you stir the mixture vigorously, in a cyclonic action, to draw oxygen & wild yeasts into the mix and prevent it from stagnating. Fermentation will be slow to start, up to 3/5 days but be patient it will work. Part of the reason for the slow fermentation is because no cultured yeasts have been added, only wild yeasts from the flowers, heather sticks and those present in the air are being utilised. Once fermentation has started proper (foam & bubbles will appear and you'll hear it fizzing when you stir), add the fruit, and after a period of about 7-10 days has elapsed transfer the liquid to a demi-john to continue/finish fermenting. The whole fermentation process should take approx 8 weeks (that is an approx time frame for brews containing honey) after which time the brew can be drunk but I'd highly recommend you leave it to mature for at least a year - age improves! If you have no magic wands, or prefer to use a cultured yeast, a Champagne Yeast is ideal.



Birch Syrup in varying concentrations. A true delight!
Birch Sap Syrup

For me, the only 'negative' to this process is the ridiculous energy expenditure. Birch sap contains on average a 2% - 7% sugar content, not a vast quantity. Sap to syrup ratio is reportedly between 80:1 to 120:1. If we base our average on a ratio of 100:1, that would basically mean for every 100 litres of sap you reduce, a 1 litre quantity of syrup will be produced, ouch! I'm currently looking into ways to capture the evaporated moisture content and will hopefully put that it into practice next year, I'm even thinking of reducing the sap over an open fire outdoors. On the positive side, producing your own syrup from sap is extremely rewarding, pleasurable and satisfying. Varying strengths can be attained depending on how much your sap is reduced by and the outcomes are all great. Lighter (less reduced) syrups exhibit a mild caramel sweetness, with gentle woody undertones. Darker (more reduced) syrups exhibit a deeper more complex quality, with sweetness akin to dark molasses sugar & bonfire toffee, more profound smoky undertones and a slight bitterness. Whichever reduction you opt for they will all taste sap-solutely sublime.

Uses of Birch Syrup:

Birch Syrup Ice-Cream prior to freezing
Tricky this... I love sipping it neat from the bottle, that way I really get to savour & enjoy its stunning simplicities & complexities. On the other hand, if you get the combinations right, Birch Syrup is divine drizzled on rich quality vanilla ice-cream. Use it to poach Pears for a Pear & Frangipane Tart (recipe coming soon) and then use that very same syrup to make ice-cream (it's the best ice-cream ever!), Birch Syrup Ice-Cream Recipe: http://edible-leeds.blogspot.co.uk/p/recipes-desserts-and-sweet-things.html.




Syrup can be added to Wild Boozy Cocktails, check this one from Mark: http://www.gallowaywildfoods.com/?page_id=1764.


It can be made into Birch Balsamic Vinegar, lovely recipe from Fergus the Forager: http://fergustheforager.co.uk/2013/03/tapping-birch-collecting-birch-sap-for-mineral-water-wine-beer-vinegar-and-syrup/.


Health Benefits

Birch sap is rich in bio-available nutrients including enzymes, Vit C, Zinc, Sodium, Phosphorus, Calcium, Magnesium, Manganese, Potasssium, Iron, fruit acids & amino acids.





Thursday, 7 January 2016

Winter Fungi: Velvet Shank

Winter Fungi: Velvet Shank (Flammulina velutipes). Velvet Shank are the wild alternative to the cultivated form, 'Enokitake' that you find in shops (long tall slender stems with tiny white caps, usually sold in tall plastic sheaths)
This readily recognisable fungi is like a ray of golden sunshine amid the generally muted and darker hues of winter - camouflage is not it's strong point. This gregarious and social fungi can be found growing on dead/dying logs & stumps, on a variety of tree species including Beech, Sycamore & Horse Chestnut
Regarding edibility, in my opinion they are top notch & more appealingly so due to the time of year they are found, winter, the hardest season in the foraging calendar. They have a great mushroom flavour with a slight sweetness reminiscent of caramel. 

So, what can you do with them? Fresh, young ones are delightful raw , they can be gently fried in butter, added to broths, pickled & make a great mushroom pate, they also dry well and make a good powder. I've recently added some to vodka to use in boozy cocktails. 

Velvet Pate
Recipe for Velvet Shank & Nettle Seed Pate:
http://edible-leeds.blogspot.co.uk/p/recipes_26.html     








Another great way to utilise Velvets is to lightly pickle them, the following recipe is from, John at Forage London (replace the Winter Chants with Velvets instead): http://www.foragelondon.co.uk/pickled-winter-chanterelle/ 

Please be careful when picking edible fungi. Ensure you're 100% certain of correct id & please don't use the images above as a reference for id'ing.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Wild Foraged Vermouth, Aromatised Wines, Liquers. Including recipe for foraged vermouth

This article started life as a post about my adventures in making 'Wild Foraged Vermouth' which I needed as a link/reference to posts elsewhere. The more I started researching, the more complex it became and only by reading the following will you see why. I hope you enjoy it as much I did writing it - he says with tongue firmly placed between cheek...




Wormwood Illustration
History & Origins

The historical roots (no pun intended) of aromatised wines stretch back to ancient times, with the earliest records for fortified wines dating back to the, Shang and Western Zhou dynasties in China circa 1250-1000BC, (although 'wormwood wine' reportedly 'played a key role' in India circa 1500BC). Vermouth is the French pronunciation of, wermut, the German word for the herb, Wormwood. Fortified wines containing wormwood as a principal ingredient existed in Germany in around the 16th century.  At around the same time, in Italy, a chap called D'Alessio began to produce a similar product which he called 'wormwood wine'. By the mid 17th century that drink was being consumed in good ol' England and it went by the name 'vermouth' and that has become the common name for the drink.












Wild Foraged Vermouth
What is a Vermouth?

A Vermouth is basically an aromatised & fortified wine. It has a white wine base into which a certain and/or various herbs, roots, seeds & barks are added for flavour and balance. However, without the addition of the herb Wormwood  a vermouth isn't a vermouth, it's just an aromatised wine, apparently - and so it begins!

Aromatised Wines

These, like vermouth, also have a white wine base into which certain or various natural herbs, roots, seeds, fruits & barks are added for flavour and balance. They are often subjected to the addition of spirits to further fortify and increase their strength and their 'keeping' properties - wines which have had spirits added to them are also known as 'fortified wines', for example, Port.
Various countries have their own versions of aromatised wines, and as such, their names differ. In Italy they have 'Amaro' (which translates as 'bitters'), in Germany they have 'Krautlikor' (which translates as 'half-bitters' ) and it's also another name for Schnapps, although Schnapps reportedly contains fruits as opposed to herbs, unless you add the Americans into the mix - they add spices to their schnapps and sometimes sugar which then moves that schnapps into the classification of 'liqueur', further complicating matters!. Oh, and, according to EU Law, aromatised wines 'must' contain an alcohol content of between 14.5% - 22%,  la de da... are you still with me?



Liqueurs or Liquors?

Seen as they've had a brief been mention already, I thought I'd delve briefly into their slightly complicated world too!
Liquers (pronounced 'lick-yures') have a distilled spirit base into which fruits, herbs, roots, nuts, flowers, spices etc... are added, along with sugar or some other sweetener. A true liqueur should contain an alcohol volume of between 15% - 30% but can be as high as 55% (need a drink yet?). In comparison, Liquor (pronounced 'licker'), though containing the same with regards to herbs, spices, fruits additions as liqueurs do, contain a much less sugar/sweetner content.






Scrump Cocktail including Wild Foraged Vermouth
So what do all these boozes have in common? 

They can all be drunk neat as aperitifs and digestifs and added to cocktails and long drinks to help season, add balance and a healthy element - honestly! All started life as medicinal mediums to prevent, help with and cure ailments and diseases. They are great fun to create and play about with, especially when you start adding wild foraged ingredients. It's really quite liberating too, you have total control over the ingredients you collect and add. They all contain alcohol and are very effective at aiding the inebriation process.



I don't know about you but I'm now in want of a drink, cheers ;)



Recipe for making your own Wild Foraged Vermouth or Amaro: http://edible-leeds.blogspot.co.uk/p/alcoholic.html

Great article & information from Jason Irving about the 'Medicinal Roots of Cocktail Bitters: http://foragewildfood.com/2015/12/11/the-medicinal-roots-of-cocktail-bitters/

Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Winter Fungi & Smoked Fish Broth

A bout of winter illness has left me somewhat de-energised & lethargic but I managed to find the strength to make a soul nourishing, bone warming broth using some of Mondays fungi finds and various treats from my wild preserves larder (ok & some from the fridge too). Erring on the side of a 'dashi broth' this one packs in real some proper 'umami' (the 5th taste! - more about this later), as well as some easily accessible ingredients that are great for fighting the cold, restoring energy & boosting immunity. 


Recipe:

Smoked Fish
Velvet Shank
Jelly Ears
Turkey Tail
Onion
Garlic
Ginger
Sugar Kelp
Seaweed Powder
Mushroom Powder
Red Pepper
3 Cornered Garlic
Truffle Salt
1 Miso Sachet
Olive Oil
25g Unsalted Butter

Finely chop the onion & fry gently in a saucepan for 5-6 minutes. Add the finely chopped garlic, ginger, strips of dried sugar kelp & fresh or dried Velvet Shank fungi & cook gently for 3-4 minutes. Add the miso paste, approx 500ml boiling water and stir to mix. Add sliced Jelly Ear fungi, sliced red pepper, seaweed powder, mushroom powder & leave to simmer gently for 5 minutes. Add the smoked fish & butter & simmer another 5 minutes then remove from heat. Add truffle salt (or salt) to taste but be careful as the seaweed powder will be fairly salty and also the miso paste and some black pepper. Serve and add fresh raw velvets, raw red pepper slices and some fresh 3 cornered garlic to garnish. Enjoy.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Wanderlust - Wild & Wonderful Recipes & Experiments

As many of you will have seen in my previous post, 'Wanderlust Part 2', I was lucky to come home with a variety of extremely exciting, interesting and tasty ingredients, namely fungi & herbs. So what did I do with those delightful ingredients....

 First things first, cleaning. Wild fungi, true wild fungi that is, grow in the wild and there is soil, grit, woodland/grassland debris etc..., fact. Some fungi that you pick will be pretty much free from any debris but if it isn't, then a clean prior to cooking may be required - think fish n chips on the beach as a kid, mmmm, crunch, grains of sand, doesn't put you off eating them but you wish that you'd been a touch more careful when stepping over your portion to grab the ketchup! Once the fungi were of a standard of acceptable cleanliness, I set about grading and sorting them for the various roles I had in mind. What follows is a peek into those recipes/ideas.