This city girl put on her Hunter boots and went foraging! It was pretty swell (especially since I didn’t have to leave London’s city limits) and I worked alongside a fantastic man, Chris Bax who leads foraging groups and cooking courses at Taste the Wild (www.tastethewild.co.uk), not too far from where I cook grouse up in North Yorkshire. He was terrifically generous in sharing his time and knowledge with me and you’ll see just how enthusiastic he is about all of this if you watch my latest spot on the Today Bites website: http://bites.today.com/_news/2012/11/19/15284995-go-back-to-the-roots-of-thanksgiving-with-a-foraged-feast?lite
Sadly, I only had 3 1/2 minutes of time for my piece so I’ve gone through the footage and pulled out some of the other interesting ingredients we found while roaming around Hackney Marshes. If I can do it you can too!
Fat Hen – This plant is from the quinoa family. Named so because it used to be fed to hens to fatten them up. Likes to grow in disturbed ground and is highly salt tolerant so it’s often found near the sea. It’s a lovely green that can be used much like spinach but it doesn’t go completely soft and mushy. It’s more robust and maintains a nice bite. Just steam it with a knob of butter. All of it is edible except the woody stalk.
Mallow – This green is used in soup called Molohkia that’s served from Turkey throughout the Middle East and Mediterranean. Evidence of its use goes back as far as the ancient Egyptians! If you break open the leaves it’s sort of slimy but this is the beauty of it – this causes the soup to thicken, sort of a cornstarch effect.
Mugwort – No, it’s not a character from Harry Potter, it’s an aromatic herb with a slight menthol flavor. It’s related to tarragon, hence the slight aniseedy, menthol aroma that’s released when you rub it between your hands. Chris thought this would be a really nice addition to my Thanksgiving turkey this year. Traditionally it’s been served with roast goose as it’s flavor cuts through the richness of these holiday birds.
Hogweed Seed – Chris brought me a small jar of this seed that he’d dried so that I can try it in my pumpkin pie in a couple of weeks. It has a cardamom quality and I’ll be grinding it into my sugar with a mortar and pestle and adding it to my pumpkin filling. It would be lovely and subtle infused into cream for either ice cream or a panna cotta. Let your imagination run wild!
Rowan Jelly – Another gift from Chris! This jelly was made from the leaves of Mountain Ash trees. This is a hearty tree often planted in cities because of it’s ability to withstand abuse. It’s got a tart, quince like quality that would be delicious with blue cheese or game. Just stew the leaves and use pectin to set (or you could use crab apples).
Pontack Sauce – I will be making this sauce next elderberry season! It’s almost like a catsup as far as consistency but the taste is so incredibly intense. This is a classic British recipe named after the first French restaurant in London during the 17th century. Combine elderberries, vinegar and spice and then let mature for at least two months. They used to lay down jars of this like a fine wine! It’s delicious and so unique!