Category Archives: Foraging for fruit

Family al fresco dining and a very full tart

Wales is well known for its high rain fall, so whenever we are blessed with a little window of sunshine we take the opportunity to soak up every last ray. That means we have been eating an awful lot of dinners on the patio (now that it’s finished) and doing much more al fresco entertaining. The experience is even better in the knowledge that much of the food on our plate is there growing around us and all we have to do is nip to the bottom of the garden to pull a few lettuce and rocket leaves for our salad, or to the hen-house to collect a few eggs for a tart. I don’t know about you? but I think free food tastes so much better!

a vegetable, ricotta, feta 'pie', salad and new potatoes

So at the tail end of the half term holidays I ended up with a couple of visiting (vegetarian) teenagers, the little one, and us (and no money left having been eaten out of house and home). I needed to use as many of these free resources as possible.  A Ottolenghi inspired tart / Quiche/ call it what you will (I called it a vegetable ‘pie’ because the teen doesn’t like Quiche!!) with a couple of hearty salads did the trick!

“Did you like it”? I inquired at the end of the meal…I noticed that the teenagers had all pushed their vegetables to the side of the plate, eating just the pastry and filling…

“It was nice, but I’m not keen on vegetables said Erin. I do like the pastry bit of Quiche though” she said with a smile.

“I thought you were vegetarian?” I asked

“I am” she replied bluntly.

My teen glared at me “Was that Quiche then?” she frowned. “You told me it was pie and you know I hate Quiche. Why do you always try to trick me?” .

I looked at her plate, she’d eaten the same amount as her friend. Once again her teenager logic left me lost for words.

A very full, Ottolenghi inspired pie (tart in disguise!!):

serves 6

1 red and 1 yellow pepper, 1 eggplant (aubergine), couple of small courgettes, 2 red onions, 2 bay leaves, a hand full of thyme sprigs, leaves picked from them, a handful of washed shredded spinach, chard or even kale whatever if ready to harvest, 150g ricotta and 120g feta cheese, a handful of cherry tomatoes, halved, 3 medium to large eggs, 200ml double cream, salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 230 degrees (gas mark 8). Chop peppers into 4 removing the stalk and seeds and chop the eggplant into largish chucks. Place in a roasting tin and toss in a little olive oil and salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the chopped and washed courgettes to the tin  and toss in the oil and return to the tin to the oven. Cook for a further 10 to 15 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked and the peppers are beginning to turn brown/blackish in places. Remove from the oven and allow peppers to cool a little before removing the skin and tearing into strips.

While the vegetables are roasting finely chop the onion and cook with the bay leaves and a pinch of salt on a medium heat, in a couple of tablespoons olive oil for about 20 minutes until turning soft and just golden brown. Set to one side.

Turn the oven down to 180 degress (gas mark 4). Line a 22-24cm loose bottomed greased tart tin with pastry (shortcrust pastry recipe below) so it just hangs over the rim, then line with baking paper / parchment and fill with baking beans. Bake blind for 30 minutes after about 20 minutes remove the paper and let it bake for a further 10 to 15 minutes until just turning golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Spread the base with cooked onion, roasted vegetables, herbs, shredded spinach and then scatter the cheeses and tomato halves on top. Whisk the eggs and cream together and add some salt and pepper. Pour carefully into the tart case adding a last sprinkle of thyme and then bake in the oven for about 30 minutes until cooked through and golden on top. Leave it to rest for a 10 minutes before removing from the tart tin and serving. I added a small handful of torn basil leaves to finish.

*Basic shortcrust pastry: The rule of thumb is equal parts flour to fat….so for this I used 200g Shipton Mill plain flour, a good pinch of Halen Mon sea salt, 100g Rachel’s dairy butter, 100g lard and enough cold water to bind into a dough.

Rub the fat into the flour and salt, then gradually add cold water a little at a time until the pastry just comes together into a ball. Do not over work the pastry as it will become dense. Wrap in cling film and rest in the fridge for at least 15 minutes before using.

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Gardening, farms, markets and wild dining

Unfortunately due to a lack of bookings, supper club didn’t take place this weekend. It’s a shame as I do look forward to it, but hey every cloud has a silver lining and the lack of supper club simply meant more time in the garden, pruning, digging, planting up the veg patch and thinking of new ways to use the free wild produce growing there.

purple sprouting

spring cabbages

last of the winter lettuces, amazingly survived the snow and the cold protected in the polytunnels

On Friday afternoon I’d already taken advantage of the sunny weather and extra time on my hands to spend an hour at Moelyci environmental centre with the little one, the teen and their mate. I’d originally popped in to see if their rhubarb was ready (which I wanted to use to make rhubarb and ginger jam for my produce stall at the Moelyci spring fair this Sunday 17th April) and by chance also got the opportunity to visit their six new residents. The teen was less than enthusiastic so in honour of her swinish behaviour we named one after her….the littlun had a whale of a time pig herding and chasing them round a rather muddy enclosure, but was very sad to learn that in due course we would be enjoying Moelyci bacon!

Aidan pig herding

Roisin the pig, named after the teen 🙂

My love of local produce doesn’t end at Moelyci and I spend lots of time hunting down new and exciting goodies. The markets (at Ysgol David Hughes on Anglesey and Conwy RSPB reserve) are a must, whether its to pick up some well-loved favourites or to hunt out something new, like the Rhyd y Delyn Caerphilly (not for sale yet but got myself a sample and its pretty damn yummy).

Derimon smokery
locally cultivated shiitake mushrooms

Back in the garden my wild garlic and sorrel patches expand every year, as do the nettles. While trying to keep them from creeping across the rest of the garden I also keep in mind that they are a very useful addition to the garden and a great free natural resource for cooking. Nettles are apparently high in iron and natural histamines and are a diuretic so good for detoxifying. They are probably the best free spring tonic you can get, although whether their histamine properties mean they ward off hay fever (which is just starting to kick in now the sun is out and the blossom is on the tress) I don’t know…but its worth a try! So off I went armed with a pair of thick gloves and a carrier bag to collect enough of the tips (it’s just the young tops that you want) for a big pot of soup. Today then on the menu was rhubarb, nettles and ramsons.

nettles and ramsons for the soup

For my nettle soup I melted 50g butter in a pan and sweated a large chopped onion, 2 sticks of celery and half a small head of fennel for about 10 minutes. I then added a large peeled and chopped potato (about 400g) half a carrier bag of nettle tops and a litre of chicken stock (but you could use vegetable stock) and allowed it to simmer for about 15 minutes until the potato was cooked. Once cooked I chucked in a small bunch of chopped wild garlic (ramsons) and salt and pepper then blitzed in the blender until smooth. Finally check the seasoning and add about 100ml cream. The soup has a light, delicate flavour, a bit like pea soup. I didn’t want to over do it with the wild garlic for fear of smothering the taste of the nettle (like a mild spinach) but you could add more if you wanted a stronger chivey sort of taste. All you need to enjoy is a sunny spot and maybe a glass of something cold.

creamy nettle and wild garlic soup

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Local food, foraging and an Autumn supper

One of the things I have noticed since I started hosting supper club is that I use the supermarket less and less…not just when sourcing for suppers but for all of my everyday purchases. Okay, there are some things I struggle to get elsewhere, or at least for a competative price, but the majority of the food that now enters my house is locally produced. As a result of this we as a family eat better, have great foodie contacts and are no longer drowing in a sea of plastic (since I stopped supermarket shopping my plastic recycling has been cut by two thirds). Carbon footprint successfully reduced!!

This weekend was the epitome of local. Hosting a harvest supper club made the most of everything local and seasonal…from the Nantmor wild mushrooms, to foraged blackberries and Bramley apples. Vegetables came from Moelyci as usual and extras from Hootons home grown in Anglesey…while over that way I bought sea salt from Halen Mon, arguably the best salt I’ve ever used and well worth the drive over (or the order on the internet). The chicken and dry cure bacon came from my usual Butcher Willams & son and the extras I used for experimenting with vegan dishes from a local whole food shop in Bangor.

We entertained a group of seven (one person was unable to join us on the night) with one vegan guest and two having travelled over from Chester (a good hour away!!) traeting them to five courses of hearty harvest fare.

The menu was as follows:

Margarita cocktails and Focaccia

Surprise Tatin with mixed leaves (another winning recipe from the Ottolenghi cookbook, although I changed the goats cheese for feta cheese on this occassion)

Chicken with dry cure bacon, wild mushrooms and marsala (a recipe I have made for supper club previously,  but since it is wild mushroom season I thought I’d reprise it)

Mushroom and Leek risotto (adapted from a recipe in an American Vegetarian book I was given years ago as a present called Fields of Greens) , buttered Kale

Blackberry and apple crumble with home made vanilla custard (the crumble was perked up with some mixed pumpkin and sesame seeds, pine nuts and flaked almonds and a hand full of rolled oats)

Local strong cheeses (Golau Glas, Caws from Rhyd y Delyn and Black Bomber) with apple chutney and spiced courgetter chutney) and coffee

Although we were entertaining a relatively small number, we ended up a bit stretched this time and I had a bit of a panic over the main course, which required me to have two sets of hands to keep everything stirred, turned and evenly cooked. The teen was still on crutches, leaving Sean to do the bulk of the running about,  but she bravely worked on (her choice, I did tell her she didn’t have to but her desire for pay outweighed the pain) and she did her best. She finally conked out after dessert, collapsing in a heap in the lounge upstairs.Pain got the better of her although I also wondered if the Margarita’s she’d mixed on the sly had contributed.

The Ottolenghi  tatin was amazing, even if I say so myself! I was so impressed at how well it turned out I had to take it out to show the guests. One said ‘wow, it looks fantastic’ and I replied ‘sorry, you can’t have it it’s not vegan’. She looked totally crestfallen, until I told her i’d made her some individual chick pea blinis with tomato and lime salsa which cheered her up again.

With the main course I realised that cooking too many things on the top of the stove at the same time was a monumental error. It almost led to the risotto spoiling, but mercifully with lots of shaking it stayed nice and wet and only stuck to the pan a tiny bit. I served the vegan portion before ladling in the butter, which added to the richness along with the wild chanterelles, shitake and chestnut mushrooms.

Dessert was a good old fashioned blackberry and apple crumble with some added nuts, seeds and oats in the crumble mix served with fresh vanilla custard. I wasn’t keen on using the vegan butter alternative. I’m sure it doesn’t taste as good and it feels like a bit of  cheat sometimes so I contacted Emma at Earth kitchen for some ideas on making vegan mousse, whips etc. She sent me a recipe for Anglesey Delight; a vegan, raw food dessert using coconut oil and Agave syrup as thickeners and sweeteners. I did a bit of experimenting and substituted slowly cooked blackberry and apple puree for her Avocado and Mango. The coconut oil, melted by warming in a bowl of hot water, whilst still in the jar, certainly thickened the fruit mixture and made a lovely smooth whip, but although it was nice tasting I thought the coconut overpowered the fruit taste too much. To tone it down I made a simple blackberry and apple compote and marbled the two together. I explained to our vegan guest that it was an experiment and if she wasn’t sure about it she could just have some compote. Thankfully she liked it. She liked the undertones of the coconut and said that it gave the dessert a creaminess that you obviously don’t get with a simple compote.

Later, while the others tucked into cheese (well those who still had enough room) Debbie, the vegan enjoyed her own little individual red pepper, almond and garlic pate.

Lessons learned. Don’t let the teen make Margaritas; don’t try and cook more than three things, on a four ring domestic cooker all at once and make sure any experimenting is done well in advance to avoid shredded nerves on the night!

cherry tomatos halved and ready for roasting

potatoes, tomatos, feta and fresh oregano layered and then covered with puff pastry

the cooked tatin

plating the tatins, with green mixed leaves and herbs and the vegan chickpea blinis with tomato lime salsa

plating chicken with dry cure bacon and wild mushrooms on risotto and kale

layering the blackberry and apple with crumble being sprinkled on

cooked and bubbling blackberry and apple crumble

our dinner guests enjoying dessert

The following day, instead of having a nice Sunday lie in, I was up bright and early and off to spend the day wild food foraging with Simon Maskrey, the Ray Mears of the Welsh Mountains. My hope was that in addition to spending a sunny day in the fresh air, I would learn more about edible wild plants and where to find them. In particular I wanted to learn more about wild mushroom habitats.

Anyone around these parts that likes food and foraging, and knows where to find wild mushrooms, especially chanterelles, tends to shroud their knowledge in a veil of secrecy! Dare to ask anyone where they get chanterelles and they will turn quickly away and tell you in no uncertain terms to go find your own patch. I have tried both stealth and innocence when attempting to ascertain the best location, “oh look at them, where did they come from then?” with an innocent look on my face usually has little success…so you can imagine my surprise when Rosie (one the other course attendees) happily chatted about the chanterelles she’d picked and when asked where she found them proceeded to give me the location of ‘her’ patch. I didn’t hint at my excitement. A little later Simon started to talk about mushroom foraging. He too explained that most people refuse to tell others about their secret locations. It was at this point that Rosie turned to look at me, the penny finally dropping as to what she had done. After staring long and hard she finally said “of course, you do realise I will have to kill you now”?

The course gave us the opportunity to find and pick a variety of edible wild plants, the type that I wouldn’t have usually thought of using and at the end of our collecting I made salad for my lunch. Most foragers are well aware of the usual finds; blackberries, damsons, plums, crab apples, sloes, ramsons (wild garlic) and even sorrel. But I always thought for example that yew berries were poisonous; it’s actually only the stone that’s poisonous, but to be honest I’d have to be desperate to want to eat them as they have the consistency of slug slime and snot. We did pick a variety of plants and herbs (sorrel, bitter cress, fat hen, chickweed and something I’ve forgotten the name of but it looks like a navel!!). We also found burdock (the root can be used in the autumn for dandelion and burdock and of course all parts of the dandelion can be used) and got very wet feed searching for wild mint but unfortunately found no edible wild mushrooms.

The most important lesson I learned was that the best time to pick plants is according to the growing season, for example, in the spring the plant puts its energy into producing new growth, therefore in the spring pick the fresh shoots and leaves, in the summer it’s the flowers and in the autumn and winter the fruit, berries and then roots.

Bitter cress

a sorrel leaf

The bizarely named 'fat hen'

navel wort

bitter cress in situ

foraged salad in he woods...with Moelyci tomatoes (the best toms I have EVER tasted)

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Summer dinners…finally the sun shone, the wine flowed and we all made merry

Slightly daunted by a double supper club weekend I thought I’d be well prepared and get going nice and early! Well…as they say, “see what thought did”?….There I was up to my elbows in summer fruit puree, the kitchen looking like it had seen a massacre, whence came a knock at the door. Still I remained transfixed by the task of fitting cut bread shapes soaked in fruit juice into pudding basins…that is until a group of my lovely girlfriends came shrieking into the kitchen clutching bottles of bubbly and wine. We looked at each other as a moment of silence descended, a fleeting moment of horror as Debs said…’you’ve forgotten’!!. She looked at the others ‘I knew she’d forget. She’s got supper club this weekend’..She looked awkward, not knowing where to sneak back out quietly. ‘Shall we go?’ she said. ‘NO’!! I almost shouted…’don’t go. Get that wine open, I won’t be a sec with these puddings. I need a social life that doesn’t just involve cooking and entertaining others…I need a drink!!’…..and so we drunk…and we drunk and more came and drunk too. It was a good night and a good send off for Debs who is moving off with her new beau to Pembrokeshire!! However, Saturday morning told another story. Facing supper club prep with a roaring hangover wasn’t the best way to begin the day, coupled with the fact that I had to go in to work for nine for a meeting almost finished me off.

So after fried tomatoes on toast, a pint of water, a strong coffee and two paracetamol I was raring to go (almost). The rest was against all odds, fairly relaxed. Surprisingly so. Summer Puddings made (for both Saturday and Sunday) using black currants, blackberries (collected during the week with the kids), strawberries and loganberries and amazing vanilla bean ice cream supplied by Mon ar Lwy on Anglesey safely tucked away in the freezer. The cheeses were collected from the Anglsey farmers market the previous weekend and included a smoked black bomber and smoked camembert from Derimon a Camembert with Samphire from Caws Rhyd y Delyn and Goats cheese from Y Cwt Caws.

Once i’d returned from work I got on preparing the tomatoes for long slow roasting. I used several varieties (they have grown 15 different types at Moelyci this season) of yellow plum and vine tomatoes. They were de-seaded and coated in finely chopped basil, garlic and sea salt. Placed in a single layer in a roasting tin cut side up, which was a quarter filled with good olive oil. They were then roasted on gas marl 1 for about 4 hours. What emerged was akin to the kind of semi-dried tomatoes you get in oil in jars, but much tastier. These were served with a mixed leaf salad, with honey roasted baby beets and goats cheese pearls.

The next job was to get to grips with Nessie mark two….caught by the same person as the salmon for our previous dinner, but this time twice the size!! A ten pound wild river salmon, line caught and too big to fit in the fridge!! It arrived on the Saturday night, a week before our two dinners. It had to be gutted, scaled and filleted there and then and then packed ready for the freezer…trust me, no easy job!! Anyway the task was manfully completed by poor old Sean, who like me is beginning to wonder if life consists of anything more than late night fish filleting, veg chopping, chutney making and washing up!!

The salmon was brought out of the freezer for defrosting on Thursday and by Saturday was ready to become fish Wellington. Having skinned and removed as many bones as possible with a small pair of pliers it was wrapped in good quality all butter puff pastry (I cheated and didn’t even attempt to make my own) on a creamy mousse made from smoked salmon (from Derimon again), chopped tarragon, lime zest and cream cheese). This was served with Highland Burgundy red potatoes, thinly sliced on my mandolin, tossed in rapeseed oil, salt and pepper and roasted until just starting to crisp and a stir fried hot salad of mixed beans, red onion, mustard seeds, chilli, lemon zest, chives and rhubarb chard (very Ottolenghi!! My new purchase is inspiring many experiments).

To finish we had the summer pudding with vanilla pod ice-cream followed by cheese, chutney and coffee.

On the Saturday night we entertained eight, seated round one big table. I was a little nervous because I hadn’t been seating guests like this, but the conversation flowed and everyone appeared to enjoy the set-up…definately doing it that way in future. The main course was plated and the fish Wellington were prepared individually…

Nessie mark two...being skinned and filleted

a very beautiful fish

Fresh produce from Moelyci

 

The veg was about as local as it could be…most from Moelyci being a mile and a half from my house and the potatoes from Village veg in Waunfawr. Most was harvested the day it was due to be eaten, or the day before.

beautiful colours of the different varieties of tomato, coated in basil, garlic and sea salt

the amazing Highland Burgundy red potatoes....red in and out

the calm before the storm

starters

one plated main course...salmon wellington, with beans and potatoes

summer pudding

happy diners!

Day two began with a mountain of laundry…thankfully the sun shone and we were able to dry some on the washing line and the rest draped over the banisters. We were quite blase by now; having cooked everything once over I now had the timings sorted (every dish, except the summer pudding which I’ve made a hundred times, was a new creation) so apart from the laundry we had a fairly relaxed morning.  The procedure was the same as the day before, tomatoes in to roast, prepare the salmon, prepare the veg…I was surprised at the simplicity of it all!!….Does it all sound too good to be true? Well it is….it was all going so well until I got carried away with Nessie. I’d decided to do a whole salmon for the private party on Sunday…well one thing led to another and Nessie became a comedy fish, that would then not fit on any baking trays…or into my pathetically small oven. Nessies tail trailed over the side and began to look worryingly limp…we then wedged the baking tray on a slant to save the tail but discovered when cooking was finished that Nessie had slid down and her nose was stuck to the side of the oven. After what amounted to a surgical procedure Nessie came out (virtually) unscathed.

Our party, a group celebrating the Ruby wedding anniversary of their parents, were blissfully unaware of the fishy drama in the kitchen as they happily supped champagne cocktails and tucked into their starters (which this time included courgette flowers fritters in a light tempura batter)

Nessie the comedy fish: too big for the tray

more tomatos...they are just too pretty not to photograph

a selection of red foods...for the Ruby wedding anniversary theme

tables set...just need the guests...oh yes they are drinking G&T's on the decking, two doors down...I can see then from my front window

plated starters all ready to go

Mum and Dad Oliver this end, celebrating their Ruby wedding anniversary

summer pudding part two

opening the Champagne

the end of the night

A good night was had by all and we could barely believe it when we looked at the clock and it said 12.20!! I consumed more than my usual quota of wine and champagne and rolled into bed sometime after one thirty ready for a good sleep….so what did we do on bank holiday Monday to recover?…….

Bliss......swimming, kayaking and a bit of fishing...

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Menu for the 28th, British summer supper

Don’t forget our next supper will be held on August 28th and there are still spaces, but filling fast now, so if you’d like to join us please let me know ASAP by the usual method (email or txt)…the full menu for our British summer dinner will be

Pimms by the jug full

Slow roasted plum tomatos with mixed leaves, basil, garlic and goats cheese pearls

Wild salmon wellington with french violette and borlotto beans, rhubarb chard, chilli, chives, lemon and mustard seeds

Summer pudding

Local cheeses, home made chutney and crackers

Coffee

All the fruit and veg are from local growers and most will be harvested on the day of eating…cant get fresher than that!!

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The best accompaniment for Sloes is gin!!

You may have been wondering (if you were bored for a few seconds) what happened to all that lovely foraged fruit that I collected the other week. Well, its all been put to very good use. You may remember we collected damsons, elderberries, blackberries and sloes.

Well, I’ve been harping on about the damsons ad infinitum and you are probably heartily sick of hearing about the damson fool we  lived off for three weeks (not the same one, I just made it rather a lot). Believe it or not I still had damsons leftover which I’ve been slowly ploughing through. Those not frowzen for the winter months  (when we most need an edible reminder of summer and a bit of extra Vitamin C) were mixed with vodka and left to steep.

Freezer full of Damsons and Blackberries

Freezer full of Damsons and Blackberries

As for the Sloe’s, in my opinion there IS only one thing you can do with them…. it has to be Sloe gin, dark, syrupy sweet, goes down like fruit juice and satisfyingly lethal! I have to admit my sister and I got through a whole bottle on Boxing Day last Christmas (not a whole litre bottle Ok, although i’m sure we could have done that with ease; it was the size of a half bottle so not that bad). We had a very happy day, but as we nursed our hangovers the next morning we stared sorrowfully (through our dark glasses) at the empty bottle and wished we’d saved some for the rest of the festive period, it was just too good not to drink. Oh well, we learn’t our lesson, make double next time!!! Sloe gin for Christmas: 2lb (900g) fruit to 2 pints (1.2litres) spirits (it doesn’t have to be the best gin, as the fruit will flavour it beautifully) to 1lb (450g) sugar….or thereabouts.

I’m none too careful with my measuring when it comes to Sloe gin. I prick any firm fruit with a needle or try and crush them a little then feed into a clean demi-john or very large preserving jar and top up with gin. Either cork the top with a tight fitting bung, screw on a lid and give it a bit of a shake so the sugar, fruit and gin is mixed. Leave in a cool dark place for as many months as you can before the urge to start drinking it takes over. If you make it now it will definately be ready in time for Christmas. Every week or so give it a turn and a little shake as the sugar will settle on the bottom. When its ready strain the gin into clean bottles and cork. The recipe tells me that the flavour gets better with keeping, but I’ve never been able to keep mine for more than a few weeks. I really must try and develop some willpower. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the same luck with my Elderberry syrup. Once the fruit was prepared and in the pan cooking I noticed an odd, slightly nausea inducing aroma. It took me a while but I finally worked out, that it reminded me of that Henna powder I used to get from the local ‘Head’ shop when I was a hippy teenager. With sugar added it was no better, I tried to taste it a few times to see if I could convince myself that I liked it, but alas I feel the experiment failed. I haven’t wasted it though, its bottled in the fridge and due to be recycled in an apple and elderberry chutney…surely the addition of chilli, onion etc will stop it smelling like hippy hair dye!The evil, nausea inducing, Elderberries

Demijohn with Sloe's, sugar and half topped up with gin