Tag Archives: wild food

Incredible edible hedgerows

All kinds of interesting jars decorate the table on arrival

I have to say I love meeting other foodies…and I especially love meeting foodies who have the same philosophy as me, so when I went to visit Jules Cooper at her 17th century cottage and six and a half-acre small holding last week, I knew I’d discovered a kindred spirit.

Although we’d never met, Jules welcomed me in to her home with open arms. It soon became clear as we chatted over a pot of steaming coffee and home-made chocolate brownies that she is the kind of person who would be happy to welcome anyone and everyone that shares an enthusiasm for nature and food. It’s an opportunity for her to share her ideas and passion and talk about her mission. Yep that’s right, Jules is definitely a woman with a mission…and one that I wholeheartedly support; that is to reconnect people with nature.

There are important reasons why people should reconnect with their surroundings and Jules’s mission is primarily about education (or perhaps re-education). Talking about why it is important to buy local produce is one thing, but encouraging and enthusing people to grow their own, as well as reviving the old skills of preserving and making the most of what nature provides us with, in the form of fruit from our native hedgerows is quite a challenge.

Amazing medlars...a fruit that looks like a cross between an apple and rosehip...but Jules's were huge!!

But it shouldn’t be and these days a return to using native seasonal produce is a band wagon that TV chefs are jumping on left right and centre. For Jules though this love for wild and native foods is not a new thing, in fact its been a big part of  her life since she was a child. I empathise with that and often have conversations with my mum about how granddad picked wild horseradish from across the field and I have plenty of my own memories of blackberrying and apple scrumping.

In today’s unstable economy where the cost of living is rising (almost daily!) and families everywhere are struggling to make ends meet, a return to a more sustainable way of life makes sense. If everyone took this approach then our native British produce and hedgerows would not be dying out. I can hardly believe that 90% of cherries in the shops are imported from overseas. Watery and insipid they are not a patch on the fruit from the Kentish cherry tree that grows in my mum’s garden. While we in Wales may struggle with cherry growing, we certainly have the climate to grow a variety of apples, pears, plums, damsons (to name a few).

As Jules and I took a wander around her land it was easy to imagine her vision; a fully self-sufficient small holding, with vegetables grown to permaculture principles, thousands of mature native fruit trees and shrubs and healthy well-developed hedgerows.  Although she is only 1 year into her 10 year plan things are already taking shape; a multitude of edible and medicinal fruit trees and shrubs have been planted, as has a long willow shelter belt to protect the garden from the wind along with red alder to make sure nutrients are retained in the soil.  The first of her raised beds are in situ and behind all this is what appears to be a very large hole! Eventually, Jules assures me, it will become a natural swimming pool planted with a variety of edible plants.

Grafting pear tree stock onto Hawthorn...they are part of the same family

hens roam free...rare breed silkies amongst them

Indian runner ducks

first of the raised beds

protective willow band behind which is the beginnings of the edible swimming pool and the hill where the forest garden will one day be

There is also a growing interest in her method of preserving fruit in the form of fruit leathers. Fruit leathers are 100% preserved fruit with nothing added. As we passed the  400 year old hedgerows that border her garden, laden with wild plums, sloes, blackberries, hawthorn, wild cherry and gorse (yes you can make things with gorse!!) she told me how the making of fruit leathers is an old skill; more common in hot mediterranean, African, middle eastern countries where the sun does the job naturally. Back here in Wales Jules uses a dehydrater which dries fruit mixtures to produce these flat, highly transportable fruit strips. Imagine the fruit winders you get in the supermarket but with more flavour and no added crap. They are perfect for sticking in a lunch-box, or taking on a walk or hike and universally popular with the kids who seem much braver than adults at trying these things. Jules suggested another good use is to infuse in hot water to make a fruity drink. They also get better the longer they are left as their natural flavours seem to develop and mature.

Jules showing me her fruit leathers...looking beautiful as the sun catches their natural colours

apple fruit leather inset with stars of raspberry I think it was

As we sat around the table we played a game of guessing what each strip was. Some flavours hit me immediately; Bramley apple, pear and cinnamon, while others were extremely subtle like the sloe and apple, which wasn’t ask sharp as I thought it would be. Then there were those fruits with a subtle undertone of ginger, cinnamon or star anise. Not immediately obvious, but just enough to accentuate the fruit flavours.

I left Corn Helyg inspired clutching samples to try at home and very much looking forward to seeing how the venture pans out. Jules has already been approached to give talks and demonstrations plus she will be running stalls at various events promoting her business and handing out tasters of those fabulous fruit leathers. Hopefully she will go from strength to strength, encouraging and inspiring people to start growing again, even if it’s just one or two edible plants in a small pot on a windowsill.

On my return home I tried out my samples on my nine-year old gastro-kid who declared them all delicious, even the unusual sloe and apple, before relaxing with a hot toddy of Bramley apple and cinnamon.

If you are interested in what Jules is doing at Corn Helyg you can drop her a line at jules@cornhelyg-permaculture.co.uk or give her a call on 01407 731 115. I’m sure she would be happy to share her coffee, brownies and ideas with you too.

Denise x

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Annual fungi foray-Sunday 3rd October

For anyone that likes to forage and fancies a day out (hopefully in the sun) I can recommend the annual fungi foray at Moelyci….I will be heading down there with kids in tow in the hope of finding some interesting edible fungi, and with experts on hand to aid identification I aim to improve my spotting skills and educate the kids about what is and isn’t safe to pick!!…Come along…bring the family…and a basket for your finds. Starts 2pm

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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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