There’s not better topping for pasta than fresh pesto, it’s a whole lot better than the stuff you get in jars that the Italians call ‘dead pesto’. Unfortunately, it can be a hassle to make and tends to only last for a few days in the fridge, and you hardly want to eat it for several days in a row… A great tip is to make a quantity of fresh pesto (or any intense pasta sauce) and put it into an ice cube tray. When it’s frozen, pop the cubes out and keep them in a plastic bag. When you need one, take it out of the freezer and throw it in the still warm cooked pasta. Stir round the pan a little to help it melt, and voila, fresh pesto in no time at all! The flavour is retained by freezing, and you can toss in as many portions as you require. Continue reading
There’s an obvious factor that discourages most people from snacking on nettles, but be assured; once cooked, the sting has gone and all that remains is a pleasant spinach like vegetable rich in vitamins and taste. Spring is the best time to pick nettles when the new growth has appeared, so they make an ideal pairing with the wild garlic that appears around the same time. Much of the wild garlic will be getting a little old now (try to avoid flowering plants), but if you reach through the large outer leaves you’ll find some small young leaves that are perfect. Continue reading
I feel somewhat guilty about calling this ‘wild’ mushroom sauce, having read Mark Williams post on his excellent and informative site Galloway Wild Foods about restaurants habitually claiming any remotely unusual mushroom ingredient to be ‘wild’ when they are no more wild than than a punnet of mushrooms from the local supermarket. I accept it entirely – I’m only adding on the wild bit because it sounds better than ‘mushroom and madeira sauce’. Shameless really, though I do recommend if you can actually find some wild mushrooms this autumn then use them instead of the shitake. I tried it with dried porcini but they took over the flavour too much, which is a shame as then I could have legitimately called it wild mushroom sauce…
Anyway, guilt aside, it’s a lovely rich yet light (is that possible?) sauce that would go fabulously with lamb or as a gravy for a vegetarian sunday roast. This recipe is dedicated to @moretomushrooms and their hard work throughout October, the month of mushrooms!
1 finely chopped shallot
1/2 finely chopped carrot
same volume of finely chopped celery
small cube of butter and 2tsp olive oil
1tsp sea salt
1 tbsp worcester sauce (vegetarian and gluten free version if needed)
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
500ml vegetable stock
1.5 tbsp cider vinegar
2 bay leaves
2 ‘sprigs’ of sage
200g shitake mushrooms (wild looking ones)
butter and olive oil
salt and pepper
juice of one lemon
100ml of madeira
1 tsp of cornflour
2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
- Mix madeira and cornflour thoroughly and set aside.
- Lightly saute first 5 ingredients in small saucepan for 10 minutes
- Add stock, worcester sauce, balsamic vinegar, sage and bay leaves.
- Cook mixture until reduced by 1/3, add cider vinegar, continue to cook for 5 minutes
- Meanwhile, tear shitake mushrooms into 3 pieces per mushroom,
- Heat small cube of butter and olive oil in pan then add the mushrooms. cook for 5 minutes, turning only a couple of times.
- Add salt and pepper to taste, squeeze of lemon juice, then add the reduced stock, and the madeira/cornflour mix, check and adjust seasoning.
- Add parsley just before serving and stir. Serve with lamb or roasted portabello mushrooms.
Foraging can be a journey of delight and disappointment – my highlights include finding a glut of field mushrooms on my doorstep (literally, I trip over them when I leave the house), while 2 hours of fruitlessly pouring salt into razor clam burrows in force 9 gales on Padstow beach is a memorable low point. But over time, just an awareness that there is food all around can introduce you to a world of free gastronomic delights straight from the source.
The act of ‘foraging’ is something that appeals to some and repels others. The term itself is hardly inspiring, it conjures up images of someone frantically looking through a drawer for batteries or perhaps a misplaced safety pin. For me, as for many, the interest started with the gift of the book ‘Food for Free’ by Richard Mabey. This is a great book that will not only give you the means, but also the motivation to find those hidden treats all around us – and with honest appraisals of the culinary potential for each. The book is broken down by season, and also gives you a general idea of the kind of locations to look in. There is a great section on mushrooms too showing the main European mushrooms of choice, together with any potential opportunities for an upset stomach or early demise.
Rock Samphire & Watercress
Autumn is perhaps the peak time for foraging as the mushroom season comes into full swing. Mushroom hunting in the UK and USA is much less popular than in many European countries where it is fundamental to the cuisine of the country. In France, all chemists offer the service of identifying collected wild mushrooms, and the incredible Italian white truffles exchange hands for huge amounts of money in the November auction in Alba. Admittedly there are higher numbers of fungus poisonings in these countries, but these are often due to tourists seeing locals picking mushrooms and trying their hand themselves. If you try to use three guides to identify your mushrooms, stick to the easily identifiable (most of these make the best eating anyway) and don’t eat it if you’re in any doubt, then you’ll be fine. I use Richard Mabey’s book, the highly entertaining River Cottage mushroom handbook, and the very detailed online Rogers Mushrooms guide (the latter can be a little overwhelming; usually I manage to narrow my find down to about 40 potential species).
So, in the interest of spreading interest in this joyous pastime, I have produced a public map on Google maps showing my most interesting finds and the exact locations for each. I’ll continue to update this, and as it’s public, I’m hoping that others will do the same. This may be tantamount to asking people to tell everyone where they keep their pot of gold, and I hope that others will use the maps for general interest rather than financial gain, but I think that a renewed interest in this subject could help not only to broaden peoples attitudes to wild food, but also provoke action to protect the habitats of these increasingly rare finds.
Click Here to view ‘Alifeinfood.com Wild Food Locations’
in Google Maps and add your own locations.
My philosophy is that you benefit most from supplementing your diet with choice wild food, rather than existing entirely from it, Ray Mears style. There are numerous foods that can be found in the wild that can be eaten, but relatively few of them are actually worth seeking out – familiarise yourself with the best, try to be on the lookout at all times rather than setting out to find them, and you’ll get great enjoyment (and even save yourself some money). From common grocery items (e.g. thyme, rocket, fennel, mint) to items not out of place on Michellin starred menus (chanterelle mushrooms, porcini, samphire), there is much to be found. For mushrooms, my tip is to look in car parks. They always seem to have the best ones (all the mushroom photos on this page are from car parks), and are most ignored. You might not have too much luck in multi-storeys though…
Twitter: @foragerltd, @markwildfood, @WildMushroomMan
Also, a general Google search will likely bring up foraging courses in your area.
Early August sloes abound in the South West of England, but if you’re looking to make sloe gin, you’ll need to wait until September or ideally after the first frost…
No-one can forget their first taste of sloe gin – glistening scarlet, sweet and sticky, usually proferred with great ceremony by a proud host or hostess and rarely limited to a single glass…
Traditional wisdom states that sloes should be only be picked in October or November, after they have been softened by the first frost and are truly ‘ripe’ (though I defy anyone to eat one straight from the tree without pulling a face like an angry baby and spitooning it skywards after the first bite).
But this is something of a cache 22 – to wait for the best fruit results in the smallest harvest, as the birds and squirrels are less particular about the sourness of these plump little berries. The Cottage Smallholder tried an excellent experiment a few years ago (article here), and found that although the post-frost October berries produced the best, a compromise can be had by picking in September and freezing overnight to simulate the effects of a frost. Alternatively, pick them at different times, and treat yourself to the ‘Finest Reserve’ sloe gin some time in early December (go on, it never lasts beyond Christmas anyway).