A day in the Curious Kitchen with Bluebells, and AWESOME WEATHER!

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May 10th 2014 Saturday dawned dry and bright. YES!!!!, we are going to get away with it we thought.  One sunny dry day in our outdoor kitchen, what a treat! Needless to say, by 11.15 am the clouds were black, rolling and slightly ominous. By 11.25 it was spitting all be it sideways with the gusty winds, only to blow over and spare us for a little while longer. The coat rack flew across the curious kitchen space depositing coats everywhere, but for now at least, we were dry and warm and excited to get our day moving. All of our guests were friends – a group of 9 women who mostly hadn’t seen or heard from each other for between 4-5 years, with a couple of exceptions. They had arranged to come to the curious kitchen at the invitation of Kay, who was over visiting from California, having emigrated over 10 years ago. We started off with a wander through the bluebells and a forage…………it was deceptively warm and dry, and the girls were able to have a good catch up whilst decapitating stinging nettles for our wild soup, bending double to snip at wild wood sorrel and uprooting swathes of garlic mustard… we finished off with a visit to the allotment for lovage and rhubarb and the pond for wild garlic for our tear and share focaccia bread. Simon shared our mission for the day, the food that we would be preparing together and the feast that we would all create at the end of the day.  We all checked in and were invited to share a food fact, Simon loves this part, he describes it as the gold and uses it as his crazy skill/food fact to design a dish for each participant over the coming weeks. There were many elements to the day, a fresh warm lemon ricotta cake from Niamh and Lucy using the freshest homemade ricotta infused with lemon made that day in the curious kitchen by all the group; fresh bread dough was kneaded, pasta dough lovingly massaged along with our shoulders and kissed before being transformed into the lightest linguine, Simon describes it as eating clouds; salad dressings created; cream whipped; herbs chopped, nettle soup made with a beautiful chickweed pakora and wearing nettle proof gloves of course, but the highlight was the 4 kg of live American signal crayfish nestling in the fridge unknowingly awaiting their fate………. These little beauties were introduced into our native rivers in 1976 in response to our native crayfish contracting crayfish plague. It was not known then that the Americans were carriers of that disease – and to our European white claw crayfish, this disease is generally fatal. It comes as no surprise then that stocks have to be managed, and if you catch these little creatures, it is an offence to reintroduce them to the rivers, so by eating them, we are helping our native conservationism – whew, that feels good! They were duly dispatched, humanely of course and became a tasty crayfish, chilli and garlic sauce for our linguine – delicious! (But a footnote here – 4kg is a lot of creatures, but once shelled and their tails harvested, there isn’t a lot of meat, I would suggest 1/2KG per person unless you can get some meat from the claws.) It was very special to be a part of the girls’ friendship group for the day. Despite not having seen each other for ages, it was clear that they all had a special bond, which was amplified by the surroundings and the shared actions of creating a meal together. Just before we ate, the weather really upped the ante and squalling rain flew horizontally round the marquee; several jackets flew past the cooker (now bearing pans of boiling oil) only to land in the sink at the other end of the tent! Simon’s notes went up in flames as they hurtled past, and Barbara’s recipe pack now decorates the third wild cherry tree from the edge of the field! None of this bothered us, we were cosy in the marquee with the heaters on, soon to sample the day’s wares. The day as usual culminated in the a delicious 3 course meal being shared in Sue and Simon’s twinkly yurt, with more secrets shared, good-natured gossip and banter delivered and a lovely closure for our day. A different HK event, but one which worked really well with a group of friends. Quotes of the day….. “This is the most fun I’ve had without alcohol!” “Sophie, you are treading on the Pasta!” “Jessica, what is it doing on the floor!!!?” And a little foraging story we found on the internet. Nature’s Superfood on your doorstep In days gone by, wild foods were all we had, that used to be staple diet necessary for human health and survival. Often full of natural medicinal benefits, wild foods often saved lives in times of famine, war and ill health. It’s a little bizarre to contemplate how radically removed from nature we have actually become. As intensive farming methods and consumerism came into being, our general attunement to nature fell away, and our knowledge thereof has somewhat dwindled.

 Increasing food prices, uncertain times of global change and decreasing food availability has invited more and more people to contemplate alternative ways of finding food by foraging. Not forgetting of course, the huge waves of people, like myself, who simply feel that eating wild plant food is one of the most vibrational raising ways to reconnect with nature. For me personally, none greater is the joy of sitting down to share a meal brimming with natures super food. Sensitively foraging for wild foods can help foster a much more sustainable way of life. Wild foods require no packaging; cause no pollution due to far off transportation (food miles) and they certainly don’t require the harmful, man made chemicals that seem to be endemic in today’s world… Full of nutritional goodness Most, if not all, wild edible foods are packed full of vitamins and minerals that far surpass any cultivated varieties of fruit and vegetables. We often pay a high cost for vitamins, minerals and superfoods from around the world, yet most of us don’t realise that nature’s superfood is brimming on our doorstep without ever having to spend a penny. People often find that they need to consume much smaller amounts of wild food than they would compared to regular commercially grown alternatives. One reason for this is the fact that the nutritional content is so high. Finding out what’s available in your locality I’ve posted information about 12 of my favourite wild foods below. If you are about to embark on an exploration of foraging, I would highly recommend finding a good book on the subject, or if possible attending a workshop or course. Nothing beats the guidance from a local foraging enthusiast who can show you a myriad of delicious free goodies in your own area. The internet is full of images and information if you would like to learn about individual species. Make sure you know what you are eating and if in doubt, don’t eat it. Whilst there are so many amazing foods in nature well worth of our respectful attention, there are also poisonous plants out there. Plenty of species are familiar to most of us, such as nettles, blackberries and dandelions – these are a great place to start. There is also a wide variety of flavours to excite the taste buds. The important thing is to explore. Some foods are better eaten raw, whilst others bring out the gourmet element when cooked as part of a dish. Sustainable, respectful foraging With the highest respect for nature and sustainability, I recommend the following guidelines when foraging: Only pick the species that are growing in abundance and only the amount that you require. Foraging ceases to be sustainable when people start stripping areas bare. Different countries have their own foraging laws, if you are concerned about this, then do a web search for your own area. In the UK for example, the 1981 Wildlife and Countryside Act determined it illegal to uproot any wild plant without the permission of the owner or occupier of the land and that it is also illegal to pick, uproot, collect the seed from, or sell any particularly rare or vulnerable species. Don’t destroy the surrounding species or disturb the homes/nests of any animals. I would also advise against picking food from near a road or that which is on ground using pesticides or chemicals. Plants at ground level by the side of path are also best left alone, especially if dogs are known to walk in the area. Avoid foraging from places where it may be possible that weed controlling chemicals may have been used. Most of all enjoy!!! 12 wild foods to forage in a temperate climate I’ve drawn up a list of 12 foods that are easy to recognise and harvest. Bear in mind that these are found in abundance in temperate climates, especially my own country Britain. If you live in the tropics and sub-tropics, then you have access to a whole different and exciting bounty of fruits and leaves. DANDELIONS (Taraxacum) are amazing wild flowers of which every part is edible. They generally have a bitter taste and the leaves are best eaten raw when the leaves are young, although cooking does generally remove that bitterness. You can eat the roots too. The roots are most commonly dried and ground, which make an excellent, convincing coffee substitute. Dandelions offer an abundance of nutrients, especially vitamins A, K, C & E and the minerals calcium, iron and manganese. Medicinally, dandelions are known to act as a diuretic, helping with liver, urinary and kidney disorders. It’s an excellent tonic and the dried leaves make an excellent all year round tea infusion. SORREL (Rumex family) is a wild plant that can be found readily in temperate zones. It has a tart, lemony flavour and is a much welcomed source of vitamin C and iron. It is said to be a common ingredient in dishes in Romania, Russia and Hungary, featuring in salads, stews and soups. It is still best eaten in moderation, due to the high levels of oxalic acid. GOOD KING HENRY (Blitum bonus-henricus) is an amazing wild food that has fallen of the radar for most discerning health enthusiasts. It used to be grown as a vegetable in cottage gardens, although you are much more likely to find it growing in the wild as a ‘weed’ these days. You can cut the shoots off and use them like asparagus. The leaves make a great addition to a salad or substitute for spinach. The one thing I absolutely love about Good King Henry, is that you can harvest the seeds just like you can with quinoa, providing a highly nutritious source of protein goodness. Simply soak them over night, then rinse and remove the saponins to use like you would quinoa. HAWTHORN leaves are edible when they first start growing in the spring, becoming more woody and less palatable as they mature. I love munching fresh hawthorn leaves on my walks in the country lanes here in England. A word of caution about hawthorn berries though… be careful! The berries are commonly used to make jelly due to their high pectin content. HOWEVER, DO NOT EAT THE SEEDS! The seeds contain cyanide (as do quite a few fruits, that we don’t generally consume the seeds for, like apples, peaches and apricots). I avoid the berries for this reason, unless I am certain that I can remove the seeds effectively with a fine sieve. CHICKWEED (Stellaria media) I just have to mention this plentiful little star that seems to make itself at home wherever it can. The tender, little tear-shaped leaves usually grow all year round and make a nice vibrant, grassy tasting addition to raw salad. It’s an effective topical remedy for itchy skin including insect bites. Chickweed also has a good reputation for soothing inflamed membrane in the throat, lungs, stomach etc. The spring and summer brings out adorable little star shaped white flowers. These too are edible. For information on how to identify chickweed click here: How to identify chickweed WILD GARLIC (Ramsons – Allium ursinum) is a spring time foraging speciality in Europe and Asia. This is a welcome addition to the salad table at a time of year when other greens are often lacking. The wild garlic I am talking about here is Allium ursinum also know as ‘ramsons’. I use the leaves in abundance, making wild garlic pesto and adding them to salad, soups and other dishes. The white pretty flowers and bulbs are also edible. There are other related Allium varieties well worth checking out, such as Allium vineale (known as “crow garlic”) more commonly found in North America and Australia or three-cornered leek (Allium triquetrum) with its triangular stems and white bell flowers, commonly found in the South-West of England. BURDOCK (Arctium) used to be a common food in the olden days, although it has fallen off the culinary landscape as people have gone for mass cultivated plant foods instead. This is a massive plant that can be found growing wild in many parts of the world. I often see it growing in the country lanes here in the UK. If you enjoy hiking in the countryside, then you might recognise burdock through the velcro-like burrs (ball type seed pods) that stick to your clothes. The seeds are said to contain very beneficial medicinal properties and have an excellent reputation by herbalists as a blood purifier with it’s diuretic abilities. Burdock is also said to help relieve swelling, arthritis, snake bites, heavy metal poisoning and major skin problems. The roots are thick and carrot like (also known as ‘gobo’ in Japan) and can be used as a root vegetable. ELDERFLOWERS (from the Sambucus nigra tree) shower us with a refreshingly gentle, fragrant scent from late spring for a few weeks. The flowers make a great herb tea or elderflower cordial. Elderflower is a good remedy for catarrh inflammations such as hayfever, sinusitis and coughs. I used this last spring, infused in hot water as a tea for the first time after suddenly developing hayfever type symptoms and watery eyes. It worked with good effect. Elderflowers also have pleasantly relaxing properties, which make it a good choice if you are stressed. ELDERBERRIES (from the Sambucus nigra tree) vary in taste from place to place and make a frequent appearance in jellies and wine. They adorn Elder trees after flowering. It is important to note that whilst the berry pulp and skin is edible, the seeds in the berries are poisonous. So care must be taken to thoroughly sieve them out before using. They are high in vitamin C and are an invaluable resource for any discerning forager. YARROW (Achillea millefolium) is a small feathery plant that grows little white flowers. It is found just about everywhere in the Northern Hemisphere. It was traditionally used as a wound healing herb, given its effectiveness at clotting blood. This is worth remembering if you are out hiking and cut yourself (just chew or crush the leaves first to release its healing, astringent properties before applying). This wild plant is also used by herbalists to lower blood pressure after a heart attack or stroke or to lower a fever. I prefer to use it for it’s medicinal benefits, although the leaves make a nice, high energy variation to salads and soups. BLACKBERRIES & BRAMBLE (Rubus fruticosus) Nearly everyone I know in Britain has fond childhood memories of deep red stained hands, those ‘comes-with-the-territory’ prickles and a nice pot full of juicy foraged fruits to take home for blackberry crumble. Most of us have foraged at least something, at one point… and for many people, blackberries are the number one. Sporting an amazing harvest later in the summer, they are exceptionally high in vitamin C, K and the mineral manganese. Blackberries work wonders in a fruit pie or in a smoothie, yet nothing beats eating them fresh off the bush. Much less talked about are the bramble leaves. The fresh younger shoots make a nice addition to a salad. STINGING NETTLE (Urtica dioica) make an excellent spinach like and mineral rich vegetable with copious amounts of calcium, manganese, magnesium and iron. This is nature’s super food at its finest and I am sure to include nettles regularly in my diet between April and September every year. Harvest the young, fresh leaves using gloves (unless you are feeling really brave). Soaking in water or cooking rapidly denatures the sting, making them easily edible either raw or cooked. Nettles have an impressive list of useful benefits but are perhaps best known for their ability to cleanse toxins from the blood and clearing the body of uric acid. They also have a good reputation for reducing arthritic and joint pain and alleviating allergy symptoms. Apart from all that, nettle makes a highly nutritious compost activator and can be used for making rope, sacking and even clothing. – See more at: http://www.openhandweb.org/foraging_wild_food#sthash.kE9LdXHb.lp8Fhd5D.dpuf

Author: Celia

The Rambler, AKA Celia Dulieu
Celia has been sharing food, wine, recipes and friendship with Simon and Sue Gale for more than 15 years.
In a former life she was a mass caterer, working for large companies such as Selfridges, London; but after moving to the countryside with husband, 2 kids and dog, she resurrected her love of food, - particularly by entertaining her large extended family to lunches ,sharing informal get togethers with friends, and developing her small but productive kitchen garden. She is passionate about all things to do with food and wine; from where it is produced to how it arrived on her doorstep.
Celia’s love of meeting people, visiting places and trying different things has culminated in being invited to get involve with writing up the experiences of the Heart Kitchen and sharing her love of food with you through her ramblings.