Forager and chef Lucia Stuart reports from our Philosophy and Foraging Weekend held in early October at the Idler Farm on Exmoor.
Here is a list of the foraged foods we collected, followed by a recipe for nettle and sorrel soufflé.
Meadowsweet (Filpendula ulmaria) flowers & leaves: the leaves were a Tudor strewing herb and aspirins were initially made with salicylic acid found in the plant. I added young leaves to the wild leaf pakoras and the fragrant meadowsweet flowers still visible during a mild autumn were used to infuse apple puree served. The flowers make a delicious cordial.
Nettles: taste delicious and are extremely nourishing. I recommend making a lentil and nettle soup or drying the fresh young leaves for tea. Use scissors to snip off the healthiest leaves at the top of the stem avoiding stringy veins. Blanch & purée the leaves to make a soufflé (recipe opposite).
Ground elder: this was a favourite pot herb of the Romans. It has an unusual aromatic flavour. Lightly chop, blanch and tossed in grated garlic and olive oil. Too ‘papery’ to eat raw but once cooked use as you would spinach.
Star cress or chickweed (Stellaria media): we found this in the fields walking towards the sea. It is recognisable by its bright green colour and a single line of hairs running along the stem. We enjoyed a salad of sorrel, star cress & dandelion leaves with an elderberry vinaigrette.
Hawthorn berries: are good combined in jellies, fruit leathers or as a ketchup. The seeds mean the fruit must be sieved or put in muslin. For Haw Ketchup: Simmer the berries with a little water, sieve and add vinegar and spices & seasoning to taste, to the red puree.
Bladderwrack/serrated wrack (fucus vesiculousus serratus): A very iodine rich seaweed; good for arthritis and regulating the thyroid gland. To make the best crisps in the world: roast freshly cut wrack with a thin coating of walnut oil in a medium hot oven for 12 minutes. Turn it occassionally. Alternatively cut it up and use as a vegetable in soup.
Mermaid’s hair (Ulva linaz or gutweed) A delicious seaweed that grows on rocks in vermicelli like strands. Rinse well 2 or 3 times in small batches. Fry in oil & mix with vegetables for rostis. I used it for The Idler Sauce with roast lamb: Clean 2 handfuls and put it in a dry pan. Fry to diminish the water content before adding a mugful of cream. Reduce the cream sauce further on the heat stirring well. Add a little vinegar or lemon juice at the end & season with black pepper or garlic if you wish.
Recipe for Nettle & Sorrel Soufflé
Cook a bag of washed nettle leaves for 2 minutes in boiling water, drain, cool, & puree. Puree some raw sorrel leaves too if you have them. Press out excess water from the puree using a sieve.
Make a thick béchamel sauce using butter flour and milk. When cool add 3 egg yolks, some grated nutmeg and the nettle puree. Grate some cheese. Whip 6 egg whites.
Mix half the egg whites into the nettle mixture. Pour this into a greaseproof paper lined souflee dish alternating with handfuls of grated cheese. Add the rest of the whites to the dish keeping the mixture very airy as you gently mix them in. Bake in a medium hot oven for about 35 mins. Serve quickly in front of impressed guests before it sinks!
© 2014 Lucia Stuart of The Wild Kitchen & food writer – Eating Flowers. www.thewildkitchen.net
Lucia’s snaps from the weekend