Category Archives: hedgerow harvests

Foraging the Wharfe valley

Yesterday we decided on a whim to get the train to Harrogate and then walk the 14 miles back to Horsforth, traversing the Whafe valley. As usual we were armed with carrier bags, pen knifes, etc just in case. It was a beautiful day to walk through an equally beautiful landscape with hardly a sole around. We had not planned to forage but came across some edibles so decided to snap them up, what better way to remember a landscape, journey or view than eating it! Today I’ll make a simple wild garlic and sorrel pesto not the most exciting of foraged food but the greatest way to celebrate a brilliant day.

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Wild gooseberry bush

Though it’s a little early for gooseberries hopefully I’ll remember this bush and use it to plan another trip.

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wild garlic

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common sorrel

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Drying sage to make tea

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It’s a good time of year to cut back sage stopping it getting woody and lanky, it’s also a great excuse for drying sage. We just cut the plant back to a few inches from the ground, remove the most woody stems then blitz in a mixer and leave out to dry. Chopping it up first allows it to dry quicker which is useful if you are air drying it. You can also do this in summer meaning you’ll get a fresh flush of leaves for autumn.

This year it is going to form part of my wild and garden teas experiment. We drink loads of tea, black and fruit but we make very little of it ourselves which seems strange as we have a go at making most other things. I’m going to be trying out different herbal teas and also experiment in making my own black tea. I can see the sower faces I will be pulling in the near future but hopefully I can find some alternatives to shop bought teas that will become new favorites.

Sage Tea (Salvia Officinalis). Ā As a herbal infusion it has many medicinal properties. Sage acts as a relaxant for nervous disorders and depression, also as a disinfectant / antiseptic in the treatment of mouth ailments and stomach pains, it’s also good for brain function.

http://www.herbwisdom.com/herb-sage.html

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The taste is not as strong as I’d first thought but I can’t seem to get the taste of a roast dinner out of my head, not entirely a bad thing. I shall wait for the brain function to begin.

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Sea cabbage and the politics of foraging.

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Sea cabbage Brassica oleracea

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Not sure if this is a lucky accident or deliberate but useful having such a lush green veg by the back door.

Went for my first coastal forage of the year on Saturday armed with everything I’d need to collect a large haul of shellfish, so I was a little disappointed when I couldn’t find a single mussel. Tried a beach Ive never been to before, Staithes then walking along the beach to Port Mulgrave and back along the cliff tops. Its a beautiful place just a little further up the coast from Whitby.

However even though I was without protein I was delighted to find Sea Cabbage in abundance, for a plant which is quite rare it was everywhere. With such a profusion of plants I thought it would be fine to take a couple of handfuls but there lies the problem, not can I take but should I take? The media recently seem to be focusing in on the ‘gangs’ of foragers stripping the countryside of it’s native plants and fungi. Recently 15 people were in court for collecting fungi from Epping forest.

For those people who collect commercially I have no sympathy, nothing is going to give foragers a bad name more than people who turn a resource into a commodity. Like most wild food collectors I take what I need and only when I can see it in abundance not stripping a solitary plant or picking every fruit from a bush. Even if you take out the ethics and conservation issues it makes little sense destroying a harvest for the future, making sure there is enough to set seed or keep on producing means you can keep coming back to it, surely that’s the whole point of foraging? tapping into a resource not destroying it.

I think that as a forager you feel a sense of stewardship for an area, the life of the insects and birds etc which rely and have always relied on that patch are all part of it. Considering the bigger picture is important for me, I don’t need to pick and gather from the wild, I want to, I need to remember that I’m sharing this resource and it’s not just there for my benefit. Pick mindfully.

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A few of the rare wild greens.

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The Best Wild fruit Infusions

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I’m not the greatest of wine makers I can admit that, not that I’m not going to keep trying but there is something about the process that I always seem to get wrong. That’s perhaps why I love infusions, the alcohol part is done for you all you need to do is add flavor and drink it! Last autumn was a great season for wild fruits of all kinds so I took it as a chance to experiment with something other than Sloe Gin.

While out walking one day I came across a damson tree laden with fruit, I kicked myself as I must have walked past it dozens of times before without noticing. I did consider making jam but you can have too much jam but never enough booze, so I made damson vodka, after a few months of patience it turned into a beautiful thick rich comforting blanket of a drink, instantly better dare I say than Sloe Gin. Using vodka instead of gin allows the fruit to impart it’s own flavor rather than be masked by the taste of the alcohol. Needless to say it’s all gone now.

By now the bug had bitten so I was on the lookout for more fruits to experiment with. The second I made was Cherry Plum vodka, made in the same way as the Damson, this has a sharper flavor, a little more tart. A search on the internet gave me my next and I must say favorite infusion ever, Blackberry Whiskey, it’s smooth and comforting after a cold January walk with a real depth of flavor, that I insist that everyone tries.

Blackberry Whiskey

blackberries

sugar

bottle of whiskey

Take a large jar, fill it 2/3 of the way with blackberries, pour in half that amount of sugar then top up the rest of the jar with whiskey. Don’t use expensive whiskey that would be a crime. Shake the jar now and again to help dissolve the sugar, leave in a dark cupboard for at least 3 months, try and make it in time for Christmas but better still hide a bottle of it for a year.

Damson Vodka

1kg damsons

500g sugar

1 litre vodka
Put all the ingredients into a large Kilner jar, shake every so often to dissolve the sugar and bottle after 3 months. Some people prick each fruit but who has time for that I tend to squash them lightly with a potato masher in the jar before I add the vodka. Like most infusions it will be better after a year if you can wait that long. Don’t forget that when you have bottled it you can eat the fruit with cream or custard etc.

Cherry Plumb Vodka

Make in the same way as the Damson Vodka but try freezing the cherry plums first then letting them thaw before adding them to the jar, this breaks down the skins and removes the need for tedious pricking.

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Eating the past

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Spent the afternoon leafing through this recipe book dated from 1679 at Leeds university, slowly making myself hungry as I went. I hope to return soon to research wild food and hedgerow harvests and experiment with some of the recipes. The entire book is written in beautiful long hand making some of the translations difficult that coupled with the rather colourful spelling, ‘Apricocks’ for example! I hope that Yorkshire based recipe book with open up some traditional recipes for wild food. Some interesting ones were, Walnuts to preserve- white, To preserve Pippins in jelly, syrup of wood sorrel and Syrup of red poppies.

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