Back to the foraging – Soups & Cherries
I gave my article on bees a lot of attention because many people have asked me if, during my year eating solely wild and foraged food, I’d be eating honey? My answer has always been that if I knew how to capture a wild swarm and had somebody to instruct me in the art of bee keeping then perhaps I would. Nevertheless, I have always added, not only have I never seen a wild swarm, even if I were so lucky I would not know what to do. Well……
Not being vegan I need not address the issue of honey consumption that divides some of them. Is it or isn’t it a vegan product? I mention veganism simple because for the first month of this wild year my diet will in fact be 100% vegan. To that end I will not be ravenously gorging on pots of honey a la John Lewis-Stemple (The Wild Life – A Year of Living on Wild Food) nor, again a la Lewis-Stemple, will I be roaming the land with a shot gun in an orgy of hunting and butchering. For me the predominant interest is in the utilization of plants in creative ways that can bring forth their full culinary versatility and varied sustenance.
Over the past few days I’ve made a couple of different soups – 15 portions of each. The first one is rose hip soup. These where re-hydrated from my dried stores.
Nevertheless, for the first time I decided not to further strain this as to do so in order to remove the hairs would also remove the lovely pulp.
A large handful of Herne Bay sea salt was added.
To be mixed in when serving I prepared some dittander flower seasoning…
Half a teaspoon is quite sufficient per bowl of soup. This pungent spice is quite wasabi-like in flavour.
The one I’ve just made is the nearest equivalent I could come up with but using only wild sourced ingredients. Indeed, much of what I’ll be doing will involve trying to adapt more conventional recipes to 100% wild/foraged versions.
Then came my first disaster: Seaweed soup.
Seaweed soup in itself is fine but a combination of dulse, laver, kelp, carragheen and serrated wrack seaweeds proved impossible for my liquidizer to cope with. Consequently, after cooking the above seaweeds, I was forced to chuck them on the compost heap and start again. At least I did manage to squeeze out all the liquid after cooking for a few hours in spring water. This became the stock base for my second attempt. On that ocassion I gathered about one kilo of each seaweed, sun-dried them until crisp before grinding them to a powder. This I mixed with a combination of spring and sea water and cooked together with 1.5 kg of burdock root.
That’s 30 portions of soup put aside. Perhaps I’ll do another to keep things varied this month – nettle, fat hen and watercress maybe. For each soup though I need to find some sort of nourishing and sustaining potato substitute. Not that easy. To that end I began collecting and processing reedmace rhizomes this week. Collecting them is a messy business as they need to be prized from the most noxious smelling pond or ditch mud. A good wash was in order of both the rhizomes and myself – in the bath of course, just not at the same time.
Actually, for quantity of starchy material, the height of summer is the worst time to do this. The winter is best when the starch content is higher. This flour will not be going in my watercress soup. For that, once the core has been extracted, it will be boiled and mashed in spring water then strained to leave the fibres behind. These can be discarded (actually, I’ve a better plan) whilst the vegetables can then be cooked in the starchy liquid. I’ll do that next week.
This week must be, and has been, all about gorgeous ripe cherries and their daily harvest.
The cherries shown are a cultivated variety that just happen to be in the hedgerow along a footpath. Genuine wild cherries are just about ripe but I’m leaving them for a week to sweeten up.
After gathering about 20kg of mixed variety cherries from about 5 different trees I went to wash them in spring water. Not, of course, because I plan to wash everything in such a wonderful way but, rather, simply because I needed to get a few gallons of the vibrant stuff.
With such a good haul of cherries there lay many possibilities, the first being simply to boil some, extract the juice and bottle it.
Much more fun – unbelievably intense fun, lay in the making of my wild year’s first wine, in the traditional style. First crush the cherries…..
I found three of these put out with somebody’s rubbish in Brixton a few years ago. They have proved to be invaluable. Well worth the mutterings and cursing I received when trying to squeeze onto an already packed tube train with them.
But what about yeast? Should I try for a spontaneous wild fermentation or help the process on its way somehow? I think the latter will produce just marginally less unpredictable results. A few years ago I made a completely wild bullace plum wine that fermented out really well. I used the skins, which had a really nice looking yeast bloom on them, to start an initial culture. Unfortunately they aren’t available right now so I had to look elsewhere.
The following picture shows the fruit of what I think – but am not absolutely sure – is Berberis darwinii. Clearly though the skins reveal a promising looking bloom.
I put these together in some cherry juice sweetened boiled and cooled spring water. This was then left in a warm place for three days. As you can see the yeast had become fairly active.
Time to add to the juice. (only two days after adding the starter culture fermentation appears to be going well). Fingers crossed. Later I’ll introduce a little tannin and greater acidity by way of some staghorn sumac berry extract.
Some of the other cherries were boiled and squashed through a sieve to make fruit leather. This is the first time I’ve done this in my recently purchased food dehydrator.
I also stoned and dried some of the fresh cherries and put them to dry with the fruit leather. Stoning these took 4 hours!
Now I have my first ingredient for my 100% wild foraged Christmas pudding. “Pucker”, “happy days”, as a well known chef would probably say!