If you know anything about the toxicology of yew, you might consider this recipe as being the plant-based wild food foragers version of the notorious Japanese Fugu or blow fish dish. Hence, careful preparation is everything.
Makes two individual tarts
For the pastry:
- 5 oz (150g) arum flour
- 1 1/2 oz (50g) sweet chestnut flour
- 1 1/2 oz (50g) wild oat flour
- 1 1/2 oz (50g) mixed wild grass seed flour
- 3 ½ oz (100g) walnut oil or badger fat (or a mixture)
- 1 tbsp 3x concentrated yew berry juice
- 1 tbsp of garden-wall-overhang verjuice or stag’s horn sumac extract
- a little water if necessary
For the crème Patisserie:
- 1pt (570ml) cherry plum kernel milk
- 3 pt (1.8 L) water
- 1 large handful dried sun blanched carragheen seaweed
- 3 ½ oz (100g) 5 x concentrated wild pear juice
- 2 oz (60g) arum flour
- For the fruit topping
- 10 ½ oz (300g) fully ripened yew berries
- 5 sweet wild apples
- a cup of wild apple juice
- a heaped teaspoon of hedgerow jam and a tablespoon of water to make a glaze
- Thoroughly sift the flour into a bowl.
- Add in the fat/oil and work it all in with your fingertips until you are left with a crumb-like consistency.
- Make a well in the centre and pour in the sumac/verjuice and yew berry syrup.
- Gradually mix with the flour to form a smooth dough – but don’t over work it.
- Add the some chilled spring water if necessary.
- Roll into a ball, wrap in cling film or put in a plastic bag and cool in the fridge for a couple of hours.
- Boil the seaweed in the water for 30 minutes, allow to cool slightly then stain through muslin.
- Simmer gently until you are left with about1/2 pt. Set aside to cool.
- Grind 2 large handfuls of prewashed and dried cherry plum stones.
- Transfer to a bowl with 2 pt hot water. Stir for a minute and allow to stand for 15 minutes.
- Strain off the liquid and boil down to reduce by half, mix in the pair juice concentrate then leave to cool.
- Once cooled whisk together with the seaweed extract and chill.
Putting it together
- Take the pastry and form into two separate balls.
- Roll each one out in turn by first slightly squashing down on a lightly arum floured work surface.
- Roll out until it’s about 2 mil thick and large enough to line a 4”/10cm greased flan case;
I use the ones with detachable bottoms – much easier to remove when cooked. It’s also just under an inch (2.5cm) deep.
- Line each case leaving about a 1/2cm overlap. Then line the other case.
- Press the index finger and thumb of one hand together. Squash the overlap into this with the index finger of the other hand, working around the top of the tarts to create a regular pattern.
- Allow the bases to rest for an hour in the fridge or even freezer. Then, prick the bases several times with a fork.
- Bake for 15 minutes at 180 deg.C until they are just very slightly coloured.
- In the meantime, juice 3 sweet wild apples. Peel and core another two and cut lengthways into thin slices. Stew these in the apple juice for a couple of minutes.
Then remove from the juice, set aside and allow to cool. Rewhisk the chilled crème patisserie and spoon into the tart bases, leveling it out to leave enough room for the fruit.
- Remove the seed from each yew berry using a pair of tweezers without damaging it in any way.
- Working in from the outside place individual berries on top of the crème patisserie forming ever smaller concentric circles of berries.
Keep doing this until you are left with a 1 ½ “ (4cm) circle of exposed crème patisserie in the centre.
- Peel and core the apples and cut thin slices approx 2 mm thick.
Boil these in apple juice for 15 seconds, remove from juice and set aside .
- Once cooled arrange the apple slices in an over lapping and circular fan pattern.
- Heat the jam with the juice in a small saucepan reducing it to thicken. Use this to glaze the top of each tart using a pastry brush or carefully dripping on with a spoon.
Tips and WARNING
It is easiest to collect yew berries by laying a sheet or blanket under a fruit laden tree and then giving the branches a good shake.
ALL parts of the yew are extremely poisonous EXCEPT the flesh of the berry – so they say. This, then, includes the seed, which must be very carefully removed.
Also, when making the yew berry syrup, remove the seeds this way first rather than crushing the whole fruit first. This tart also works very well with bilberries and wild strawberries in particular, but also with many other fruit.
Although this recipe is both somewhat extreme and absurd it does serve to illustrate some important points. Firstly, trying to mimic more conventional dishes using entirely wild ingredients is extremely challenging, time consuming and prone to failure. Perhaps more importantly, the more determined one is to utilize the full range of food plants potentially available, the greater the chance of poisoning. This point is quite obvious; in the case of yew berries and other such foods (cherry plum kernels) though the problem lies in their toxicologically ambiguous status.
I have never seen conclusive scientific proof that the flesh of the fruit is 100% safe to eat in quantity. Information in the literature is often contradictory and confusing on this specific point – and often poorly referenced. The toxic substance taxine found in the leaves bark and seeds, but reportedly absent from the red flesh of the fruit (aril) may, for all I know, still be present in trace amounts in the fruit. If that is the case then making concentrated yew syrup would be problematic as would consuming a large quantity of fruit. I like to dry them to concentrate the sweetness so would dearly love clarification on this point. About 10 years ago after making my first batch of yew berry syrup I contacted Kew gardens in London to get clarification on this issue. After a month with no response – and somewhat frustrated, I imagined what response I’d get if I wrote again telling a rather twisted porker. Would it elicit immediate clarification? Describing myself as a cook working at an old people’s home, I’d mentioned that it was a lady there called Grace’s 100th birthday. The staff and residents, I’d explain, knew of my home wine making and were keen for me to bring some in to celebrate the occasion. Only having a few bottles of elderberry wine and yew berry wine, I’d explain that I was planning to take in both, although I wanted to know for absolute certainly if the yew wine was safe to consume. Of course, I didn’t do this! Nevertheless, I have just written to the relevant department so will hopefully have an answer within not too long a time?