From field to table: How to forage for herbs and minimise your food bill
Fancy a life on the road but don’t have a van? Not a problem, say Danny Jack and Hailee Kukura.
They have created a cool cookbook which celebrates the unexpected joys of camper van cooking – even in your own garden.
‘Foraging is fun and encourages people to look past the convenience of the supermarket to find a whole range of food like mushrooms and wild garlic that are delicious, free and just waiting to be discovered!’ they say.
Here, they list their fave foraged finds to minimise your food bill while you maximise your time outdoors this sizzling summer and share some great recipes for outdoor cooks to try.
Meadowsweet (Filipendula ulmaria)
Habitat: Damp meadows, marshes, swamps, commonly found next to rivers.
Availability: Flowers June to September.
Easy to recognise with fluffy, candyfloss-like flower heads, this often grows in big swathes in damp fields along riverbanks, reaching up to between one and two metres in the air.
The flower heads smell and taste like honey and almonds and can be dried and used to flavour beer or wine, to drink as tea or be made into a cordial.
Garlic mustard, or Jack-by-the-hedge (Alliaria petiolata)
Habitat: Waysides, hedgerows and shaded riverbanks or open fields
Availability: A biennial, available in spring and again in the autumn
A welcome sight in the spring, garlic mustard is often abundant and easy to identify with its vivid green, slightly toothed, soft leaves. You should only pick a few leaves from each plant and avoid older/larger specimens, which can taste too bitter. When ripped or chopped, the leaves give off a distinctive garlic smell.
The flowers are small and brilliant white with four petals and can be added to salads as well as the leaves. You can also blend or chop garlic mustard leaves into sauces and dips, or wilt them in soups and stews.
Wild garlic, aka ramsons (Allium ursinum)
Habitat: Damp woodland or near streams
Availability: late February to early June
A member of the onion (allium) family, wild garlic leaves are like long, elliptical blades of vibrant, green grass tapering to a point. Each plant has up to 25, six-petalled flowers occurring in a tight, rounded cluster at the top of a single stalk.
With a strong but mellow smell of garlic, this is a favourite for foragers. It’s easy to identify, abundant and highly versatile. It can be eaten raw in pestos and dips, added to soups and stews as you would with spinach or leafy greens, or chopped up and added to pasta dough or dumplings. The buds can be salted and used like capers and the flowers can be added raw to salads.
Marsh samphire (Salicornia europaea)
Habitat: Rocky beaches, salt marshes and mudflats
Availability: Early summer (May onwards)
A popular ingredient with chefs and often served with seafood, this briny succulent is a member of the goosefoot family and is similar to green beans or asparagus when washed and quickly blanched. There are several varieties but all are edible.
Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana)
Habitat: Roadsides, wasteland and field margins
Availability: Flowers May to September
Once you have your eye dialled in to horseradish, it’s hard to miss. If you are familiar with dock leaves (used to nurse nettle stings), horseradish is similar-looking but has longer, taller, straight stems and slightly toothed and waxy leaves without the red spots found on dock leaves. As horseradish is a root, you will need the landowner’s permission to dig it up.
To make a fresh horseradish sauce, clean it thoroughly, then peel and grate the fresh root into a bowl, mix with crème fraîche or soured cream and season with salt.
Chanterelle mushrooms (Cantharellus cibarius)
Please note: Some lookalikes can cause severe stomach upsets, including the aptly named False Chanterelle.
Habitat: Mostly broadleaved woods and forests, especially around beech trees, but also in pine forests
Availability: July to October
Widely considered one of the most desirable mushrooms, to a forager, stumbling upon chanterelles is like striking gold. They are egg-yolk in colour with paler flesh when cut and a pleasant aroma of apricots. The gills are forked, shallow and continuous with the stem. The cap is funnel-shaped with irregular lobed and curly margins. Classically, chanterelles are fried in butter and served on toast with scrambled eggs.
Wood-sorrel (Oxalis acetosella)
Habitat: Deciduous and coniferous forests in mossy areas
Availability: March to June
Similar in size and appearance to traditional clover, with three folded leaves but brighter green and almost shiny, wood-sorrel has five-petalled white flowers with a pretty pink vein that stay closed unless in good sunlight.
The signature characteristic is a sharp, lemony tang, especially in the leaves. It makes a great garnish with fish or in salads. Both leaves and flowers can be eaten, but only in small quantities, as they contain oxalic acid – a strong diuretic.
Elderflowers and elderberries (Sambucus nigra)
Habitat: Hedgerows, edges of woodland and urban areas close to train lines and buildings
Availability: Flowers in June and July, berries in August and September
This classic favourite is great as a cordial, sparkling wine and elderberry reduction for cooking.
Elders are commonly found as small, scraggly shrubs but can also grow to be more substantial trees with a cork-like bark. Pick the flower heads in the early morning before the sun shines on them, to capture the best scent and flavour.
The dark green, slightly toothed leaves are in opposite pairs, arranged in groups of five or seven. The flowers are numerous, comprising tiny white petals with yellowish tops (anthers) arranged abundantly in large, flat-topped clusters up to 25cm wide.
The small, reddish to deep purple berries form clusters and are ripe for picking when the clusters turn upside-down. Gather them whole by cutting from the stem, then wash well and strip the berries from the stalk with a fork.
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