I did write this yesterday, but technology didn't behave as expected and I lost it, so here goes the second attempt. I have Mark at Galloway Wild Foods to thank for this one. I hadn't even thought about the possibility of finding spices in the wild but he knows of lots, including hogweed seeds.
It seems that the only photo I've got has the seed head inside a paper bag, which isn't terribly helpful. The seed head looks much like any other umbellifer seed head, so you have to check the leaves to make sure you've got the right one. Also check the seeds aren't seven foot up in the air, as that would be giant hogweed, which is best avoided.
I picked a couple of seed heads a few weeks ago, added some to pickles and drinks - I'll tell you later - and dried the rest. This week, I decided to use some as flavouring in biscuits. That required grinding them to a powder first, which was more difficult than I anticipated, as my wooden pestle and mortar didn't touch them. I have a spare set of salt and pepper mills, so my next attempt was to try using one of those. This wasn't terribly successful either, as most of the seeds - that is, the little round, papery disks that the seeds are attached to - either didn't engage with the grinding teeth at all, or slipped straight between them. The next step was to try chopping the seed disks first before putting them in the mill, which task got diverted by the discovery of tiny caterpillars living in some of the disks. I then checked each disk individually for caterpillar occupancy before returning to the task of chopping them. Thankfully, once chopped, the seeds did get caught by the grinding gears and I was able to produce a teaspoonful or so of ground hogweed seeds (there are plenty more in the mill).
Having prepared my spice, I got to work on the biscuits. I'm never much of a one for recipes, and this was very much a case of adding things to the bowl and mixing until the result looked like biscuit dough. A key ingredient was stewed rhubarb, of which I had a pot in the fridge left over from making cordial, and it needed using up.
A word of advice here: Don't use stewed rhubarb in biscuits. It can be good in cakes - I've tried - but it's just too wet for biscuits. I may have been a little stingy with the butter, too, as there wasn't much left in the dish and I couldn't be bothered to work the cold butter straight from the fridge. The result of this excess water (in the rhubarb) and insufficient fat was very hard biscuits. They were tasty, but required a strength of teeth and jaw that food doesn't usually call for.
I may not be trying rhubarb in biscuits again, but I'll definitely be using ground hogweed seed (and whole, whenever I can get away with it). The flavour's difficult to describe - I'd say bitter orange and Mark also has,
ginger, liquorice and burned cedar. It's a warming, Christmassy kind of a flavour. I'm sure I'll be using more of this over the coming months.
Edit: I managed to offload the rock-hard biscuits on our pub philosophy group (after 'hogweed' was misheard as 'Hogwarts' it was suggested that these biscuits should be called Philosophers' stones) and baked another batch. This time I used an actual recipe for simple, vanilla biscuits and substituted the spice for the vanilla. They're very nice, but the distinctive spicy flavour isn't evident. They're not as plain as they would be if I just left the vanilla out (I know, because I've done this by mistake in the past), it's just not obvious what the flavouring is. That was with one teaspoon of spice to eight ounces of flour. I guess two or three teaspoonfuls would be necessary if you wanted spicy biscuits.
Also harvesting this week:
Snowy waxcap mushrooms
Greencracked brittlegill mushrooms
Lacto fermented courgettes
Bay herb ale
Dandelion and honeysuckle ale
Foraged food challenge summary page here.