About this blog

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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Friday, 28 June 2013

Foraged Food Friday: Shepherd's purse

I've known this plant for as long as I can remember, on account of its cute heart-shaped seed pods.


Shepherd's purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris) seed pods

Seeing it coming up all over my legume bed (it's doing rather better than the peas and beans, if I'm honest), I was struck by its similarity to brassicas. Looking it up, I found that it is indeed a brassica, and all parts of the plant are edible. Apparently the young leaves are very good in early spring, but I've missed the season for those as they're not so good once the plant has flowered. Some people use the seeds, either as they are or ground into meal, but I suspect the only people who do that are those who have small children to employ in the harvesting of said seeds. The seed pods have a peppery taste and can be used as seasoning.

I picked one and tried it and sure enough, it had a distinct peppery bite. Harvesting even the pods turns out to be quite fiddly as they're so small and the stalks are wiry and tend to come off the plant with the pod, so need trimming off afterwards (or more careful picking in the first place). I have to admit, when I cooked a handful of these in a stew, I didn't notice the flavour, but then I wouldn't particularly notice pepper if I'd added it to stew. I'll persevere with this plant; I think it's probably one worth knowing about.


Also harvesting this week
Vetch
Tiny potatoes
Pak choi flower shoots
Plantain flower heads
Mint
Sorrel
Bay

Also eating
Dried (and rehydrated) kelp

Foraged food challenge summary page here.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Foraged Food Friday: Plantain

I'm late again, but resisting the temptation to skip a week entirely, because then I'm sure the foraging challenge would just fizzle out after that. This is another one I learnt about on the foraging course, and we're not talking about the relatives of bananas, but the common weed. I had some reasonable photos, but unfortunately left them on my phone, which is now dead (contacts corroded completely, so impossible to charge or connect to computer) so I just went out to take another picture...


Slightly blurred ribwport plantain (Plantago lanceolata)

... which is a little out of focus because I was being viciously attacked at the time by these guys:


Evil midges intent on eating me alive. Also out of focus.

Anyway, it's the flower heads that I'm talking about this week, which Jade told us taste a little like mushrooms. Hmm, yes I guess so, a little. Not liking the fuzzy texture very much, I decided to try them as a base for soup, so picked a fair quantity and boiled them up to make stock. It kind of worked. There's certainly a decent savoury flavour, but there's also a certain amount of bitterness. Maybe I used too many, or maybe I didn't trim off the green stem carefully enough...
These have potential to be a useful flavouring, if I get the hang of using them properly, but I'm not immediately impressed.


Also harvesting this week
Vetch
Mint
Sage
Thyme
Bay
Rosemary
Wild garlic (this is pretty much over now, even here. The flowers are setting seed and the leaves are yellowing, but I picked a couple anyway).
Tiny potatoes ("volunteers" from last year, dug up to make way for squash plants)

Also drinking
Heather ale
Rosebay willowherb and bay leaf ("Bay herb") ale
Sloe wine

Also eating
Crab apple and rowan jelly
Carrageen-set ice cream (second attempt much the same as the first: Poor texture but still delicious)
Carrageen not-set chocolate panna cotta (the chocolate stops it setting, which is interesting, if a little annoying when you have guests)

Foraged food challenge summary page here.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Foraged Food Friday: Pignuts

I've slipped even further behind with this week's post, which is particularly annoying as the actual foraging took place almost a week early. I was all ready to write it on Friday, but was busy with the Wild West Wales website (still not finished, and some of what I did is now unnecessary as one of the musicians had to cancel due to health problems), then ran out of time. The gig on Friday night was fantastic, though, in spite of the power cut. Then work and gardening took up the rest of the weekend, and...

Enough rambling - on to pignuts. These are a tricky subject for a foraging post. They've been on my to try (via learn how to identify) list for some time, but if they're growing wild it's actually illegal (in the UK) to harvest them. This isn't specific to pignuts; whereas picking leaves and fruit is permitted, destroying plants is not allowed. This means that any root crop is technically illegal to harvest unless it's growing on your own land (or you have the landowner's permission). Things like dandelions are so abundant that I can't see anyone seriously objecting if you dig a few of them up, but pignuts aren't quite in that invasive category.

Illegal or not, I still wanted to learn to identify pignuts, and was very pleased when Jade pointed them out to me (with cautions about digging up) when I was on the foraging course. Then last weekend we visited our friends Adrian and Ellie in their new home. While the boys went off to an airshow, Ellie and I spent a lovely day exploring the nearby countryside and peering at wildflowers. I spotted some pignuts. Then I spotted some more, and then they were everywhere! With such an abundance, I decided that it would be OK to dig up just one, to try.

I didn't have my camera with me, but Ellie did and kindly lent me hers, so here are a couple of pictures. From the flowers you'll see it's an umbellifer, meaning, Take care not to confuse this with poisonous relatives.

Pignut (Conopodium majus) flowers, bearing some similarity to hemlock flowers


Close-up of the leaves, almost needle-fine and very forked

I carefully dug around the base of the plant and found the small, nut-like tuber, not buried as deeply as it might have been (they can be several inches down). I didn't get a photo, but it looked very much like a hazlenut (the bit you eat, not the shell) and once I'd scraped the skin off and tried a nibble, tasted somewhat like a fresh hazlenut, too. Ellie tried it and commented on a hint of radish flavour as well. I'd certainly like to eat more of these, so what I need to do now is find some locally, keep an eye on them for the ripening seeds, then collect some and plant them in my garden, so I can dig them up without worrying about disturbing their natural distribution or, indeed, breaking the law.


Also harvesting this week
Bracken
Nettles
Sorrel
Pak Choi flower buds (they're all bolting)
Dulse (to dry and in soup)
Kelp (to dry)
Mint

Also drinking
Heather ale
Dandelion wine

Also eating
Crab apple and rowan jelly
Blackcurrant jam
Knotweed chutney
Blackberry and bilberry jam

Foraged food challenge summary page here.

Friday, 7 June 2013

Foraged Food Friday: Common Hogweed

What with getting distracted by seaweed last week, I almost missed the best time to harvest this one, as it's the young shoots that are favoured, and they're already turning into stalks of grown-up leaves.


Leaf of common hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium)

I haven't tried this before, but spotted some plants last year and noticed recently that they're coming up again. I went out this evening to cut a few leaves for dinner, deciding to take some from the busier, closer road rather than walking further to a quieter road, as dinner was already cooking. Having brought my bounty home, I then spent a slightly panicky twenty minutes looking up how distinguish this edible plant from its dangerous relative, the giant hogweed. At this time of year they're not very giant, so quite difficult to tell apart. Giant hogweed has sap that, in combination with sunlight, can cause nasty blisters and permanent damage to your skin. I'm not going to try and tell you what the difference is - I'd rather not take that responsibility - but do look it up for yourself if you're tempted to try eating (or even touching) this plant.

Having satisfied myself that I had indeed picked food, not a monster, I put my leaves in the steamer and set it over the simmering stew for about ten minutes, by which time they looked fairly cooked. Like many foraged greens, these have been described as tasting like asparagus. They don't. Nonetheless, I quite liked them. The texture's not great - a bit fuzzy - but they have a strong-ish flavour that isn't the usual grassy or bitter green. Worth harvesting again, I think.


Also harvesting this week:
Rose bay willow herb stems
Pak choi
Tulip petals
Sorrel
Wild garlic leaves and flowers (all these in one salad - very pretty!)
Beech leaves (for wine)
Mint
Nettles
Rosemary
Bay leaves

Also eating
Carrageen ice cream
Dulse (in cheese straws)
Blackcurrant jam

Also drinking
Dandelion wine
Dandelion flower tea (from dried flowers. Although the dandelions are still flowering at this time of year, they close up in the evening, which is when I tend to want herbal tea.)
Heather ale
Bay herb ale (that's rose bay willow herb tips and bay leaves, and it's only half brewed at the moment)

Foraged food challenge summary page here.