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, 30 August 2013

Foraged Food Friday: Greencracked Brittlegill mushrooms

I was going to tell you about blusher mushrooms this week (disappointing, but I think that was a result of the way I cooked them) but then I found these:


Mushrooms spotted in a field

They had a grey-green dusting that gave the odd impression that the mushroom itself had gone mouldy.


A closer view

Not put off by the mouldy appearance, I picked one and took it home to look it up. I'm thoroughly enjoying learning about all these new mushrooms, both edible and poisonous. It's fun just acquiring new knowledge. Also, if these are edible... they're big and there are lots of them!

Thanks to my friend Gill for alerting me to the ludicrously good deal available from the Book People, I am now in possession of ten River Cottage Handbooks, including one on mushrooms. This is an excellent book to learn from, with a limited selection so you don't get overwhelmed, but extensive enough to include most of the things I've tried looking up so far, including this one. There's plenty of helpful general advice, including the point that since mushrooms are essentially fruit, you don't harm the parent by picking them, especially as they've almost certainly dropped their spores by the time you see them. If you leave some, it's for the benefit of other animals (including humans), not the mushroom itself.

Back to today's find: It turns out that the unappetizing green dusting is a key identifying feature, as there are very few green mushrooms. I found my mushroom in the book, then followed the author's advice and consulted a few other (online) sources as well. Having identified this as the edible greencracked brittlegill, I headed out again to harvest them. Some hid...

... but I hunted them down.


A basket of Greencracked brittlegills (Russula virescens)

What a haul! I could hardly believe my luck at finding all of these, especially as it's not a common mushroom. These can be eaten raw, but I generally prefer my mushrooms cooked, so I fried one to see what it was like.


Looking a lot tastier, and less green.

No great claims are made for the flavour of this mushroom, and it was indeed very mild. In fact, it mostly tasted of the butter I cooked it in. This is fine. Lack of strong flavour makes it much easier to sneak it into things without Ian noticing. This evening, several went into a pie filling - undetected as far as I know - padding out some leftover bolognaise sauce. Excellent - free food!

The rest of the haul are sliced and drying on the rack. Hopefully they'll keep well for future use.


Also harvesting this week
Fairy ring champignon (drying)
Blusher mushrooms
Runner beans
French beans
Rhubarb (not mine), made into cordial
Rosemary
Oregano
Basil
Thyme
Sage

Also eating
Potatoes (can't remember when I dug these up - could have been a week ago)
Courgette puree (from freezer)
Crab apple and rosemary jelly

Also drinking
Elderflower champagne
Heather ale
Dandelion and honeysuckle ale
Sloe wine

Foraged food challenge summary page here.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

On the rack

Currently drying, I have...

At the top, bilberries. These are too small for even the smaller mesh shelves at the bottom, so I made a screen from a picture frame and what I thought was net curtain fabric. It wasn't, it was something stretchy, which made the job somewhat more difficult, but I got there in the end. I picked the bilberries nine days ago, and they're drying nicely.

In the paper bag on the next shelf, I have a couple of hogweed seedheads.

On the third shelf, I have small mushrooms. I had to move the bilberries up so I could use the finer mesh shelf. These are fairy ring champignon, which I picked today. Apparently they dry and rehydrate very well. Some specimens are younger and paler than others.

The bottom shelf is mostly full of laundry equipment. This is meant for drying woolly jersies so they don't get out of shape, but is currently occupied with black currants. These have been there for ages (I hadn't made the picture-frame screen when I picked the currants) and are now nicely dried.

Under and around the net thing, I have another paper bag with umbellifer seeds in; in this case parsnip seeds. I must remember which way round these two are, because I don't particularly want to grow hogweed in my garden. I also have a few pea seeds and potato fruit. I didn't have much luck growing potatoes from seed this year (the slugs ate all the seedlings when I planted them out) but I might give it another go next year.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Foraged Food Friday: Field mushrooms

On the same foraging expedition that I wrote about last week, I spotted a couple of white disks in a field.


Are those what I think they are?

Closer inspection, including flipping the caps over and poking the stem to check it didn't turn yellow on bruising...

Field mushroom (Agaricus campestris) in a field

... confirmed my initial suspicion that these were indeed field mushrooms. Even better, they're so close to home that I took them back to put in the fridge (leaving a couple of others intact in the field) before setting out on my walk again. This is the first mushroom I learnt to identify and I thought it was the same as the commonly cultivated one, but Wikipedia tells me that it's just closely related. Either way, it's very similar and tastes much the same, only fresher.

Having found these, I returned a couple of days later in the hope that more might have come up. Sure enough, I found another two, of which I picked one to use as pizza topping (with baby courgettes. That was the best pizza I've had in ages!) Two days later again, there was another. There might not be a huge quantity here, but it's so close to home that it's worth popping over there just to check whether there's another one or two - always being careful not to over-pick, of course. What a find!


Also harvesting this week
Courgettes (fruit and flowers)
Broad beans
French beans
Hogweed seeds (some of which are drying, others have gone into various preserves)
Fairy ring champignon (you remember me saying I was going to take mushrooms slowly, study carefully, and learn one at a time? I may have got slightly carried away...)

Also eating
Kelp

Also drinking
Elderflower champagne
Sloe wine

Foraged food challenge summary page here.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Experiments with lacto-fermentation

I'm fascinated by traditional methods of food preservation, from pre-freezer days. I grew up thinking* that winter food was all dried, or heavily salted, or both, and pretty grim in any case. As I've learnt more, I've come to appreciate that it probably wasn't grim at all, and in some cases preservation actually enhances food. Alcohol is an obvious, if debatable, example, and there's another kind of fermentation that's been marginal for many years, but may now be making a comeback.

In the same way that yeast converts sugars into alcohol, lactobacilli bacteria convert sugars into lactic acid, which then preserves the food. After an era of, Kill all the microbes! we're now more familiar with the idea that some bacteria are friendly and are increasingly eating foods such as live yoghurt and lacto-fermented live pickles. Indeed, many health claims are made for these foods. I can't be bothered to investigate these claims thoroughly, but even if these pickles are no better for us than vinegar-based pickles I still think they're worth making. After all, if I can get the acid from fermentation then I don't have to buy it!

In spite of my interest in this topic, I've never had much call to try it before now, as I've never managed to grow anything resembling a glut of vegetables. This year, though, I have my neighbour's courgettes at the same time as French beans and broad beans in my own garden. I don't think either courgettes or French beans are particularly good frozen, so I decided to try fermenting some of each of them, leaving the broad beans to eat fresh. This gave me the perfect excuse to buy a couple of Kilner jars that I happened to spot in the supermarket.

I won't go into detail - you can find plenty of information online if you look for it - but I found this article helpful. In particular, the information about using blackcurrant leaves as the inoculant - the way of introducing the right bacteria - was valuable. I have blackcurrant leaves! I kept my recipes simple, with fairly small quantities of salt - probably a heaped teaspoonful per half-litre jar - and minimal spices. For the courgettes I added hogweed seeds (recently discovered, and hence my current favourite spice) whilst the beans got just salt and blackcurrant leaves. I sprinkled salt and pressed the veg down in the jars as I filled them, which released almost enough liquid to cover the veg. There were still bits sticking out of the top, so I topped up with a little tap water (ignoring advice about avoiding chlorinated water. I've just dissolved sodium chloride in it, for goodness sake! I'm sure a little more chlorine won't hurt.)


Jars of fermenting veg

I did the courgettes on one day and the beans on the next. As you can see in the photo, there were already bubbles rising in the courgette jar by the time I had the beans packed. Fermentation is happening! They'll sit in my kitchen for a few days with the lids on loosely (to let the gas escape) before going down to the cooler, darker store room. I'm not sure how long I'll need to leave the lids loose - I think I'll be monitoring closely for some time. I understand that these can be eaten in a few days, but that the flavour continues to develop for several months after that. I think I'll leave them a while - the point is, after all, to preserve veg while there's plenty available - and let you know when my patience (or fresh veg) runs out. In the meantime, aren't they pretty?



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* That strikes me as a curious fact about my childhood. How many people grow up with notions about how food was preserved in the olden days?

Translations for Americans: Courgettes = Zucchini, Broad beans = Fava beans, Kilner jars = Mason jars. At least two of these are probably obvious from the photos.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Foraged Food Friday: Cep mushroom

A combination of bad weather and a bad back kept me from foraging for most of last week, but by Friday afternoon both had improved sufficiently that I was able to go out for a walk. My destination was the bilberry field that we discovered a couple of years ago. I'm less daunted by the steep hill these days, and more prepared to set aside a few hours for this task.

I did harvest bilberries, but like last week's post, that's not what I'm going to tell you about today. Most of the bilberries are drying for use as currants, though of course I ate a few fresh (including all the ones that exploded when I tried to pick them). Hopefully the dried ones won't go mouldy and I'll be able to tell you about them in some future post. No, this week's post is about something much more exciting - mushrooms!

Like seaweed, mushrooms are a class of wild food that I've been keen to learn more about. These are particularly daunting for a novice, as it's possible to kill yourself by eating the wrong ones. On the other hand, that's true of plants, too, and I'm happy enough learning to identify which of those are safe. For some reason, we seem generally more scared of mushrooms. Those who do eat fresh, wild mushrooms rave about how delicious they are, so I'm determined to learn more about them. I think that taking this one mushroom at a time is the way to go, so as not to get mixed up. I already know the field mushroom (pink-brown gills distinguish it from the death cap, and lack of colour on bruising distinguishes it from the yellow stainer), so what can I find next?

Pausing on my walk to look at some hazel trees (lots of nuts coming - I wonder whether I'll get any before the squirrels have them all?), I glanced down and noticed a brown mushroom in the grass.


A new mushroom!

Is that a penny bun? I wondered. It certainly had the look of a small bread roll, perhaps one that's been sitting around a bit too long. At this point, I was not a good forager. Instead of leaving it well alone, as it was the only one there, I flipped the cap off its stalk.


Hmm, that's seen better days.

In spite of the slightly chewed appearance, this looked promising. Those little holes in the surface - as distinct from gills - rang a bell. I took it home for further investigation.


Mushroom cap, by now identified as Cep (Boletus edulis)

According to my Readers Digest guide, the cep - also known as penny bun or porcini - is the most sought-after of all edible fungi. Ooh, that's good! I hope that's what I've got, then. Consulting various other guides (including Galloway wild foods), I found that I'd been right about the pores. Foolishly, I hadn't paid attention to the stem, but other features were right, including the colour: ... becoming yellow and eventually olive green in past-their-best specimens. This one was clearly past its best, but being confident that I had the sought-after cep, I decided to try in anyway.

Thinly sliced and fried, it cooked incredibly quickly. Although the texture was - shall we say - slippery, the flavour was sublime. Even this past-its-best specimen was well worth cooking and eating. I am pleased to say that I have added one variety of mushroom to those I can identify, and one that's well worth being able to spot.


Also harvesting this week
Courgettes (not mine)
Runner beans (not mine)
Rhubarb (not mine)
Broad beans (mine)
Peas (mine)
French beans (mine)
Potatoes (mine)
Mint
Oregano
Chives
Bilberries (drying)
Field mushrooms (in the fridge, to be eaten very soon)
Pine cones of an as-yet-unidentified variety. They're huge! I'm not quite sure what to do with them yet, if anything.

Also eating
Crab apple and rosemary jelly
Blackcurrant sorbet

Also drinking
Blackcurrant wine
Elderflower champagne
Blackcurrant squash

Foraged food challenge summary page here.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Foraged Food Friday: Wild Carrots

I went out in search of marsh samphire* on Tuesday and on the way, I spotted wild carrots. Jade of Wild Pickings alerted me to these (and also samphire) on her facebook page, and explained the alternative name, Queen Anne's Lace: The queen, an expert lace maker, is said to have pricked her finger and a drop of blood stained the centre of her lace, symbolised by the single red floret in the middle of the lacey flower. I didn't see the single red floret straight away; what I first noticed was a white, lacy flower with pink bobbles on it.


Probably Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota)

Investigating further, the leaves certainly looked like carrot leaves:


Yep, carroty type leaves.

I then looked around and found more plants growing nearby that had the defining red floret in the centre.


Pretty flowers with added shiny flies

After some effort, and with a bit of help from a friend, one plant was excavated from the very stony ground. Bearing in mind that these plants are biennials, I chose one that wasn't flowering, as the second year (i.e. flowering) plants would have much tougher, woody roots. By the standards of cultivated carrots, the root looks tiny, but compared with other wild plants, it looks pretty substantial to me. I guess it would be bigger later in the year, too. I can see why people thought they were worth cultivating.


One wild carrot

It smelled distinctly carroty and tasted just like cultivated carrots, too, perhaps with a little more flavour. However, it was so chewy (I ate it raw) that I wondered whether I'd accidentally picked a second-year plant, in spite of its lack of flowers. Then I read the following description on Eat the Weeds: Roots cooked or if you have good teeth, raw. Thin and stringy. Ah yes, that would be the plant I tried.

Because of the difficulty and illegality of digging these up, I don't think I'll be harvesting them in any great quantity (unless I try growing some in the garden - they might do better than the cultivated variety), but it was exciting to be able to identify them.


Also harvesting
Peas
Potatoes
Mint
Sorrel
Marsh samphire
Garlic mustard seeds
Mustard leaves
Wild strawberries
Courgettes (not mine - a neighbour called round and rather apologetically presented me with a carrier bag full of large courgettes/small marrows, and an invitation to pick as many more as I like. I have eaten courgettes in pasta sauce, with goats' cheese, in soup (all excellent), and have a large quantity of courgette puree in the freezer. And there are more.)

... drinking
Elderflower champagne
Sloe wine
Dandelion tea
Blackcurrant squash

... eating
Knotweed chutney
Crab apple and sage jelly

Foraged food challenge summary page here.
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* and I found it! I pickled most of it - it's the first time I've tried pickling anything, so I hope it works. If it doesn't spoil, I'll tell you about it in a few months. In the meantime, the young shoots are delicious raw.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Foraged Food Friday: Rosebay Willowherb flowers

Last year, when I blogged about eating the stems of rosebay willowherb (I hadn't learnt how to get the best out of them, then), Magdalene left me a comment to say that the flowers can be used for teas (amongst other things). More recently, Jade of Wild Pickings talked about using the flowers in salad or making a syrup.


Flowers of rosebay willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium)

Inspired by these, I decided to try the tea. For my first attempt, I picked sixteen of the individual flowers, put them in a mug, added hot water and drank. It tasted of hot water, pretty much. I tried again with all of the flowers that you see in the picture above, which was 56 of them (I like to keep track of these things). This takes up quite a lot of a mug.

Lots of flowers in a cupWith hot water

Interestingly, adding hot water completely washes out the colour from the flowers, and it doesn't make the water particularly pink, either. As for the taste, well there was more flavour, but still not very much. It was pleasant enough, but not worth picking all those flowers for, I don't think.


Also harvesting this week
Strawberries, both wild and cultivated
Raspberries
Cherries (just a couple - last ones)
Blackcurrants, for cordial, and probably other things too. I haven't finished processing these yet.
Potatoes
Peas, including some for the freezer
Mint
Dandelion leaves, for ale
Honeysuckle flowers, for the same ale

Also drinking
Elderflower champagne

Foraged food challenge summary page here.