One of the joys of discovering the wild things in our midst is that each month brings new possibilities. For me June’s highlights in Sheffield include Wild Rose flowers, the first Elderflowers and fresh Yarrow leaves, all of which are common in the green (and not so green) urban spaces of this great city.
The common dog rose, Rosa canina, is found on wasteground, in parks and growing in hedges. It has lovely pink flowers and can grow quite big to 2.5m tall. The even more fragrant Japanese rose, Rosa rugosa is an introduced species with dark pink flowers and grows a bit smaller to 1.5m. All rose petals are edible but as always be careful that they have not been sprayed with pesticides. By picking just the petals you can ensure that the hips still form to enable a return visit in the Autumn to make Rose Hip syrup. I love discovering ways of preserving wild food and making crystallised rose petals gives a brilliant store cupboard ingredient for decorating a special cake and adding exotic flavours later in the year (going all Ottolenghi on you ras el-hanout the North African spice is made from dried rose buds and spices such as cinamom, mace, aniseed and nutmeg).
Pistachio Meringues, Rose Cream and Crystallaised Rose Petals PJ taste May 2013
The blooming of Elderflowers, like many annual events, is all to fleeting in nature. Really at their best for only a few weeks so watch the weather and make the most of them, picking well away from roads. You can make a fragrant cordial, or excitingly an Elderflower champagnewhich is ready in a matter of a week or so, or even deep fry tempura style for a stylish dessert garnish. (We did chocolate coated elderflower tempura as a dessert in Miss Cindz’s Chocolate Puddin).
Yarrow is all around us, hidden until you start to notice it on verges, alongside footpaths and in parks. We use it primarily as a simple herb tea, refreshing and said to have all kinds of therapeutic properties including a remedy for colds and fevers, with anti -inflammatory benefits too. (Sounds like some rather expensive cold cures available commercially!). Find out more about this common plant by clicking here.
How to crystallise flowers.
A little fiddly but well worth the effort. Add a few drops of water to an egg white to thin it slightly and whisk well. With a small pastry brush carefully paint on as thin a layer of egg white as you can and then dust with castor sugar. I tend to let the castor sugar fall over the flower back into the bowl whilst holding it in tweezer. Next carefully lay out the flowers on baking parchment and dry over 8-12 hrs over a radiator or on a sunny windowsill. Occasionally moving them around prevents them sticking inexorably to the paper. Once dry they can be stored for a good time. My rose petals from last year are in a screw topped jar and each time I open it I am met by a heady perfume – almost good enough just to keep for this!
Note: never pick any wild plant until you are 100% sure about its safety (there are a lot of poisonous species masquerading as something else), your right to collect and the impact on the environment. There are some good guidelines available on-line and books such as The River Cottage Handbook number 7 “Hedgerow” by John Wright go into some detail.
Just outside the city boundary into the Peak district a host of different species can be found –for an insight see the Wyming Brook challenge on an earlier PJ taste blog.