Easter foraging in Sheffield

Gathering wild food has always appealed to my parsimonious nature, its free after all!  However, a better reason is getting into the great outdoors and the connection you get to nature and the seasons.  In the Sheffield area there are things to find all year round but it is by Easter time that the possibilities increase.

Wild garlic or often commonly known as Ransoms, (Allium ursinum) is a spring time favourite and when located is usually in such profusion that you have no concerns about over harvesting.  You can use the leaves, flower buds and flowers (the bulb too but as with all wild plants it should not be dug up).  As with all foraging ensure that you are 100% sure about what you are picking and check that there is no contamination from the environment.

 Wild garlic and its beautiful flowers

Wild garlic and its beautiful flowers

Whilst the a few of the leaves can be used fresh in salads we use most to make a wild garlic pesto which allows us to preserve it beyond its relatively short season.  The recipe is very simple:

First wash the wild garlic well. Soak in cold water, rinse and put them in a colander to strain.

Blend the wild garlic to taste with the following

·       garlic puree

·       pine nuts

·       grated cheese (any hard cheese will do) – parmesan is good

·       salt and pepper

·       olive oil (use the good stuff)

·       some lemon juice if needed to cut the richness

Jar into clean sterilised jars and secure lids tightly.

There are a number of other members of the onion family (alliums) which can be foraged.  Heres a super guide to knowing your alliums.

Another almost other-worldly wild find is the Scarlet elf cap.  This is an edible fungus which would provide an amazing way to present other edibles as a striking canape.  However, I have never found enough to warrant picking them and instead have just enjoyed them as a living spectacle.  They occur in woodland where there is plenty of fallen wood on which they grow.

 The striking scarlet elf cap

The striking scarlet elf cap

So Happy Easter one and all and I hope you are able to get out and enjoy some fresh air and make some interesting wild food finds.

Swarming Times - our local honey bees

It was action stations this morning as on my usual morning round in the garden I spotted a large swarm of honey bees in the old oak tree.

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In all probability these are from one of my two hives, which if so are indicative of a novice bee keeper having not be aware of its imminence or taken suitable preventative action. Actually I had observed that the hive from the swarm I caught in Heeley in May was going through strange times. I had seen a number of what I felt were supercedure cells being made in it. These are contructed by the female worker bees when they sense their current queen is starting to fail, that is her egg laying performace is deterioating and so threatens the future survival of the colony.

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Further than this eight days ago I had actually spotted what I assumed was a newly hatched queen and heared her “piping”. The video below has a small segment of this amazing vocal performace right at the beginning – its actually just two hoots from what was a quite prolonged and loud experience - you have to listen hard in the first two seconds!  My thought at this time was to leave well alone feeling that it was late in the year for a swarm ,the numbers of bees in this hive was not huge and that this new queen would take over in a perfect supercedure. This is a term bee keepers use for the situation where the new and old queen can actually live together for a period.  Its perfect as it reduces the gap between the old queen stopping laying and the new starting to lay new eggs.

I managed to catch the swarm by cutting down the branch to which they were attached attempting to drop this into a large cardborad box I positioned below. This did not go quite to plan with most of the branch missing the box meaning there was a lot of extra scooping to do in the undergrowth. I transferred the bees from the box into a “nuc” hive (a smaller specially designed bee hive for new colonies). Meanwhile “loose” bees were forming another smaller swarm on a branch close to the one I cut meaning another adventure up the ladder.

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I hope that I have got the queen and that the bees are happy to settle in this new home. If so there is a chance that I will increase my colony number to 3, giving more beneficial pollinators for the garden and beyond and the possibility of a local honey crop next year.

Autumn Foraging

Having enjoyed bountiful harvests of fruit and vegetables throughout the summer one could be forgiven for thinking "thats it for another year".  However, a feast of Autumnal pleasures await and here we feature a few of our favourites along with some interesting recipes.  Whats more you just do the harvesting letting nature take care of the husbandry!

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I find the spotting of Boletus edulis (the very fine Penny Bun/Cep/Porcini) one of my most exciting foraging finds.  As well as being an excellent edible mushroom they have a majestical presence and are distinctive enough to provide a reliable identification.  As always if thinking about consuming wild fungus/mushrooms you must be 100% sure of your identification.  There are of course many more poisonous specimens than those which are edible - some fatally so.  Cross referencing a number of good guide books and gaining experience over a number of seasons before attempting to eat is good practice.  Some excellent books and useful guides are listed at the end of this previous post on a Fungi Foray.

We will collect some if we find enough (and if you find one others are often close by) but leave plenty from a sustainability perspective.  After checking for damage caused by slugs and insects there is nothing better than cooking with garlic in a little olive oil and butter.  Sizzle in a frying pan well until the edges are almost starting to crisp and take on some colour and enjoy on a slice of good sour dough toast.

Alternatively they can be readily dried for use later in soups or to add punchy flavours to winter casseroles.  In fact its really worth buying a dehydrator to help with the preservation of a wide range of foods.  

We recently bought an excalibur dryer which has been in daily use.  Wind fall apples into apple chips, bananas beyond their aesthetic use into a wonderful caramel tasting banana chips and fruit and savoury leathers.  We love the fruit leathers as they make a really nutritious snack and are great for garnishing.  There is some very useful information on the "National Centre for Home Food Preservation" web site an American resource with a rather cold war austerity feel to it! 

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Numerous wild apple trees occur through out the greener spaces in Sheffield and although their use for eating is limited cider making is an excellent alternative.  We have given some ideas from our experience here and below is some of the fruits of our 2013 labour.

Hazelnuts are another excellent and commonly occurring tree on local common land.  Get there before the squirrels and a great harvest awaits.  Sometimes smaller than commercially available nuts they make up for this with great taste.

We have used local hazelnuts to make Hazelnut and Florentine Lollipops and lovely Plum and Hazelnut Frangipan tarts.

The great thing about getting out to do some Autumn foraging is that you never quite know what you will find.  Be adventurous and plan how you are going to procerss and preserve your bounty so that nothing is wasted and always be sensible to leave plenty to help regenerate for future years.

If you are interested in more on Autumn foraging we have previous posts here:

Some Autumn foraging and growing

A Wild Evening of Food and Fungi

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness

Is life just a bowl of Cherries?

Given that cherries are choc full of nutrients and protective antioxidants they can certainly contribute to a good life.  With trees throughout Sheffield currently laden with the fruit now is the time to get picking and try a whole range of recipes.  Here's an idea for a cake, a liqueur and a link to a slightly risque blog from a well known Sheffield food critic on the art of foraging cherries

 Cherries are everywhere - check out places away from main roads

Cherries are everywhere - check out places away from main roads

Cherry Liqueur

Using this recipe from Homebrew Underground it could'nt be more simple.

 

Cherry and Custard Cake

There is a great tasting and simple cherry and custard cake in this excellent piece from the Guardian which shows how four recipes can be made from one batch of creme patissiere.  Its rather like a cake form of a Bakewell tart but without making pastry and baking blind and all that jazz.

And heres the blog:  I popped my cherry in Attercliffe; from that well know Sheffield food critic Martin Dawes.  Enjoy.