If I could teach the world to…forage

Despite last month’s dalliance with lilac, my first love with elderflower has been well and truly re-kindled today. And to make it all the better I was joined on my foray into the woods by Esme and her little helper Barnaby Bear.

Growing up, my parents taught me all about the delights that nature could provide. Despite a rather unfortunate episode with Dad’s elderflower champagne, it sparked a real passion in me and one which I am now determined to pass on.IMG_5593

It amazes me that despite campaigns to teach children where meat comes from and the virtues of healthy eating, education draws a blank around foraging. Now I am not naive enough to suggest that one can swap trips to the supermarket for jaunts along the hedgerows but at least giving our children a basic understanding of wild food and what can be achieved from simple ingredients they can pick would be a start.

It’s really encouraging to see so many wild eating foragers distilling the virtues in the media but I have a sinking feeling if we don’t involve our children now, it is something that will before long die out   – or even worse be swamped by swanky London chefs and “jump on the bandwagon” urbanites who over recent years have been stripping the countryside bare.

Wild food ticks so many boxes for me; fresh, delicious, free, no food miles or carbon footprint – surely we owe it to our children to pass the legacy on?

And what’s a better introduction than elderflower – lovely in so many ways and perfect for grown ups and little foragers alike.

Here’s a couple of my favourite recipes and a rather experimental one…

Elderflower champagne 


Ingredients

  • 800g sugar
  • Florets from 8 elderflower sprays
  • Zest and juice of 4 lemons
  • 1/2 tsp yeast nutrient

Method

  1. Clean and properly sterilise a fermentation bucket
  2. Dissolve the sugar in 2 litres of hot water in the bucket and then top up with 3 litres of cold water. Leave to cool.
  3. Add the elderflower, lemon zest and juice and yeast nutrient
  4. Leave to ferment. If there are no signs of fermentation after 3 days, give it a kick start with a sachet of champagne yeast
  5. After 6 days, strain through a clean muslin into a sterilised bucket – cover and leave to settle for a couple of hour and then siphon into bottles. I recommend the glass swing top bottles – they are nice and sturdy and are easy to open – essential to do daily unless you want them exploding!
  6. The champagne should be ready to drink in a week or so and will keep ok for a year… if you can resist it that is!

Note – it is absolutely essential you clean and sterilise the bucket and bottles really well. The aforementioned “unfortunate episode” with my Dad’s brew was a result of bacteria in the demi-johns…one not to be repeated in a hurry!!

With credit: River Cottage

Elderflower fritters


Ingredients

  • 15 elderflower heads
  • 100g plain flour
  • 2 tablespoons of oil
  • 175ml chilled sparkling mineral water
  • Caster sugar

Method

  1. Beat the flour, oil and water together and add 1 tablespoon of sugar. Leave to settle for 30 mins
  2. Heat oil in a pan – when hot enough (and you can test this by dropping a piece of bread in and if it browns immediately, the oil is ready) dip the flower heads quickly in the batter and drop straight into the oil
  3. Use the stem of the flower to submerge it gently under the oil until it turns a light golden brown
  4. Drain and dip in caster sugar. Eat hot…and before anyone else gets their hands on them!

With credit: Nigel Slater

Elderflower, lavender and gooseberry jam


Ingredients

  • A good bunch of elderflower
  • A freezer bag full of gooseberries
  • A few heads of lavender
  • Sachet of pectin
  • Caster sugar

Method

Note – this is a bit of an experiment hence the lack of exact measurements. I made the jam from juice using my amazing Vigo steam juice extractor but equally you could boil everything together and then sieve or follow usual jam making rules…whatever they may be! 

  1. Bung all the ingredients in the juice extractor and steam for 45 mins till all the juice is released
  2. Add 450g sugar for each pint of juice plus a sachet of pectin and boil until you reach jam point.
  3. Pour very carefully into hot sterilised jam jars

And not forgetting where it all started…elderflower cordial

Ingredients

  • 20 heads of elderflower
  • 2 unwaxed lemons
  • 75g citric acid
  • 1.2 litres of water
  • 750g caster sugar

Method

  1. Check the elderflower for bugs – try not to shake them too much at this stage
  2. Add the flowers to a large bowl along with the sliced lemons and citric acid
  3. Boil the water and sugar together until the sugar has all dissolved to make a syrup
  4. Pour the syrup over the elderflowers, cover with a clean tea towel and leave somewhere cool for 24 hours
  5. Strain through fine muslin and bottle into sterilised glass bottles. Cordial will keep for 3 months – refrigerate once open. Alternatively use plastic bottles, freeze the cordial and it will last as long as you can keep from drinking it!
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