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A Wild November Dinner
After a storm that swelled rivers to overflowing and blew the golden leaves down from the trees, I was pleasantly surprised to see just how much wild food I could provide for a special birthday meal.
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The weather is wildly unpredictable now. My final fungi identification walk of the year had to be cancelled due to Storm Aidan’s heavy rain and high wind warning. It was a miserable day. With all the vegetation dying back and the ground sodden, you’d be forgiven for assuming that nothing was left outside to make a meal with. So I thought I would share with you, the menu for a special meal that I cooked on Monday. This did include meat, as in the winter survival requires foragers to also be hunter-gatherers, plenty of fungi but wild greens as well.
Wild Pigeon and Winter Chanterelle Terrine
Waste not, want not. Personally I believe that when you take a life for your own nourishment, you should honour and respect the sacrifice by wasting nothing. A terrine is the classic way to use all of the meat including the fat and the organ meat such as the liver. It’s a great way to start a meal as you can make it the day before and it keeps hungry souls fed while everything else is coming together. So on Sunday I cooked a Wild Pigeon and Winter Chanterelle Terrine, layering chunks of breast meat, into a bed of seasoned minced fat and meat with breadcrumbs moistened with a little hawthorn gin and studded with pieces of feral apple and dried apricot, between layers of winter chanterelles mushrooms. The whole lot is pressed down into a lined loaf tin, covered in brown paper, tied securely, and cooked in a water bath for around an hour and a half at 150C. (The tin can be lined with organic bacon rashers when you can find them.) When it’s finished cooking, a brick placed on top of it while it cools helps to condense it into a firm, sliceable loaf to serve on crackers.
Porcini and Puffball Soup
When foraging for edible fungi, don’t waste the bits that you don’t want to eat fresh. Anything slightly soft, a bit holey, or slightly imperfect is a great candidate for drying. So to hand was a big jar of dried porcini powder and another of dried giant puffball. The soup started with sliced onions simmered in butter until soft and translucent, then some late horse mushrooms (Agaricus nivescens) found on Sunday after the rain had stopped, under a dry wall protecting a tiny patch of soil from the storm. Winter chanterelles went in and spoonfuls of the two mushroom powders with salt and pepper. On occasion I have also added chestnuts or walnuts to the boiling stock. When cooked through, all were puréed into a creamy, very mushroomy soup with a hand blender.
The soup was served with fresh horseradish cream. If you have only ever had the shop-bought variety prepare for an explosion of the senses! Freshly dug-up horseradish, cleaned, cubed and then blitzed in a blender or put through a fine mechanical grater is so potent. Peeling onions makes your eyes water but preparing horseradish clears your entire sinus cavity! Once pulverised I just add it into soured cream. Forget the vinegar, sugar, salt or pepper, this is all you need. Now drizzle it through the soup and garnish with a few slices of the raw baby horse mushroom for decoration.
Check out my blog post for a different recipe for porcini and walnut soup.
Red Stag Cooked in Yarrow with an Elderberry Glaze
I love deer but in order for deer to thrive in Scotland they have to be managed. If their numbers get too great, they run out of food during the winter and become sick, diseased and die. There are huge efforts now to replant broadleaf trees and forests across Scotland but hungry deer will wipe out acres of saplings in just a few meals. So balance is required and as there are no large predators left, like wolves or lynx, gamekeepers are left to manage the cull. They get to know the deer intimately and take out a few each year to ensure that healthy herds remain at sustainable numbers for the land that they have access too.
Rub oil into a culled red stag rump joint and season with a wild zatar made from powdered dried seaweed, fungi, wild herbs, seeds and any citrus peels you have saved from earlier in the year. A little oak smoked salt goes beautifully too. Then entirely cover with a thin elderberry jelly and press freshly-picked yarrow leaves into the surface to protect the meal while cooking and give it flavour. I then put the whole joint into a terracotta pot, whose lid has been soaked in water to provide steam, and put it in the oven. I haven’t bought tin foil for about 5 years now. I don’t miss it and find it completely unnecessary to strip-mine bauxite to produce sheets of aluminium for me to use once and discard! A lid with a pot protects the meat in the same way and can be removed in the last 20 minutes to crisp the top. The usual rule is 20 minutes to the pound plus an extra 20 minutes over. And don’t forget the gravy!
Serve with gravy and elderberry pontack- an Elizabethan favourite ‘brown sauce’.
Root Vegetables and Tubers
Dandelion roots are easily found as the leaves are still evident. Dig them up and select the bendy ones that are not too woody. Put woody roots aside to make dandelion coffee. Scrub the roots well and slice them up into pieces of around the same size. To this you can add some same-size sliced parsnips and some carrots if you like, or some wild salsify if you can find some. The bitterness of the dandelions contrasts beautifully with the sweetness of the parsnip. I sprinkle olive oil over them in a roasting pan and then cook until tender. About fifteen minutes before the end, I turn them and add some grated Parmesan cheese.
I also steamed some marsh woundwort tubers. Dug up (remember you need the landowners permission to dig roots and tubers in the U.K.), washed well in running water, and steamed for 5 to 10 minutes. Serve while they still have a little crunch to them with melted butter, salt and pepper. Delicious!
Wild Winter Green Salad
Not all plants die back. Some take advantage of the general die-back to have their turn in the winter sun. For this meal I picked pink purslane leaves from the edge of a beech wood and some wood sorrel too; hairy bittercress that covered the earth when once vegetables grew; common sorrel leaves sprouting in large clumps around the roots of dying grasses and docks; dandelion leaves from the roots gathered; a little sweet cicely from some late shoots and some golden saxifrage tops growing nearby; some wild watercress tops from a bank well above water-level and some early or late - depending on how you look at it - hedge garlic leaves that were growing in a sheltered spot. Strong tastes and a little bitter and peppery, so good for your digestion. All that was needed was a light lemon-mustard and oil dressing.
I expect to be able to eat little salads throughout the winter if I look hard enough.
Wood Blewits with Sage
Wood blewit mushrooms are in season now and abundant. They pair wonderfully with sage. Add some finely sliced red cabbage if you’d like some crunch too. Fry them all together with some onion and oil, adding the cabbage once there is some liquid released into the pan, and cook until tender.
Caramelised Crab Apples with Ground Ivy Ice Cream
These are abundant and just ripening at the moment. I used the bright yellow ones which are all still firmly holding onto the trees despite the storm, even though most of the feral apples have fallen and are now slowly turning into wine in my workroom. Rub the black end off but leave the stalks on as it helps to eat them by picking up the stalk.
I noticed that Gill Meller also has a recipe for caramelised crab apples. All three of his beautiful books are worth having: ‘Time’, ‘Gather’ and ‘Root Stem Leaf Flower‘ - suggestions for your Christmas list! Make a light syrup up with water, brown sugar (I love coconut sugar) and a little butter in a deep frying pan, then add your crabapples - just one deep - and cook for around 8 minutes until soft and sweet. Don’t have the temperature up too high or you’ll have burnt caramel! Sprinkle with a tiny amount of flaked smoked sea salt and serve with ice cream. For this meal I make our house favourite Ground Ivy Ice Cream by making a ground ivy syrup. Cooling it to prevent it splitting the cream, then drizzling it into whipped egg yolk and folding in whipped cream. This needs little churning which encourages this wild rennet to split. But well worth the extra effort and ground ivy is still flourishing. Top each scoop with some nettle seed honeycomb and candied hazelnuts.
To finish we had Beech Leaf and Watermint Tea. I still had some browned crisp beech leaves left this year that I had picked off a hedge in January and some watermint tops that were dried in the dehydrator just last week. Tea-tasty!
So do carry on getting outside in the winter as there are still foraging treats to be found. Experiment by adding a little foraged something every day!