THE GOOD LIFE
Inspiring ideas for would-be smallholders
We tend to think of autumn as the time to harvest berries and fungi, but spring has its own delicious offerings in the countryside, too. Remember the rules of wild harvesting: always ask the landowner’s permission; only take what you need and leave some for the wildlife; don’t dig up roots; and never pick anything you can’t identify with 100 per cent certainty.
Unless you’re a very thorough weeder, you needn’t step further than your back garden for a delicious harvest. The first leaves of dandelions and chickweed are tender enough to go in salads, while the young shoots of goosegrass and early nettle tops are the perfect addition to soups, omelettes and pasta dishes. Wash them thoroughly in fresh water before serving – and, of course, wear gloves when picking nettles. All of these plants are, surprisingly, packed with vitamins, so are actually incredibly nutritious.
In the next month or two, head into deciduous woodland and you’ll likely be hit by the unmistakable smell of garlic. Wild garlic, or ramsons, has long leaves and will later form carpets of white, star-like flowers on the banks of streams. It’s great for beginner foragers because there’s little to confuse it with (lily of the valley – which is highly poisonous – lacks the strong garlic smell). The leaves and flowers have a fresh flavour, which is wonderful in salads, and even better when made into a pesto and served with pasta or fish.
ST GEORGE’S MUSHROOMS
Fungi are also on the menu in spring – St George’s are so called because they tend to
appear around St George’s Day (23 April). The white or creamy-coloured mushrooms are delectable when fried in butter, seasoned well and served on toast. There aren’t many others you can confuse them with at this time of year, but identify carefully before eating. A course can help; try Fungi Forays (from £20 per person; fungiforays.co.uk).
Spring sees the emergence of blooms that are worth harvesting. Clifftops and heathland will soon be covered in yellow gorse, the petals of which have a delicate coconut taste and smell. Eat them raw or infuse into ice cream. In May, don’t forget the elderflower season – shop-bought cordial is one thing, homemade is quite another. Add ten bloom heads to sugar syrup (1kg sugar dissolved in 1L water) just at the boil. Add lemon zest and 40g citric acid, then leave overnight to infuse before straining. Store in the fridge.
Read Wild Food by Roger Phillips (Macmillan, £12.99) and Food for Free by Richard Mabey (Collins, £4.99).
Make a delicious soup by wilting ramsons and nettles in butter, simmer in stock with a potato and carrot, and blitz. Swirl in crème fraîche to serve.