THE GOOD LIFE

In­spir­ing ideas for would-be small­hold­ers

Country Living (UK) - - Contents -

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.

YOUNG LEAVES

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.

WILD GAR­LIC

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).

FLOW­ERS

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.

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