Darina Allen: Foragers Soup

FORAGING. Beware, you can get hooked.

It is so fun it quickly becomes addictive.

Where others merely see a clump of weeds, we visualise a yummy dinner.

We’ve had several exciting foraging courses recently including one slow food foraging session. All were packed with people eager to learn what for many is an almost forgotten skill. It’s free and available in both urban and rural areas, in the woods, by the sea shore, in the fields, on stone walls, all year round.

Unbelievable but true. Just walk outside your door, open your eyes in a new way, what do you see? Any daisies, primroses, dandelions? They are all edible, pluck the little petals from the daisy and scatter them over a salad, that’s called ‘daisy confetti’, how cute is that?

Dandelion leaves and flowers are both edible. The leaves are quite bitter but fantastically good for you. For many of us ‘bitter’ is an acquired taste, we’ve become used to the easy sweetness of tame vegetables. I love it, but if you’d rather a more delicate flavour, cover the dandelion plant with a bucket or lid to blanch the leaves to pale yellow just like the ones you’ll find in French bistro salads. The familiar yellow flowers make delicious dandelion fritters as do the leaves of comfrey. We crystallise many of the wild flowers including primroses and violets.

The stone walls around our boundary are encrusted with little fleshy discs of pennyworth — so good in salads. The wild garlic season is in full swing. The woods and shady places are full of the broad leaf ramps (allium ursinum). Many country roads are edged with allium triquetrum, the pretty three corned leek which has narrow leaves and resembles a white bluebell. Both types are edible but the wide leaves of the ransomes are perhaps more versatile for the cook. We love them in soups, salads, champ, pesto. The pretty white flowers garnish starter plates and are sprinkled into the green salad every day while the season lasts. The alexanders are flowering now so stalks are tough but the seeds can be dried and used in salads and pickles. Bitter cress or Winter cress with its slightly peppery flavour is another favourite, reminiscent of radish. It grows in little clumps like a weed, both in gravel paths and in soil. It has shallow roots and like all cresses the top leaf is the biggest, another tasty addition to the salad bowl. Some may be flowering now, tiny white flowers.

Scurvy grass is available all year, so-called because its high vitamin C content protected sailors from scurvy (cochlearia officinalois) You’ll find lots of uses for the fleshy leaves and slightly peppery taste. The pretty flowers can be also be scattered over salads. It grows along the seashore and in saline conditions.

Wild sorrel is also abundant at present, its tiny spear-shaped leaves grow out of the grass in fields, ditches and along the cliffs. The leaves of Bucler leaf sorrel are also small and are shaped like an old bucler shield. Its tart, zingy, lemony flavour adds a clean fresh note to salads, sauces and soups.

At the launch of the Kerrygold Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine, Katie Sanderson and Jasper O’Connor at the Fumbally Câfé in Dublin paired sorrel with honey carrageen moss pudding, a delicious and inspired combination. These two young chefs are worth watching, if you haven’t already been to the Fumbally put in on your Dublin list.

Honey Carrigeen Moss Pudding with Sorrell and Chocolate Soil

A delicious way to serve Carrigeen moss pudding, the brain child of Jasper O’Connor and Katie Sanderson of the Fumbally Café in Dublin. www.thefumbally.ie

Serves 6

7g (¼oz) cleaned, well-dried carrageen moss (1 semi-closed fistful)

900ml (1½ pints) whole milk

1 vanilla pod or ½ tsp pure vanilla extract

1 organic egg

1-2 tbsp honey

Chocolate Soil

100 g (3½ozs) caster sugar

2 tbsp water

75g (3ozs) dark chocolate chopped or grated into small chunks

225g (8ozs) sorrel, desalked

Freshly squeezed apple juice made from Granny Smith apples

To Serve

Softly whipped cream

Soak the carrageen in a little bowl of tepid water for 10 minutes. It will swell and increase in size. Strain off the water and put the carrageen into a saucepan with the milk and the vanilla pod, if using. Bring to the boil and simmer very gently, covered, for 20 minutes. At that point and not before, separate the egg, put the yolk into a bowl, add the honey and vanilla extract, if using, and whisk together for a few seconds, then pour the milk and carrageen moss through a strainer onto the egg yolk mixture, whisking all the time.

By now the carrageen remaining in the strainer will be swollen and exuding jelly. You need as much of this as possible through the strainer and whisk it into the egg and milk mixture. Test for a set in a saucer as one would with gelatine.

Whisk the egg white stiffly and fold or fluff it in gently; it will rise to make a fluffy top. Chill and allow to set for 3-4 hours or overnight.

Meanwhile make the chocolate soil. In a saucepan on a medium to high heat place the sugar and water, give it a stir but try not get any water crystals on the side. The sugar will melt and start to boil and bubble. You want the mixture to reach to 135C. If you don’t have a thermometer the mixture will start to turn a golden brown.

At this stage you want to work fast and pour the chocolate mix into the pot while whisking. It will dry out and turn to soil almost immediately. Magic. Cool on a nonstick baking tray. It keeps for ages.

Next mix three parts sorrel juice with one part freshly squeezed Granny Smith apple juice or to taste.

To serve: Pour a little sorrel and apple juice into a glass. Top with carrageen. Pop a little blob of softly whipped cream on top and sprinkle with chocolate soil. Serve.

Lydia’s Lemon Cake with Crystallised Primroses and Angelica

110g (4oz) ground almonds

110g (4oz) icing sugar

Zest of 1 organic (unwaxed) lemon and juice of ½ lemon

75g (3oz) plain flour

3 organic egg yolks

125g (4½ oz) butter, melted and cooled

For the Icing

175g (6oz) icing sugar

Zest and 1½ tbsp freshly squeezed juice from 1 organic lemon

For the Decoration

Crystallised Primroses

Candied Angelica

Equipment

18cm (7in) shallow-sided round tin

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/ gas mark 4. Grease the tin well with melted butter and dust with a little flour.

Put the ground almonds, icing sugar, lemon zest and flour into a bowl and mix well. Make a well in the centre and add the egg yolks, the cooled melted butter and the lemon juice. Stir until the ingredients are thoroughly mixed.

Spread the cake mixture evenly in the prepared tin, make a little hollow in the centre and tap on the worktop to release any large air bubbles.

Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes. The cake should still be moist but cooked through. Allow to rest in the tin for five to six minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.

Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl, and mix to a thickish smooth icing with the lemon juice and zest. Spread it gently over the top and sides of the cake using a palette knife dipped in boiling water and dried. Decorate with the crystallised primroses and little diamonds of angelica.

Crystallised flowers, guidelines:

1. Use fairly strong textured leaves, the smaller the flowers the more attractive they are when crystallised, eg, primroses, violets.

2. The castor sugar must be absolutely dry, one could dry it in a low oven for about hour approx.

3. Break up the egg white slightly with a fork. Using a child’s paint brush, very carefully brush it over each petal and into every cervice. Pour the castor sugar over the flower with a teaspoon, arrange the flower carefully on bakewell paper so that it has a good shape. Allow to dry overnight in a warm dry place, eg, close to an Aga or over a radiator. If properly crystallised these flowers will last for months, even years, provided they are kept dry. We store them in a pottery jar or a tin box.

4. When you are crystallising flowers remember to do lots of leaves also so one can make attractive arrangements — eg, mint, lemon balm, wild strawberry, salad burnet or marguerite daisy leaves, etc.Lydia’s Lemon Cake with Crystallised Primroses and Angelica

110g (4oz) ground almonds

110g (4oz) icing sugar

Zest of 1 organic (unwaxed) lemon and juice of ½ lemon

75g (3oz) plain flour

3 organic egg yolks

125g (4½ oz) butter, melted and cooled

For the Icing

175g (6oz) icing sugar

Zest and 1½ tbsp freshly squeezed juice from 1 organic lemon

For the Decoration

Crystallised Primroses

Candied Angelica

Equipment

18cm (7in) shallow-sided round tin

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/ gas mark 4. Grease the tin well with melted butter and dust with a little flour.

Put the ground almonds, icing sugar, lemon zest and flour into a bowl and mix well. Make a well in the centre and add the egg yolks, the cooled melted butter and the lemon juice. Stir until the ingredients are thoroughly mixed.

Spread the cake mixture evenly in the prepared tin, make a little hollow in the centre and tap on the worktop to release any large air bubbles.

Bake in the oven for about 20 minutes. The cake should still be moist but cooked through. Allow to rest in the tin for five to six minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool.

Sieve the icing sugar into a bowl, and mix to a thickish smooth icing with the lemon juice and zest. Spread it gently over the top and sides of the cake using a palette knife dipped in boiling water and dried. Decorate with the crystallised primroses and little diamonds of angelica.

Crystallised flowers, guidelines:

1. Use fairly strong textured leaves, the smaller the flowers the more attractive they are when crystallised, eg, primroses, violets.

2. The castor sugar must be absolutely dry, one could dry it in a low oven for about hour approx.

3. Break up the egg white slightly with a fork. Using a child’s paint brush, very carefully brush it over each petal and into every cervice. Pour the castor sugar over the flower with a teaspoon, arrange the flower carefully on bakewell paper so that it has a good shape. Allow to dry overnight in a warm dry place, eg, close to an Aga or over a radiator. If properly crystallised these flowers will last for months, even years, provided they are kept dry. We store them in a pottery jar or a tin box.

4. When you are crystallising flowers remember to do lots of leaves also so one can make attractive arrangements — eg, mint, lemon balm, wild strawberry, salad burnet or marguerite daisy leaves, etc.

Foragers Soup

Throughout the seasons one can gather wild greens on a walk in the countryside — foraging soon becomes addictive. Many greens are edible and some are immensely nutritious. Arm yourself with a good well-illustrated guide and be sure to identify carefully and if in doubt — don’t risk it until you are quite confident. Don’t overdo very bitter herbs like dandelion.

Serves 6

50g (2ozs) butter

110g (4ozs) diced onion

150g (5 ozs) diced potatoes

250g (9ozs) chopped greens — alexanders, nettles, wild sorrel, a few young dandelions, wild garlic, borage leaves, wild rocket, ground elder, beech leaves, chickweed, watercress

600ml (1 pint) light chicken stock

600ml (1 pint) creamy milk

75g (3ozs) chorizo or lardons of streaky bacon

Extra virgin olive oil

Wild garlic flowers if available

Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. When it foams, add potatoes and onions and turn them until well coated. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Cover and sweat on a gentle heat for 10 minutes.

When the vegetables are almost soft but not coloured add the hot stock and boiling milk. Bring back to the boil and cook until the potatoes and onions are fully cooked. Add the greens and boil with the lid off for 2-3 minutes approx. until the greens are just cooked. Do not overcook or the soup will lose its fresh green colour. Purée the soup in a liquidiser. Taste and correct seasoning.

Heat a little oil in a frying pan. Add the diced chorizo or lardons of streaky bacon, cook over a medium heat until the fat starts to run and the bacon is crisp.

Drain on kitchen paper. Sprinkle over the soup as you serve. Use the chorizo oil to drizzle over the soup also and scatter a few wild garlic flowers over the top if available.

Elderflower Champagne

2 heads of elderflowers

560g (1¼lb) sugar

2 tbsp white wine vinegar

4.5L (8pints) water

1 lemon

Remove the peel from the lemon with a swivel top peeler. Pick the elderflowers in full bloom. Put into a bowl with the lemon peel, lemon juice, sugar, vinegar and cold water. Leave for 24 hours, then strain into strong screw top bottles. Lay them on their sides in a cool place. After two weeks it should be sparkling and ready to drink. Despite the sparkle this drink is non-alcoholic.

Top tip:

The bottles need to be strong and well sealed, otherwise the Elderflower champagne will pop its cork.

Hot tips

Midleton Farmers Market will celebrate its fifteenth anniversary on Saturday, May 30. There are lots of exciting activities planned for the morning — local musicians performances, spot prizes, tastings, painting competition and lots more from 9.30am to 1pm.

A copy of Best Salads Ever has just landed on my desk in time for summer. This paper back of sensational salads by Sonja Bock and Tina Scheftelowitz has just been translated from Danish — a bestselling title in Denmark where it has already sold 83,000 copies, it’s published by Grub Street.

I’m a big fan of Fiann Ó Nualláin of Dermot’s Secret Garden fame. He’s a lifelong gardener with a background in health, wellness and ethnobotany. I loved his first book, The Holistic Gardener — First Aid from the Garden and now the sequel The Holistic Gardener – Beauty Treatments from the Garden is also a cracker. Fancy a snail facial anyone? Published by Mercier Press.

Sheridans Irish Food Festival is now in its sixth year and this Sunday, May 24, is jam packed with local food stalls, workshops, tastings and demos as well as the famous National Irish Brown Bread competition in the The Brown Bread Tent hosted by RTÉ’s Ella McSweeney. Check out the website www.sheridans.ie for the details.


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