Get in the foraging groove

WILD and foraged foods are once again becoming part of chic restaurant menus as well as family meals.

Beware; once you get on the foraging groove it becomes totally addictive. Every walk, whether in the woods or the countryside, turns into a foraging expedition and it’s free. Wild foods still have their full complement of vitamins, minerals and trace elements, unlike much of the food we now have access to.

People usually associate an abundance of wild foods with late summer and autumn but we forage throughout the year. At present Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) are growing in profusion along the roadside: peel the stalks, cook the pieces gently in well salted water, then toss in a little melted butter or olive oil. The delicate flavour is delicious with fish or scallops.

Young nettles (urtica dioica) the cure for so many ailments, are already springing up. Use them in pesto and soups, or add the wilted leaves to champ or colcannon. We’ve got tons of chickweed (Stellaria media) in the greenhouse; you’ll pay $10 a pound for it in the Union Square market in New York, but here it’s the bane of gardeners’ lives — just eat it. It’s delicious in a green salad.

Pennywort (Centella Asiatica), another of my favourite wild foods, grows with wild abandon out of the stone walls and stony ditches, sometimes called navel wort or ‘bread and butter’. We use it in salad and as a garnish. Bittercress (Cardamine hirsute) grows in little clumps in gravel paths or in damp places — we love its peppery taste. Watercress (Nasturtium officinal) too is lush and abundant at present; it grows side by side with wild celery, also called fools watercress (Apium nodiflorum), but the top leaf of the watercress is always the biggest.

The shamrock-shaped leaves of wood sorrel (oxalis) lend a clean lemony taste to starters and salad, there’s also lots of sheep’s tongue sorrel (Rumex acetosella) and buckler leaf sorrel (Rumex scutatus) in the orchard, sea beet (beta vulgaris) down by the strand and the ramsoms or wild garlic (allium ursinum) are bushy and green at present. We’ve been making lots of pesto and adding it to everything from pasta sauce, to flavoured butters and mashed potatoes and even soda bread.

Our Spring Foraging, the first foraging course of the year (at Ballymaloe Cookery School) will be held on Saturday, Apr 27. But there are now several good illustrated field guides to help you, including Biddy White Lennon and Evan Doyle’s excellent new field guide and cookbook Wild Food Natures Harvest: How to Gather, Cook and Preserve published recently by O’Brien Press.

Evan showcases wild food on his menu at the Strawberry Tree Restaurant at Macreddin Village.

This field guide and cook book includes a charter for sustainable harvesting of wild foods. It’s a must have for any wanna-be forager.

Biddy Lennon-White and Evan Doyle’s Chowder with Dillisk and Carrageen

600g fresh pollock or similar inshore fish, skinned and cubed
500g shellfish (mix of mussels, cockles, clams, winkles, prawns)
125g hot-smoked fish (eg pollock, haddock or mackerel), skinned and cubed
50g smoked dry cured bacon, cut into lardons
30g butter
7g dried dillisk
7g dried carrageen
500ml fish stock or water
600ml milk (or milk and cream mixed)
1kg mixed vegetables in equal quantities (waxy potatoes, onion, leek, carrot, celery), peeled and finely chopped
A handful of chopped parsley, or parsley and chives mixed

Lightly cook and peel the prawns if using (or peel them while raw). Scrub clean the shellfish.

Cook bacon in butter until crisp; add all the vegetables except the potatoes. Season and cook over a gentle heat for 4–5 minutes. Add stock or water and the crumpled seaweeds and simmer for about 10 minutes. Add the potatoes and milk and simmer until potatoes are soft. You may set it aside at this point and finish off just before serving.

Add the cubed fish and shellfish and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring. Serve with plenty of chopped herbs. Good with dillisk-flavoured bread, scones, or oatcakes.

Biddy White Lennon and Evan Doyle’s Wild Garlic, Leek and Potato Bake

30 leaves of fresh wild garlic, roughly chopped
125ml organic chicken or vegetable stock
150ml carton of organic cream
150ml organic milk
A knob of organic butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 organic leeks, thinly sliced
175g real ham, chopped
500g last year’s organic potatoes peeled, sliced thinly
90g organic cheddar, grated

Pour the stock, cream and milk into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Season well.

Butter a one-litre gratin dish. Layer the potatoes, leeks and ham together in the dish, and spread out in even layers with the chopped wild garlic leaves. Pour over the seasoned liquid. Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes at 180C.

Remove the foil, sprinkle with the cheese and bake for another 30–40 minutes, spooning stock over occasionally, until the potatoes are tender.

This is the perfect accompaniment to a Sunday roast chicken, or as the first touch of spring to the last of the winter spuds or a great TV snack, when you have the munchies …

Biddy White Lennon and Evan Doyle’s Wild Nettle Beer

5 litres of water
Wild young nettle leaves, enough to fill a 5-litre bowl by volume
500g sugar
10g root ginger
30g cream of tartare
1 lemon, rind and juice
30g beer yeast
30g dried hops (optional)

Place sugar and cream of tartare in a lidded fermentation vessel.

In a very large pot boil the nettle leaves, ginger, lemon rind and hops (if using) for 10–15 minutes.

Strain the liquid through a sieve into the vessel. Stir and allow cool to room temperature. Stir in the lemon juice and sprinkle the yeast on top. Cover with a cotton or muslin cloth and allow ferment for four days. Carefully skim the surface to remove any scum or froth. Using a siphon, rack the liquid into bottles with a swing action beer lid or, if you prefer, into a demi-john and cap with a rubber bung.

Store for a week in a very cool place. Then it is ready to drink. Take care when you open the bottles as, depending on the success of the fermentation, it may be very fizzy indeed.

The Strawberry Tree’s Wild Sea Beet and Crab Tart

Two handfuls of sea beet, stalks removed, leaves washed, roughly chopped
300g fresh wild crabmeat
1 organic onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
1 bunch coriander, roughly chopped
Juice of one lemon
50g Parmesan, grated
250ml organic cream
4 organic egg yolks, plus 1 whole egg
Sea salt and pepper
Organic olive oil
Your favourite recipe for savoury pastry, blind baked in a 20-22cm tart dish

How it Goes

In a large frying pan, fry onions until soft. Then add chilli, garlic and fry for a few more minutes. Add the sea beet, and when soft, toss in the crabmeat. Fry together and mix thoroughly, then add the coriander, lemon juice and Parmesan. Lightly beat together the egg and cream and season.

How to Finish

Spoon the sea beet mixture into your baked tart case. Pour over your egg and cream. Bake, for 30–40 minutes at 140°C, or until set.

What you Get

Is a quiche-style seafood pie that oozes the sea and that can be served cold, warm or hot, all the way through the summer. We like to serve it warm, with a baby leaf salad and mayonnaised baby new potatoes.

Hot Tips

Brown Envelope Seeds — Gardening Workshop — Propagating from Seed on Saturday, Apr 6, 2pm-4pm, cost €20. Madeline McKeever is happy to tailor-make gardening courses for groups and if you are in West Cork why not arrange to have a tour around the farm at Church Cross, Skibbereen. You can buy your seeds, see how they propagate, enjoy a cup of tea in the barn and you can even take your own picnic. Contact Madeline on 028-38184;

Rachel Allen has a passion for baking. Join her for Cake with Rachel Allen, a two-and-half-day hands-on baking course from Monday, Apr 15, to Wednesday, Apr 17, at Ballymaloe Cookery School. Learn how to make special cakes for every occasion. Phone 021-4646785 to book —

Leading figures from the world of gastronomy will converge on East Cork for the first Ballymaloe Literary Festival of Food and Wine, to be held at Ballymaloe House and Ballymaloe Cookery School, Shanagarry, Co Cork, May 3-6. Among those flying in to participate are: Madhur Jaffrey, world-renowned for her books and television programmes on Indian food; Claudia Roden, acclaimed expert on Middle Eastern and Spanish food; Alice Waters, trailblazing founder of the famous Californian restaurant Chez Panisse; David Thompson, restaurateur, author and eloquent ambassador for Thai food; Stephanie Alexander, one of Australia’s best known and best loved cooks; Claus Meyer, co-founder of Copenhagen’s Noma, voted No 1 restaurant in the world; David Tanis, prominent American chef and New York Times cookery writer; Joanna Blythman, leading British investigative food writer and broadcaster; Stevie Parle, dynamic head chef at London’s Dock Kitchen and Jancis Robinson MW, one of the world’s most respected wine writers. Tickets for all events are available on – box office 021-4645777, 10am to 4pm Monday to Friday.


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