Valerie O’Connor goes wild on a Wednesday with ‘Wild Kitchen’ owner and forager, Oonagh O’Dwyer.
Nature-loving food events like the fabulously named ‘Go Wild Wednesdays’ run by Oonagh O’Dwyer, are perfect for food and foraging-obsessed ‘greenies’ like me.
Paleo taunts the hunter-gatherer in our DNA, yet the greatest part of our diet was always gathered by the children and stay-at- home mothers back in the caves.
Meat was a rare treat, while berries, nuts, herbs and seaweeds made up the largest part of our diet.
Oonagh O’Dwyer has gathering and foraging in her DNA too, and has made her passion into her job with her wild food walks along the seashore of her Burren home place.
This wild woman can tell the same stories again and again with equal passion, as the landscape is ever changing and each season brings with it new delights for feasting upon.
In the cosy and hipster joint that is the Cheese Press on Ennistymon, Co Clare’s main street, Go Wild Wednesday’s are a series of workshops based on just that, wild food.
From foraging to fermenting, to making wild food canapés and cooking with seaweed, these informal and well-priced gatherings are a great opportunity to pick up tips on what to pick up from your surroundings. Chefs and real food fans will love these classes, I’m probably going to do them all.
Being the time of year again for elderflower, it was exciting to try a magical recipe made with these abundant, fragrant flower heads that are bowing their pretty heads from boughs across the highways and byways of the countryside and cities right now.
(This weekend is probably the last chance before they turn into berries).
By making up a batter and dipping in the heads of the flowers in their entirety, then frying them in oil, we enjoyed the most amazing crispy and indulgent snack, drizzled over with maple syrup to complete the treat.
Elderflower fizz and cordials are a no-brainer for this time of year too and always make these with organic, raw cane sugar or coconut sugar, if you want to avoid chemicals and additives in your food.
You can mix up your flowers too by adding rose petals to elders and some mint for freshness, did you know that all unsprayed rose petals are edible?
Chickweed Salad with rose petals
Try this light salad to use some of that chickweed growing outside.
Collect and wash a couple of handfuls of chickweed. Collect wild rose petals when it’s dry outside.
Roughly chop the chickweed with a handful of walnuts, and combine with a little olive oil to dress and salt to taste. When ready to serve, sprinkle with rose petals.
At least 16 heads of freshly picked elderflowers 200g plain flour 1 egg, beaten — omit the egg if you’re not eating eggs and add a little baking powder 300ml cold sparkling water or elderflower champagne!! Light oil for frying Icing sugar for dusting
Sift the flour into a bowl and make a well in the middle.
Put the egg into the well and mixing with a wooden spoon, start incorporating the egg into the flour. Gradually add the water, mixing all the time until the batter is smooth.
Leave the batter to rest in the fridge for 15 minutes or so. Heat the oil in a deep pan, it needs to come at least 3cm up the sides. Test the heat by dropping in a teaspoonful of batter, it should bubble and start to turn golden quickly.
One at a time, dip the flowers into the batter. Shake off the excess and lower them carefully into the hot oil, holding onto the stalk.
Cook them for a few seconds on each side or until the batter turns golden. Remove and lay on kitchen roll to absorb any excess oil.
Reduce the quantities if you think this is too much for your needs.
Always sterilise bottles by putting them through the dishwasher first or putting them in the oven at 160C C for 10 minutes.
Makes 10 x 500ml bottles 40-ish elderflower heads/sprays 4 unwaxed lemons — zest and juice 1 kg organic/raw cane sugar Enough boiling water to cover to top of pot
Place elderflowers in a big bowl or bucket, first checking they are free of insects, add the lemon zest and sliced lemons.
Boil the water and pour it over them, cover with a cloth and leave to infuse overnight. Line a strainer with muslin and pour some boiling water through it.
Strain the elder into a large pot and add the sugar, bring it to a boil and simmer for five minutes. Have your bottles freshly sterilised and ideally, still hot and carefully funnel the syrup into them and pop the lids on.
I never remember to label things but it’s definitely a good idea. You can use plastic bottles for this if you don’t have glass, but allow the syrup to cool first and you can then freeze them.
This will preserve the cordial too. Dilute this to taste and have it with plain water, fizzy water or as I love it, diluted with a glass of bubbly!
You will need 10x 500ml bottles with flip top lids and a clean plastic bucket, a funnel and some muslin for straining 1kg sugar Flowers from 10 elderflower sprays Grated zest and juice of 4 lemons I tblsp apple cider vinegar
Dissolve the sugar in a plastic bucket in two litres of boiled, hot water. Top up with three more litres of water and leave to cool.
Add the lemon zest, juice and vinegar to the elderflowers, making sure you’ve given them a shake to remove any creatures.
Stir and cover with a cloth to let air in, but keep unwanted visitors out.
Check the mix after 3-4 days and if there are no bubbles wait for another day. You need a little hiss of fizz before you bottle it.
Strain the mix through muslin into a clean container and leave it settle for a few minutes before bottling into cooled, sterilised bottles.
Close the lids and store the bottles at room temperature for a week before drinking. n For more information on Go Wild Wednesdays or to book a class go to www.wildkitchen.ie
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