Friday, 13 March 2015

Tastier than Bear's 4: Allotment weeds

I am getting a little behind on my foraging challenge, partly because the weather has improved and I have spent more time at the allotment, throwing a ball for the dog, rather than taking her on walks. I have fixed the shed door, spread my remaining manure, planted fruit trees and bushes, and dug up buckets and buckets of couch grass, mixed in with the threads of old carpet.

There has also been Transition meetings, including a lovely seed sowing workshop last weekend, led by a very patient and knowledgeable Andy. My youngest daughter said, "How can you do a workshop on sowing seeds - you just get some soil and put them in!" How little she knew! I picked up lots of tips, such as what compost to use and mixing in a little sharp sand for moisture retention. I also had a chance to ask questions about things that had gone wrong for me. And of course it was a very sociable event with home made refreshments too. If you are local you can check out the Transition Loughborough website for upcoming events.

Then this Sunday was the first car boot sale of the season. I decided to have a stall selling, the idea being that I raise funds to spend in following weeks. It turned out to be a very quiet event, so I didn't do as well as I had hoped. Still I emptied a few bags of outgrown clothes from the garage and made £21. Except that I spent £2 on a new basket, £2 on a wheely trug, 50p on a bag and....50p on something else that I can't remember.

I also attended my first ever political meeting, as Amelia Womack, deputy leader for the Green Party was speaking locally. There will be a general election in May, and for the first time we will have a member of the green party standing locally. It was an opportunity to hear their policies and ask some important questions, and Amelia was a friendly and easy to follow speaker. She certainly gave me food for thought. And talking of food.......

It turns out that Couch grass roots are edible. Wish I had known that before I dumped buckets full of them.

Actually they smell quite sweet, so they should make an interesting basis for a meal. So this weeks theme became allotment weeds. Alongside the couch I collected some red dead nettles again as they were so plentiful and pretty, a few stinging nettles as they needed to be weeded anyway, and the two new flavours of chickweed and hairy bittercress. How does this look for a bagged salad?

There was groundsel growing in and around the chickweed, so I brought some home to look up and was shocked that some websites described it as a salad plant whilst others said it was seriously toxic. I wasn't going to take a risk, but it just goes to show that it is worth double checking everything before you decide to eat it.

The chickweed had very pretty, distinctive white flowers, but they had closed up completely by the time I got my camera out. The stem has a single line of hairs down it, which help with the identification. John Wright describes the flavour of chickweed in The River Cottage Handbook No.7: Hedgerow as "...mild and pleasant, not unlike lettuce but with a bit of freshly mown cricket pitch thrown in." I had collected loads, and though it had a nice texture, the cricket pitch flavour was too much for me, so I only used a small handful.

The hairy bittercress was amazing though. It smelled and tasted just like cress and was not bitter at all. I mixed it in with the chickweed and some raw red dead nettles for the salad, but unfortunately the lovely cress flavour didn't come through. Maybe I need more next time.

It would definitely work in egg sandwiches. I will be keeping all the hairy bittercress I dig up from now on, or just nibbling it raw in between digging.

I fried the chopped couch grass roots with the nettles and some of the dead nettles, but I decided to taste them before adding them to my salad. Good job too, because they were really tough, like chewing twigs! The flavour was fine - no bitterness like the dandelion roots, but they were too tough to eat. Luckily I had picked lots of dead nettles, so I chucked the first batch with the couch grass away and fried the rest on their own.

The fried dead nettles really were the star of the meal and very tasty. The salad was a lovely texture, but raw dead nettles aren't as tasty as the cooked ones, and the chickweed was the overriding flavour. I won't use chickweed again, or else in very small amounts, because I am not so keen on the grassy taste. Still I finished it all off..... well apart from the couch grass. Glad I did throw bucketsful away, because you would have to be very desperate to try eating it.

Besides this week's meal I wanted to make another batch of dandelion coffee. The first attempt weren't roasted enough and tasted vile. The second attempt I followed guidance from River Cottage no.7 to cook them for 30minutes at 200 degrees C. They were burnt within 10 minutes, maybe because I had chopped them quite small and they were very dry to start with. Half of this batch weren't too burnt and it did make rather a lovely drink. Hopefully the next batch will be perfect again.

I also found some coltsfoot whilst I was walking round the local reservoir. It is supposed to be a good remedy for coughs, so I will pick a few more to dry next time, because it wil be good to have some remedies in for next winter. I have just dried a bunch of sweet violets on my windowsill too

Every time I am out, I have brought one or two plants back for identification and tasting, so I am gradually increasing my wild plant knowledge. Where I really think that it will save me money is with herbal teas that I drink regularly, and with herbal remedies. I am gradually increasing my store of little bottles with dried plants, so that I should have enough variety to make more remedies soon. I had better start adding labels too, as I will no doubt forget what each one is! Let me know if you do any foraging or make any wild remedies?

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