There’s a risk this blog is going to turn into a catalogue of garden pests and problems. What with weeds in the lawn and ants in the greenhouse. And that’s just the tip of a horticultural iceberg here… I’m saving the brown rot on the plums and the mare’s tail coming up in the borders for future posts.
Now despite the title of this post, I’m not suggesting eating ants as a way to control their population (although there does appear to be a book with a whole chapter of ant recipes if you’re that way minded). More appetising are the ideas for cooking ground elder that I picked up on a foraging course we went on yesterday. Oh yes, there’s ground elder in the new garden too. But I may soon be complaining that there just aren’t enough ground elder leaves to be had for the kitchen. The young leaves are good in risottos, soups, curry and pesto – if you have some ground elder needing controlled, there’s glyphosate or these recipes… I know which method I’ll be using.
The foraging course was run by Chris and Rose of Taste the Wild. It was an introduction to foraging, looking at the edible wild plants growing around the visitor centre at Sutton Bank in the North York Moors National Park. Chris and Rose have an endless supply ideas on how to eat everything from wood sorrel to acorns (their blog is a great source of recipes). Some of the wild plants we looked at become weeds when they grow in a garden, and this is where eating them becomes an even more attractive proposition. Nettles and ground elder competing with the tulips in your borders? Try making a potful of spring green soup – if you’re lucky enough to have wild garlic and common sorrel in the garden or nearby hedgerow, add some of these too.
The fresh young shoots of rosebay willowherb can be cooked in butter and eaten like asparagus, while the flowers make a decorative addition to salads.
And ox-eye daisy flowers make tasty fritters when dipped in tempura batter and fried.
Less likely to be considered as weeds were the berries we picked to make a syrup at the end of the afternoon’s foraging. Within a short distance of the visitor centre, there were wild raspberries and bilberries growing. The syrup was nice and easy to make… well it looked to be easy, for once I was able to watch someone else do the cooking. The berries were heated with a little water to soften them, then strained to produce a rich, red juice. The juice was then brought to the boil with sugar and lemon juice to taste, before being poured into jars so that we were all able to take some home.
Probably the best way to use the syrup is poured over a scoop of good vanilla ice cream… we tested this out at home and would definitely recommend it. You could also make some wild berry salad dressing – again, tried and tested at home. It’s a slightly sweet dressing that’s really good drizzled over a bowl of freshly picked salad leaves, or used to dress a bowlful of cous cous mixed with seasonal veg (we used runner beans and broad beans). If you don’t have a jar of freshly made wild berry syrup to hand, the dressing works just as well with elderflower cordial.
Wild berry syrup salad dressing
1 tbsp wild berry syrup
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ tbsp Dijon mustard
fine sea salt, to taste
Whisk together the syrup, oil, lemon juice and mustard to get a smooth mixture. Taste and add salt as needed.