I've always thought that Autumn was the best time for foraging for food. All those blackberries, hazelnuts, rosehips... But I'm beginning to realise that Spring is just as good - if not better- for harvesting some free food from the hedgerows.
This burst of sunshine over the last week has been amazing, it really lifts the spirits (especially as it coincided so neatly with the half-term holiday). I couldn't help but notice that the hedges are beginning to be dotted with beautiful cream-coloured elderflowers, so headed out on my bike with a basket.
I was a little early to be doing this to be honest - many of the flower-heads were not quite blooming, and many that were were way too high up for me to reach. However, I did manage to fill my basket and soon I was at home rediscovering just how simple it is to make elderflower cordial.
I think that I got this recipe from my parents, several years ago. We have made it before, but didn't make any while we lived in Canada - in fact I struggle to remember whether I even saw elder trees in Ontario..?
Anyway, you simply mix together 40 heads of elderflowers, 3oz citric acid (I got mine from the chemist - just ask at the pharmacy counter), 3 1/4 lb sugar, 2 sliced lemons and 3 pints of boiling water. Mix everything in a large container - a bucket is great, I used a washing-up bowl - cover and leave for 5 days. Helpful hint - rinse the flower heads very well. I have quite a few bugs floating in my cordial! They will of course get strained out. And it's only a bit of extra protein...
After a few days, strain and bottle it. I also like to freeze tubs of it so that it can be scooped straight into a glass and topped up with water, meaning that there is no need for ice-cubes. This also stops the cordial fermenting as can happen if you bottle it.
On the subject of fermenting, I would really like to try elderflower champagne too... I have found several different recipes online for this, some very different from others, but think I'm going to go with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's recipe, which can be found here. I'll let you know how it goes...
My other foraging success has been wild garlic. We discovered this last week, growing in Wendover Woods, so gathered a bag full. The leaves have a very delicate garlicky flavour, almost more like chives, and they can be used like any leafy vegetable.
They are lovely eaten raw as a salad leaf, but I used mine chopped and stirred through cooked pasta with my homemade walnut pesto.
I cycled up to the woods again today to collect some more (to be added to my salad tonight) and found that the leaves of the plants are beginning to turn yellow. I managed to collect enough bright green ones for supper, but I think it's nearing the end of its season. I'm glad we caught it when we did.
Do you forage? What for? Have you ever made Nettle Soup? That might be my next challenge...