It’s an accurate statement to say that society has, for the most part, settled into a convenience centred mindset as modern-day life commitments such as commutes, work and family dominate the majority of hours in our days. With little time to spare, everything else in our lives is often squeezed in order to make room for these central commitments. Unfortunately, we pay this price with things that are most important like exercise, being in nature and even an awareness of the food we eat.
Regardless of what is pushing us for time, our course of action is always to rely on an intermediary to handle the time-consuming aspects of growing, harvesting, preparing and packaging our foods hence why supermarkets play such a pivotal role in distributing food to the masses. It’s within this ever-spinning convenience-crazed tornado that we can sometimes lose sight of what food really is, its origins and how it is gathered. Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and other chefs are encouraging a return to food habits that are ethical and sustainable through foraging. Among others, Hugh has shown that we can utilise the rich bounties of readily available food that is literally on our doorstep.
With the summer holidays underway, why not take some time to get out into nature and discover the joy of food made from freshly picked, natural and free sources!
Found in abundance in the UK’s woodlands, the Elderflower starts to come out in full force at the start of summer and grows in lively cream-coloured expanses that often bloom out from their branch in spectacular fashion. The flowers themselves are small, flat-topped and contain tiny sacks of pollen which will emit a sweet smell into the air which will give you a sure indication that they are elderflowers. The leaves are also serrated and feather-shaped with the plant nearly always growing as a bush. For those that are not familiar with the taste of elderflower, it is beautifully sweet, summery and floral which is why it is used to make a variety of juices and even champaign. Rather than popping to Sainsbury’s to pick up a bottle of elderflower juice, why not go on a country walk and seek out some wild elderflowers and make your own!.
How To Make It
Take 3 litres of water in a pan and heat it up whilst dissolving 4kg of white sugar into it in order to make a hot sugar syrup.
Take a large bunch of freshly picked elderflowers (roughly about 3/4s of a carrier bag full), put this into a separate saucepan and cover with the grated zest and juice of four lemons.
Pour the boiling sugar syrup onto the elderflower saucepan and stir. Add in 80g of citric acid crystals, this will eventually add to the flavour but more importantly, kill off the natural yeast produced by the elderflowers so that the mix does not ferment and turn into wine!
Leave the mix to sit for about two days at which point you can then separate the syrup through a nylon strain bag and into a collection pan from which your cordial can then be bottled.
Ripe blackberries are an untapped goldmine for first-time and experienced foragers alike as they are easily identifiable (clusters of bulging black sacks), substantial and available in abundance. Blackberries are seasonal and appear towards the end of the summer with the prime time for ripeness being mid-late August - September time.
In terms of location, they are mostly found in rural areas where there is dense vegetation such as bushes and hedges but they can also grow in gardens albeit in lower quantities unless you have a very large urban garden! Blackberries are bursting with flavour and balance a deep fruity sweetness with a subtle sharpness which makes them hugely versatile. No desert provides end of summer comfort quite like blackberry crumble served with creamy sweet custard or ice cream.
How To Make It
As mentioned, blackberries are not hard to find but you have a better chance of finding substantial quantities all at once if you head out to rural areas especially the bushes and hedgerows that border fields and walking trails. There are not that many pitfalls to fall down when foraging for blackberries, just make sure that they are plump, dark and not red as this indicated an unripened berry which will be hard and very sour.
Start by washing your haul of blackberries by running them under a cold tap, you’ll need about 300g of blackberries for a dish that serves 5
Whilst the berries sit it’s time to prepare the crumble mix. Mix 100g of unsalted butter chunks with 200g plain flour, 50g of cold-rolled oats and 50g of caster sugar. You should get a rough chunky mixture.
Next, sprinkle your blackberries with a sprinkling of sugar evenly and place them in an even layer inside a ceramic baking dish.
Take the crumble spread this on top of the blackberry layer
Season the top of the crumble with brown sugar (this will melt and caramelise with the oven’s heat)
Bake for about 40 minutes at 180C and serve with a healthy dollop of ice cream or creme fraiche!
The secret to making the best crumble is to ensure that it has that classic golden brown evenly top layer. This is made easy by fan assisted ovens found in many Rangemaster range cookers and will cook every square inch of your dish so that you enjoy optimal taste throughout.
Wait….crayfish sourced naturally from UK streams? Absolutely! There’s no need to fly to the swampy bayous of New Orleans to get fresh crawfish gumbo. In fact, the North American Signal crayfish is considered somewhat of a pest since being introduced to UK waterways in the 1970s. The species has bred incredibly fast and their bigger and more powerful size has meant they’ve outcompeted our native white claw species for food and habitat.
The Environment Agency is actively trying to reduce numbers by encouraging people to take to the waterways to catch American Signal crayfish. Make sure you apply for a free crayfish fishing licence form the Environment Agency’s website first, you will most likely be accepted but licences are a way of the organisation keeping track of how much “culling power” is deployed at any one time.
Techniques for catching crayfish could fill multiple books so for the sake of staying on track, we’d recommend using a UK legal collapsable crayfish pot which conforms to the permitted dimensions as set out by the Environment Agency (available on Amazon for about £8-10). Bacon or pollock are great for bait and when a potential catch walks inside the pot to retrieve it, they will get trapped inside. The kindest way to kill your crayfish before cooking them is to put them in the freezer for 30 minutes which will gradually and painlessly put them to sleep. When they are immobile, take a sharp knife and drive it through the cerebral cortex.
The Gumbo Recipe
Take five cubes of chorizo and sweat them on a low heat in a pan so that they secrete plenty of rich red oil.
Take 2 diced white onions and cook them for 10 minutes in the chorizo and oil mix.
Add x4 sliced large tomatoes, x2 chopped sticks of celery and x3 shredded garlic cloves and let the whole mixture cook.
Next, add one cup of fish stock and reduce
Add one cup of flour after 20 minutes to create a thick mixture.
Add half three tablespoons of cajun spice mix and a pinch of salt.
Next, peel the crayfish by removing the head and removing the shell in sections from the tail. For this recipe, we’ll need about 0.5 kg of crayfish. When the crayfish are peeled, add them to the gumbo broth and let them simmer for 15 minutes.
Serve with bread to dip or white rice.