Friday 23 January 2009

Wild Food Guide 'E'

Wild Foods Guide 'E'

This is the fifth of my series of 26 postings on wild foods. Each post will deal with a separate letter of the alphabet ('E' today) and will describe a wild food beginning with that letter as well as presenting a classic recipe incorporating that wild food.

Today I'm dealing with the letter 'E', the fifth letter of the English alphabet, which includes foods such as elderflower/elderberry, European Lime (Linden), European Strawberry and many others. Today, however I am going to devote this page to the elder (one of my favourite trees) and European Lime.

The Elder Tree (also known as elderberry) represent the flowers and the fruit of the black (or common) elder Sambucus nigra, native to Europe and western Asia. These are small trees which are classed as part of the Caprifoliaceae (honeysuckle) family, but which recent genetic evidence has shown to be part of the Adoxaceae (viburnum) family. This can grow to a tree reaching 15m tall, though more generally it grows as a large shrub (some 5–8m tall). Both the flowers and the berries are edible.

Elder flowers can either be used to create an infusion (elderflower cordial or wine) or they can actually be eaten themselves (elderflower firtters). It is best to pick the flowering heads when the flowers are open and full of pollen (it's the pollen that actually produces the flavour). If the flowers have begun to turn brown then they are past their best and have shed their pollen. These kinds of flowers should be discarded. The ripe fruit of the elder is also edible (although it is somewhat bitter, but a pinch of salt cures that problem) and can be made into wines or even baked into pies. You can also collect elderflower buds for pickling in vinegar and they make a decent substitute for capers.

The recipe blow is for a classic dish of a cheesecake made from elderflowers.

Elderflower Cheesecake

1 22cm Pastry case
675g Cottage cheese
70g Sugar
3 Egg whites
2 tbsp Dried Elderfowers
1 tbsp Rosewater

Whisk the egg whites to the soft peak stage. Mix the cottage cheese, sugar, elderflowers and rosewater and blend thoroughly. Fold the whisked egg whites into the cheese mixture and pour the mixture into the pastry case. Place in an oven pre-heated to 190°C and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until filling has set and the crust is a golden brown.

Allow to cool before serving.

This recipe is reproduced, with permission, from the Elderflower Cheesecake Recipe from the Celtnet Recipes Collection.

If you are interested in recipes for bilberries then you can find a range of elderflower and/or elderberry recipes.

European Lime / Linden The European Lime, Linden, (also known as the European or Common Lime) Tilia x europaea (syn Tilia intermedia DC, Tilia officinarum Crantz, Tilia x vulgaris Hayne) is the European or common lime tree, also know as the Linden. In fact it's a hybrid between Tilia cordata (the Small-leaved lime) and Tilia platyphyllos (the Large-leaved lime) and occurs naturally wherever the two species grow together. As such, it's not truly native anywhere and often the fruit will not be viable.

It's sweet scent meant that it was extensively planted in European cities as an antidote to the 'foul airs' of the 18th and 19th centuries. Yet the linden or lime is now found throughout Britain and this makes it a valuable resource for the wild forager.

It's a large deciduous tree, typically growing from between 20m to 45m tall (with a canopy extending out about 35m) and can bear a trunk of up to 2m in diameter. The leaves are lenticulate, typically some 10cm long and 8cm broad and the underside is distinctly hairy, with more pronounced hairs on the leaf vein axis.

The tree bears hermaphroditic flowers (top, right) early in summer. Typically these are produced in clusters of between four and ten, with a leafy yellow-green subtending bract. The flowers themselves are very fragrant and can be used as a flavouring for alcohol or dried and used as a tea. However, some care should be taken as, if the flowers are picked when too old, they may produce the symptoms of narcotic intoxication.

The fruit (image, bottom right) is a nut-like drupe about 8mm in diameter with a downy surface that's faintly ribbed. The immature fruit has a chocolatey taste and is often nibbled by children. The mature fruit can be dried and used as a chocolate-flavoured coffee substitute or even a chocolate substitute.

The leaves, flowers and fruit are edible (but see the note above on the possible narcotic effects of old flowers) and the lime tree is an excellent resource for the wild forager. The younger leaves (when they are pale lime green and translucent) can be used as a salad vegetable or added to stews as a thickener. Slightly older leaves can be part-dried and used in stews.

The older leaves can be dried pulverized and when sifted the resultant powder can be used as a thickener for stews (in a similar manner to the African use of baobab leaves or American sassafras leaves). Powdered linden leaves also used to be used as a flour substitute or flour additive to make breads, cakes and porridge or pap. Indeed, it was used this way in France during the Second World War. The process is not exactly efficient, though, as 500g of fresh linden leaves will only yield 100g of linden leaf powder. Linden leaves do, however, contain a high percentage of invert sugars. As a result they are readily metabolized by diabetics and can be an useful addition to diabetic recipes.

The recipe presented below is for a classic version of a bread using dried and ground linen leaves as a flour substitute.

Linden Leaf Flour Bread

136g linden leaf flour
544g strong bread flour flour
24g yeast
14g white sugar
60ml lukewarm water (for yeast)
340ml water (for dough)
13g salt
12g butter

Mix the yeast and white sugar into the 60ml water and leave in a warm place for 10 minutes to prove.

Combine the linden leaf flour, wheat flour and salt together and combine with the butter and the yeast mixture. Add the remaining water a little at a time until you have a smooth dough. Remove this from the bowl and tip onto a floured surface and knead thoroughly (for at least 5 minutes).

Roll the dough into a ball and place in a greased bowl. Cover with a damp cloth, place in a warm spot and allow to prove for at least 75 minutes, or until doubled in size. Knock the dough back and knead for a further 5 minutes then return to the bowl, cover and allow to prove for a further 45 minutes.

Knock back once more and divide the dough into 2 equal parts. Knead each dough piece well to remove any trapped air then press the two dough pieces into half-loaf tins. Press down well into the tin then cover the tins and allow the dough to raise for at least 45 minutes in a warm place (or until the dough has risen some 2cm over the top of the tins).

Place in an oven pre-heated to 210°C

This recipe is reproduced, with permission, from the Linden Leaf Flour Bread from the Celtnet Bread Recipes Collection.

If you are interested in recipes for European lime then you can find a range of dulse recipes.

This guide is brought to you in conjunction with the Celtnet Wild Food Recipes collection.

You can find more wild foods beginning with the letter 'E' on the Wild Food Guide for the letter 'E', part of the Celtnet Wild Food Guide.

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