Sunday 25 January 2009

Wild Food Guide 'G'

Wild Foods Guide 'G'

This is the seventh of my series of 26 postings on wild foods. Each post will deal with a separate letter of the alphabet ('G' 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 'G', the seventh letter of the English alphabet, which includes foods such as galingale, girolle mushrooms, greater plantain, Guelder rose, Good King Henry, gorse, garlic mustard, ground elder and many others. Today, however I am going to devote this page to galingale and ground elder.

The Galingale (also known as Sweet Galingale), Cyperus longus, is a monocot perennial flowering plant and member of the Cyperaceae (sedge) family. Superficially, galingale resembles a grass or rush that prefers wet ground and is closely related to the Egyptian papyrus. It is native to Britain and the Mediterranean and grows by water and in marshy places. It quickly grows to 2m in height and has large, attractive inflorescences.

The tuberous roots are edible and have an aromatic violet-like tone. They were a critical ingredient of many Medieval recipes and were used where today we would use ginger or galangal. Sweet Galingale is one of those plants that has fallen out of culinary use in Europe, though it and its close relatives are still used in Europe. If you have a damp corner in your garden then this is a plant that's well worth growing and adding to your foods.

However, if you are familiar with Medieval foods and recipes you will have come across many redactions (modernizations) calling for galingale. Often this is incorrectly translated as Oriental galangal. However, the real galingale is the sedge root described here. With this information you can collect and prepare your own galingale and prepare the Medieval dishes as they were meant to be made.

Here I present a classic Medieval recipe for a fig stew incorporating galingale :

Fig Stew

300g raisins
300g figs, diced
1 bottle sweet white wine (eg muscat)
1 tsp ground white pepper
1 tsp ground mace
1 tsp galingale
2 tbsp rice flour

Place the fruit in a saucepan, cover with the wine, bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer and cook until they become soft (about 25 minutes). At this pont mash the fruit into a fine paste (use a food processor if you wish).

Pour the wine and fruit mixture back into the saucepan, add the spices and cook until it thickens (if it doesn't get thick enough add some of the rice flour until it does thicken). In the original recipe sandalwood is added as a colouring. You can add a drop of fed food colouring or a few grains of sumac if you want.

This recipe is reproduced, with permission, from the Fig Stew Recipe from the Medieval Recipes collection of the Celtnet Recipes Collection.

If you are interested in recipes for galingale then you can find a range of field mushroom recipes.

Ground Elder Aegopodium podagraria, ((also known as Goutweed, Herb Gerard, Bishop's Weed and Snow-in-the-mountain) is a hairless perennial weed in the Apiaceae (Umbelliferae or carrot) family. It grows rapidly and attains a height of about 1m. It's range covers most of Europe, western Asia and Siberia, though it was probably introduced into Britain by the Romans. The leaves are multi-lobed, with three lobes at the tip and are either green or variegated with white borders.

The plant's common name of Ground Elder derives from the superficial similarity of the Ground Elder's leaves to that of the tru Elder, Sambucus nigra, though they are totally unrelated. It was introduced into Britian as an edible plant by the Romans and was cultivated as a food crop and medicinal herb in the Middle Ages where it was mainly used as a food that could counteract gout, one of the effects of the rich foods eaten by monks, bishops and the high-born at this time. It prefers damp, shady, conditions (which is why it's a common hedgerow plant) but it will growin in any soil. Indeed, it is extremely invasive spreading rapidly via it's colonial rootstock. Once established it can be very difficult to eradicate because any small piece of root left in the ground can regrow.

The leaves of the plant can be used as a foodstuff and are best collected when young and before the plant has come into flower (after that point the leaves become strongly laxative!). They can be used raw or cooked and have an unusual tangy, rather aromatic, flavour — a little like dandelion without the sharpness; on the way to sorrel without the lemony-ness. This plant is definitely and acquired taste and most who try the plant do not like it at the first taste. Most simply, the leaves can be cooked as a spinach but young leaves can also be used in salads, soups and stocks. The young shoots make a very acceptable substitute for spinach. It is still commonly used as a potherb in Scandinavia and is used as a vegetable in Latvia and Russia.

The recipe presented below is for a classic Greek pie incorporating ground elder.


For the Pastry:
200g butter
200g sour cream
350g plain flour
a pinch of salt

For the Filling:
3 tbsp oil
200–300g young ground elder leaves
100g onion, finely chopped
200g feta cheese
1 egg
1 tbsp dried oregano
salt and coarsely-ground black pepper
1 egg whisked with 1 tbsp water for eggwash

Begin by preparing the pastry. Melt the butter on a medium heat then take off the heat before mixing-in the sour cream, flour and salt. Knead until the pastry comes together (it should be very soft and pliable). Wrap in clingfilm and place in the fridge to chill (leave for up to 30 minutes).

Meanwhile, wash the wild greens and dry thoroughly. Heat a non-stick frying pan on medium heat stir-fry the leaves until they wilt. Quickly rinse them under cold running water to stop them from cooking further. Press until dry then chop the cooked leaves coarsely.

Add the oil to the pan, add the onion and cook on low heat for about 10 minutes, or until the onion begins to soften. Take off the heat and add the other ingredients, mixing thoroughly to combine.

Roll the relaxed dough to a large rectangle about 0.5 cm thick. Halve the dough into 2 essentially equally-sized rectangles. Place the smaller one on a medium-sized baking tray, spread the filling on top, and cover with the larger dough sheet. Pinch the edges firmly together, pierce with a fork couple of times and brush with the eggwash.

Place in an oven pre-heated to 200°C and bake for 25–30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven, allow tool a little and cut into squares.

This recipe is reproduced, with permission, from the Hortapita Recipe from the Celtnet Greek Recipes Collection.

If you are interested in recipes for Ground Elder then you can find a range of ground elder 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 'G' on the Wild Food Guide for the letter 'G', part of the Celtnet Wild Food Guide.

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