Sunday 1 February 2009

Wild Food Guide 'M'

Wild Foods Guide 'M'

This is the thirteenth of my series of 26 postings on wild foods. Each post will deal with a separate letter of the alphabet ('M' 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 'M', the thirteenth letter of the English alphabet, which includes foods such asMarsh Mallow, Mint, Morel, Marsh Samphire, Myrtle and many others. Today, however I am going to devote this page to Marsh Samphire and the Myrtle (Bog).

The Marsh Samphire (), Salicons, represents a genusof succulent, salt tolerant plants that grow in salt marshes, on beaches, and among mangroves and are native to Europe and the United States. The common European glasswort is Salicornia europea which is more commonly referred to simply as Marsh Samphire. This is a small (about 15cm tall) green succulent herb with a jointed horizontal main stem and erect lateral branches. The leaves are small and scale-like and as such the plant may appear leafless. It grows extensively in estuarine salt marshes and was collected extensively during Elizabethan times.

The plant makes excellent eating and for anyone living near to the sea this plant will be their first introduction to foragin in the wild. It is best picked in June and July when the stems are young and succulent. If collecting always wash in sea water before taking home and wash as little as possible in fresh water as the rigidity of the stem is dependent on the salt water within it. This will be leached out if the plant is kept too long in fresh water. When young they can be eaten raw and used thus for salads or garnishes. Otherwise they can be boiled like asparagus for about eight minutes in salted water before being served with salted water. Tender samphire tops make and excellent accompaniment to fish and pasta dishes. Samphire can also be pickled. Just pack the stems into a pickling jar and cover with spiced pickling vinegar.

Here I present a classic modern British recipe for a classic seashore soup of crab and marsh samphire :

Crab and Samphire Soup

1 dressed crab
1 medium potato
500g marsh samphire shoots
600ml vegetable or fish stock
50g butter
200ml single cream
salt and black pepper to taste

Peel the potato and slice as finely as you can (best done with a mandolin). Heat the butter in a pan and use this to fry the potato slices until soft.

Meanwhile, clean the samphire and place in a pan of boiling water. Cook for about 10 minutes (or until the green flesh slides off the stalks) then add to the potatoes and continue frying for two minutes or so, before adding the stock. Bring the mixture to a boil then allow to cool and blend to a purée in a liquidizer. Return the mixture to the pan and stir-in the crab meat. Allow to heat through then season and add the cream. Bring the mixture to a gentle simmer (but do not allow to boil).

This soup can be served immediately, or it can be served chilled.

This recipe is reproduced, with permission, from the Crab and Samphire Soup Recipe from the British Recipes collection of the Celtnet Recipes Collection.

If you are interested in recipes for Marsh Samphire then you can find a range of Marsh Samphire recipes.

Myrtle (Bog) Myrica gale, (also known as Sweet Gale, Helig Mair) is the wild form of the herb, myrtle, the leaves of which can be found in spice stores. It is a a shrub that grows up to 1.5m tall in poor acid marshy soils of the bogs of north-western Europe. It is a member of the Myricaceae (myrtle) family. In Britain it can be found in a band extending through Northern Ireleand, North Wales, North-eastern England and Scotland.

The foliage has a sweet rather resinous scent and this has been used for centuries as a natural insect repellent. In north-western Europe myrtle leaves was used as one component of gruit that was used as a traditional flavouring for beer, though it fell into disuse with the adoption of hops as a bittering agent.

In May myrtle becomes covered in golden catkins that disappear as the grey-green leaves emerge. The leaves can be harvested nad infused into a rather refreshing tea. Myrtle leaves are also an excellent and very versatile herb that can be used with both sweet and savoury dishes.

The recipe presented below is for a classic reconstructed Ancient recipe for a classic dessert of wild bilberries flavoured with bog myrtle.

Myrtle and Bilberry Pudding

60g young hawthorn leaves
handful of gorse flowers (still available in the region in July)
small handful of heather flowers
large handful of bilberries (these are wild cousins of Blueberries [if using commercial blueberries quarter them and add a tablespoon of red wine vinegar to add tartness])
small sprig of myrtle leaves
240g fine oatmeal
½ tsp sea salt, or to taste

Place the flour and salt in a large bowl then add the finely-chopped herbs and mix together thoroughly with a fork. Next add the blueberries and mix in well. Add just enough water (for a different flavour you can also substitute beer) so that the mixture comes together as a stiff dough.

Tip the dough into the centre of a muslin cloth which then needs to be drawn-up tightly around the pudding before being securely tied-off at the top. Leave enough string free so that it's easy to pull the puding out of the pot in which it's cooked.

Stew the pudding with mutton or kid (it also works well with game birds such as partridge [the pudding also goes well with rabbit and pheasant but these are later introductions to Britain so would not be entirely authentic in an 'ancient' meal]). Ensure that you boil the pudding for at last two hours. Allow to cool slightly before cutting into thick sections. Serve with the meat as you would a chunk of bread.

This recipe is reproduced, with permission, from the Myrtle and Bilberry Pudding Recipe from the Celtnet Ancient Recipes Collection.

If you are interested in recipes for Bog Myrtle then you can find a range of Bog Myrtle 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 'M' on the Wild Food Guide for the letter 'M', part of the Celtnet Wild Food Guide.

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