Tuesday 30 April 2013

Date and Walnut Loaf Recipe

This is one of my mother's favourite cakes (at least it is now, after I introduced her to it). These are easy to make and the combination of dates and boiling water gives the cake a rich and moist quality.

This is also a good 'keeping' cake that can be stored for up to a week so it's a great standby in case someone unexpectedly drops by for tea.

Date and Walnut Loaf

Serves: 12
Date and Walnut Loaf: Three slices of a date and walnut loaf


225g (8 oz) self-raising flour
25g (8 oz) pitted dates
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
150ml boiling water
75g (3 oz) caster sugar
75g (3 oz) butter
1 medium egg, beaten
75g (3 oz) walnuts, chopped


Sift the flour into a small bowl and set aside.

Chop the dates and mix in a bowl with the bicarbonate of soda then pour over the boiling water.

Cream together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add the beaten egg, a little at a time, beating thoroughly to combine after each addition.

Stir in the flour and the nuts then fold in the dates. Spoon the resultant batter into a 1kg (2 lb) loaf tin lined with baking parchment.

Transfer to an oven pre-heated to 180ºC (350ºF, Gas Mark 4) and bake for 60 minutes. Once cooked (a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake should emerge cleanly) remove from the oven and allow to cool completely in the tin.

Once cold, remove from the tin then slice and serve.

Pear and Cranberry Tartlets

Here is an interesting and easy to prepare dessert of puff pastry topped with a pear half and cranberries that's oven baked to cook. These are wonderful accompanied by cream or crème fraîche.

As you can see, though they are easy to prepare these look great and are ideal for a stress-free dinner party, or even as a dessert for a sit-down family meal.

Pear and Cranberry Tartlets

Serves: 4
Pear and Cranberry Tartlets: Classic easy to make tartlets of puff pastry squares topped with halved pears and cranberries that are oven baked to cook


375g (14 oz) pack of ready-rolled puff pastry (defrost if frozen)
2 large, ripe, pears, peeled, halved lengthways and cored
25g (1 oz) dried cranberries
25g (1 oz) unsalted butter, chilled and diced
milk, to glaze
3 tbsp granulated sugar
pouring cream, or crème fraîche, to serve


Pre-heat your oven to 220ºC (425ºF, Gas Mark 7) and place a non-stick baking tray inside to heat up.

Lightly-flour a work surface and unroll the pastry. Using a sharp knife, cut into 4 squares. Place a pear half in the centre of each pastry square then divide the cranberries between the squares.

Scatter over the diced butter then brush the edges with a little milk. Mix the granulated sugar with the cinnamon and sprinkle over the top.

Carefully slide the tarts onto the hot baking tray and return to the oven. Cook for about 35 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown and crisp and the pears are tender and lightly coloured.

Serve warm, accompanied by cream or crème fraîche.

Jacket Potatoes with Easy Chili Filling Recipe

As well as being great served on a bed of rice, the classic American (Mexican) style chili also makes a wonderful filing for a jacket potato.

Here I've simplified the chili recipe slightly to make it easier to prepare (and so that you just have enough for filling 4 potatoes). Regardless, you still have a good base chili here if you want and you could scale this up to serve with rice rather than the potatoes.

Jacket Potatoes with Easy Chili Filling

Serves: 4

Jacket Potatoes with Easy Chili Filling: Classic jacket (baked) potato filled with a kidney bean and beef chili served on a white plate

4 large baking potatoes
1 tbsp sunflower oil
1 small onion, chopped
340g (12 oz) lean minced (ground) beef
1 tsp hot chilli powder
1/4 tsp ground cumin
140ml (1/2 cup + 1 tbsp) beef stock
200g (7 oz) tin of red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
4 tomatoes, blanched, peeled, and coarsely chopped
1 tbsp tomato purée


For perfect jacket potatoes you need potatoes of even size (about 275g [10 oz] each is ideal). Scrub the potatoes clean and prick all over with the tines of a fork. Brush with a little butter or oil then sit on a baking tray and transfer to an oven pre-heated to 200ºC (400ºF, Gas Mark 6) and bake for about 60 to 75 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft when gently squeezed.

In the meantime, prepare the chili filling. Heat the oil in a saucepan and use to fry the onion for about 4 minutes, or until just soft but not coloured. Add the minced beef and continue to cook until nicely and evenly browned (stir with a wooden spoon during this time to break up any large lumps of meat). Sprinkle over the chilli powder and ground cumin and stir to combine.

Add the stock, beans, tomatoes and tomato purée to the pan and bring the mixture just to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook for 20 minutes, or until the meat is tender and the sauce has thickened.

When the potatoes are cooked, cut the top off each one and scoop out a little hollow.

Pour the chilli over the top and serve.

Monday 29 April 2013

Lemon and Lavender Drizzle Cake Recipe

This recipe is for a classic lemon and lavender flavoured loaf cake that is topped with a lemon and icing sugar drizzle and garnished with edible culinary lavender flowers.

If you love lavender, or just want something different to serve at tea-time then you will go mad for this cake.

Lemon and Lavender Drizzle Cake

Serves: 10–12
Lemon and Lavender Drizzle Cake: Lemon and lavender flavoured white loaf cake drizzled with lemon icing and garnished with edible lavender flower buds served sliced


For the Cake:

175g (7 oz) self-raising flour
150g (6 oz) caster sugar
150g (6 oz) butter
3 medium eggs, beaten
finely-grated zest of 2 lemons
1 tsp culinary lavender

For the Drizzle:

75g (3 oz) caster sugar
juice of 1 1/2 lemons

For the Icing:

50g icing sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon
culinary lavender, to decorate


Sift the flour into a small bowl and set aide.

Cream together the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Gradually add the beaten eggs a little at a time, alternating with a little flour along with the lemon zest and lavender. Ensure that you beat thoroughly to combine after each addition.

Gently fold in the remaining flour until all the ingredients are combined. Pour the resultant batter into a greased and lined 1kg (2 lb) loaf tin. Transfer to an oven pre-heated to 180ºC (350ºF, Gas Mark 4) and bake for about 45 minutes or until golden brown and firm to the touch. Turn the cake out onto a wire rack and set aside to cool completely.

In the meantime, combine all the drizzle ingredients in a small pan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved.

Fr the icing, sift the icing sugar into a small bowl and add just enough of the lemon juice to form a smooth icing. When the cake is cold, drizzle over the drizzle then drizzle over the icing and sprinkle the top of the cake with the lavender.

Allow the icing to harden before slicing the cake and serving.

Strawberry Cloud Recipe

Here is another classic vegetarian recipe for a desert of strawberries in a tofu and lemon juice base that's loosely based on a traditional British fool, with the tofu blend being a vegan substitute for the custard base traditionally used.

Strawberry Cloud

Serves: 4-6
Strawberry cloud: classic vegen dessert of strawberry puree in a tofu base served in a glass and garnished with a whole srawberry


450g (1 lb) strawberries
275g (10 oz) pack of silken tofu
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tbsp brown sugar
a few drops of vanilla extract


Wash and hull the strawberries (reserve a few for decoration). Drain the tofu then place in a blender along with the strawberries, lemon juice and sugar.

Process until smooth then add the vanilla extract and mix well. Divide the resultant purée between 4 or 6 dessert glasses. Decorate with the reserved strawberries and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours before serving.

Watercress Soup Recipe

Watercress soup is one of the classic green soups and watercress provides a clean and slightly peppery taste to the soup.

Indeed, watercress (like wild rocket) is an excellent base for any soup and you can blend watercress with fruit like pears or apples or with sweet roots and tubers like parsnips, carrots and sweet potatoes to produce great-tasting soups.

Watercress Soup

Serves: 4

Watercress soup served in a white bowl

600ml (2 1/2 cups) chickens stock, veal stock or vegetable stock
225g (8 oz) old potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 onion, chopped
25g (1 oz) butter
2 bunches watercress, chopped
300ml (1 1/4 cups) whole milk
freshly-grated nutmeg, to taste
chopped chives, to garnish
salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste


Cook the onion gently in the butter until soft but not coloured (about 4 minutes). Now stir in the potatoes, add the stock and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.

Add the watercress and cook for 30 seconds, or until wilted. Take off the heat and allow to cool slightly then pass the soup through a vegetable mill or purée briefly in a blender. Pass the soup through a fine-meshed sieve then pour into a clean pan and mix in enough of the milk to yield your preferred consistency.

Add the nutmeg and season to taste then heat to just below the simmering point and allow the soup to heat through (but do not boil).

Serve ladled into warmed soup bowls and garnished with chopped chives.

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Sunday 28 April 2013

Lamb Cutlets with Rosemary Recipe

Lamb is one of my favourite meats and barbecue is one of my favourite methods of cookery. As a result, I make no excuses with this recipe, it's a real treat for me, combining a meal I love with a cookery method I really have fun preparing with.

So here we have lamb cutlets with a rosemary dressing cooked on the barbecue. Of course, if the weather is inclement this selfsame recipe can be cooked on a grill (broiler).

Lamb Cutlets with Rosemary

Serves: 4

Lamb Cutlets with Rosemary: Classic barbecue dish of lamb cutlets with rosemary served with boiled potatoes and sliced spring onions

8 lamb cutlets
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/2 tsp lemon pepper
salt, to taste
8 rosemary sprigs
jacket potatoes, to serve

For the Salad:

4 tomatoes, sliced
4 spring onions, sliced at a bias (diagonally)
For the Dressing:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 garlic clove, chopped
1/4 tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped


Trim the lamb chops by cutting away enough of the flesh to expose the ends of the rib bones.

Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, lemon pepper and salt in a shallow non-reactive dish. Whisk with a fork to blend then lay the rosemary sprigs in the dish before arranging the lamb on top. Set aside to marinate for at least 60 minutes, turning the lamb cutlets once.

Remove the chops from the marinade and wrap a small piece of kitchen foil around the exposed bones (this will stop them from burning whilst coking). Arrange the sprigs of rosemary on a barbecue rack and sit the lamb on top. Barbecue the chops for between 10 and 15 minutes, turning once.

In the meantime, prepare the salad. Arrange the tomatoes on a serving dish and scatter over the spring onions. Combine all the ingredients in a screw-top jar, shake well to combine then pour the dressing over the salad.

Serve the salad to accompany the barbecued lamb cutlets. Accompany with baked potatoes.

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Chocolate Marble Ring Cake Recipe

Here is a classic marble cake, a blend of vanilla and real chocolate sponge batter that's spooned into a ring mould and lightly mixed to marble before baking.

The cake is covered with a chocolate coating that's allowed to set before slicing and serving.

Chocolate Marble Ring Cake

Serves: 10
Chocolate Marble Ring Cake: Marbled chocolate and white sponge cake cooked in a ring mould that's covered with melted chocolate before servng


175g (7 oz) self-raising flour
50g (2 oz) plain chocolate, broken into pieces
2 tbsp cocoa powder
2 tbsp water
175g (7 oz) butter, softened
175g (7 oz) caster sugar
3 tbsp golden syrup (light corn syrup)
3 medium eggs, beaten
a few drops of vanilla extract
For the Chocolate Topping:
50g (2 oz) butter
2 tsp water
175g (7 oz) plain chocolate, broken into pieces


Combine the chocolate, cocoa powder and water in a small heatproof bowl. Set over a pan of simmering water and stir until melted then take off the heat.

In a separate bowl, beat together the flour, butter, sugar, syrup and eggs in a bowl until light and fluffy.

Divide the mixture into two equal portions. Stir the vanilla into one half and stir the melted chocolate mixture into the other half.

Grease a 2l (8 cup) ring mould (bundt pan) and line the base with baking parchment. Place alternate spoonfuls of the vanilla and chocolate mixture into the mould until all the mixtures have been added. Swirl the two mixtures together with a metal spoon.

Transfer to an oven pre-heated to 180ºC (350ºF, Gas Mark 4) and bake for 60 minutes, or until the cake is set. Turn out onto a wire rack and set aside to cool.

To decorate, combine the butter, water and chocolate in a small heat-proof bowl. Set over a pan of simmering water, stirring until the chocolate has melted.

Allow to cool until the chocolate begins to hold its shape then spoon over the cake. Allow to harden completely before slicing and serving.

Banana-flavoured Apricots with Coconut Cream Recipe

Here is a classic vegetarian/vegan recipe for a dessert of apricots soaked in banana-flavoured soya milk served with creamed coconut and lemon juice in place of cream.

Delicious and easy to make, this shows that vegan dishes do not always have to be complicated to prepare.

Banana-flavoured Apricots with Coconut Cream

Serves: 4
Banana-flavoured Apricots with Coconut Cream: Dessert of apricots soaked in banana-flavoured soya milk served with coconut cream in a dessert glass


175g dried apricots
300ml (1 1/4 cups) banana-flavoured soya milk
140ml (1/2 cup + 1 tbsp) water
100g (4 oz) creamed coconut, grated
juice of 1/2 lemon


Chop the apricots finely and place in a bowl. Pour over the soya milk and set aside.

Heat the water in a pan and stir in the creamed coconut until dissolved. Take off the heat and set aside to cool slightly.

Combine the creamed coconut, lemon juice and 3 tbsp soya milk (taken from the apricots) in a blender and process until smooth.

Place the coconut cream in the base of a serving dish. Carefully spoon over the apricot mixture then cover with clingfilm (plastic wrap) and set aside to chill in the refrigerator over night.

Serve chilled.

Potatoes Vinaigrette Recipe

Today I have another classic potato salad recipe for you. This is a slightly more substantial dish that is based upo a Niçoise salad.

The potatoes are flavoured with green onions and olives (though a true Niçoise salad would also have tomatoes and anchovies in it).

Potatoes Vinaigrette

Serves: 4-6

Salad of sliced potatoes garnished with a vinaigrette dressing, green onions and black olives

500g (1 lb) potatoes, peeled and sliced
1 tbsp coriander (cilantro) leaves, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp malt vinegar
2 green onions, coarsely chopped
8 ripe black olives, pitted and halved


Bring a pan of salted water to a boil. Place the potatoes in a steamer basket and set over the boiling water. Cook for between 7 and 10 minutes, or until just tender.

Turn the potatoes into a serving bowl and add the coriander. In the meantime, combine the oil and vinegar in a screw-topped jar. Season to taste with salt and black pepper then shake to mix thoroughly. Pour this dressing over the potatoes, and toss to combine.

Garnish with the onions and olives and serve.

Saturday 27 April 2013

Local Edible Wild Plants and Recipes

As promised yesterday, this morning (starting at 7:30 in fact) I went for a 20 minute walk (actually it was just over 30 minutes, but I was taking photographs!), out of the house through the local park, around the church and back to the house. As I went I took images of all the edible plants that I could see along the way.

I am presenting the plants below, with images, brief descriptions and links to recipes that you can use to cook the plant. There are only brief descriptions here though. If you want fuller or more complete descriptions, please visit the Celtnet Wild Food Guide and Recipes pages where there are well over 100 edible wild foods of all kinds listed.

1. Dwarf Thistle

Dwarf thistle (Cirsium acaule) plant
Dwarf thistle (Cirsium acaule) young plant
Dwarf thistle (Cirsium acaule) is a perennial herbaceous plant that has a prostrate aspect and rarely bears stems more than 15cm tall. The leaves are spiny, undulate, oblong to oblong-lanceolate, pinnatisect.

Of the various thistle species, dwarf thistle is the most tractable as a wild food, for though the leaves are spiny they are covered in far fewer spines and burrs that most other thistles. To prepare, remove the mid-ribs from the leaves, scrape to strip any burrs then either boil or stir-fry.

Recipes using dwarf thistle:
Thistles with Spicy Prawns and Coconut

2. Wild Strawberry

wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca) plant in flower
Wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca) plant in flower
This one was a real surprise as it's really just a bit too early to be out, but there it was basking on a wall and there were even flowers to be seen!

The wild strawberry (Fragaria vesca) is a perennial ground-covering flowering plant of the Rosaceae (Rose) family. The leaves are glossy, dark green and three-lobed and the small five-petalled flowers are produced in summer. The fruit itself is unusual in that it's classed as an accessory fruit.

Wild strawberries remain common in woodlands and on walls and banks. They prefer chalky soils and often colonize limestone walls. The leaves may be used as n herbal tea which is believed to aid in the treatment of diarrhoea and in spring they can also be used as a wild leafy vegetable, typically cooked in soups.

However, it's the fruit that are worth foraging for. They may be tiny in size, but they are very flavoursome (much more so than modern cultivars) and it's well worth the trouble of picking them. They are wonderful set in a wine-glass and topped with champagne. They also make a glorious coulis for use with other fruit where they are simply puréed with wine, black pepper and a little honey.

Recipes for Wild Strawberry:
A Spring Tart
Fruit Dumplings
Wild Spring Greens Soup

3. Hairy Bittercress

Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) plant in flower
Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) plant in flower
Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) is a winter annual member of the Brassicaceae (mustard) family which is native to Europe and Asia (though it has been introduced as a weed to North America).

Typically the plant germinates in the Autumn and remains green throughout the winter months. It flowers from quite early in the Spring until the Autumn. The small white flowers are borne in a corymb on wiry green stems, soon followed by the seeds and often continuing to flower as the first seeds ripen.

Because it remains green throughout the winter this is an important plant for the wild forager as it provides much-needed greens through the winter month though the best time to pick is during January and February. The plant is, as its name suggests, bitter in flavour and benefits from being gently wilted in heavily-salted water. This tempers the bitterness and yields a vegetable somewhat reminiscent of cauliflower greens.

Recipes for Hairy Bittercress:
Spring Salad with Wild Mushroom Potato Cakes
Pan-braised Squirrels
Goat's Cheese with Beetroot and Wild Herbs
Spiced Apple and Wild Spring Leaf Salad

4. Common Hogweed

Common Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) weedy plant
Common Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium), a rather poor specimen
starved of nutrients
Common Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) is a biennial herbaceous plant of in the Apiaceae (carrot) family. It grows to about 2m, supported by stout and succulent hollow stems. the leaves are long and divided into large dark green lobes. Between June and October it bears the classic white umbels common to the carrot family.

It is a common and invasive plant in the British Isles and is typically found in woodland, by roadsides and at the base of hedges. It is smaller than it's close cousin the Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) which also has more crenellated leaves.

Common hogweed hogweed shoots, if picked before the shoots have fully opened make one of the best wild vegetables that you can forage for. The stems should be cooked whole in boiling water with butter and seasoning. Cook for eight minutes then serve with butter and seasoning as a vegetable. Young leaves are also edible and can either be steamed, or chopped and used sparingly in salads.

The flower buds are also edible and they look like miniature broccoli florets.

However, common hogweed is very similar to the closely related giant hogweed (the sap of which can be a skin irritant) and it is related to and can grow in the same places as the very toxic hemlock. Like all members of the carrot family (and this includes alexanders and wild carrot, described below), if you are not certain of its identification, do not pick.

The specimen shown in the picture is particularly weedy as it was growing in the cracks between a tarmac path and a stone wall.

Recipes for Common Hogweed:
Boiled Hogweed Shoots
Hogweed Frittata
Common Hogweed à la Polonaise
Hogweed in Rolled Chapati
Common Hogweed Muffins with Spruce
Pork and Hogweed in Hot Sauce

5. Sow Thistle

Sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) plant
Sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) plant
Sow thistle (Sonchus oleraceus) is an annual plant with spineless leaves and yellow flowers resembling those of the dandelion. The leaves are bluish-green, simple, lanceolate, with wavy and sometimes lobed margins, covered in spines on both the margins and beneath. The base of the leaf surrounds the stem and the leaves exude a milky sap when cut.

Sow thistles are common roadside plants, and while native to Eurasia and tropical Africa, they are found almost worldwide in temperate regions. Despite their common name, sow thistles are not true thistles, although are classified in the same family, the Asteraceae.

Young leaves have a flavour similar to lettuce and are excellent in salads. But older leaves tend to be bitter. However, they can be cooked by washing, adding to a pan with a little water and a knob of butter and cooked until tender (a minute or so). Cooked in this manner they have a flavour similar to chard.

Recipes for Sow Thistle:
Wild Greens Gnocci in Tomato Sauce
Braised Sow Thistle and Button Mushrooms
Sow Thistle and Beans Soup
Springtime Fritters
To make a Sallad of Burdock, good for the Stone, another of the tender stalks of Sow-thistles

6. Greater Plantain

Greater Plantain (Plantago major) plant
Greater Plantain (Plantago major) plant
Greater Plantain (Plantago major) is a species of genus Plantago, a member of the Plantaginaceae family which is native to most of Europe and northern and central Asia. It is also a common weed that's widely naturalized to much of the remainder of the world. It is a herbaceous perennial plant with a rosette of leaves 15–30 cm diameter. Each leaf is oval, 5–20 cm long and 4–9 cm broad, rarely up to 30 cm long and 17 cm broad, with an acute apex and a smooth margin; there are five to nine conspicuous veins.

The leaves are edible and used in herbal medicine, but can be somewhat tough. The taste is that of very bitter salad greens with a lingering aftertaste like spinach. Young leaves are recommended as they are more tender. The leaves when dried make a good tea.

Recipes for Sow Thistle:
Creamed Plantain and Ham
Mixed Wild Greens with Poppy Seed Dressing
Plantain in Spicy Yoghurt Sauce

7. Alexanders

Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) whole plant and close-up of flower heads
Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) whole plant and close-up of flower heads
Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) is a wild (and cultivated) flowering plant belonging to the Apiaceae (Umbellifera or carrot) family. Alexanders are native to Mediterranean Europe, western Asia and North Africa. The flowers of this plant are yellow-green in colour and its fruit are black. The plant can be recognized in comparison with other members of this family in that its leaves are three-lobed and the flowers are yellow-green rather than white.

For the wild forager, alexanders are a very versatile plant, in that the stems can be cooked like asparagus, the roots can be treated like any other root vegetables and the leaves can be used as a stock vegetable and are particularly useful in soups. The flower buds can also be steamed and eaten in place of broccoli.

The plant has some similarity to celery in the way it looks and in how it tastes (though its flavour is typically described as being half way between celery and parsley). Indeed, it was very commonly used in Roman cuisine in many dishes where it has now been replaced by celery.

Recipes for Alexanders:
Ancient Roman Baian Stew
Iron Age Pork and Beans
Battered Alexanders Shoots
Vegetable Purée with Alexanders
Fluffy Mashed Alexanders Root
Alexanders Greens Soup
Pork and Alexanders Buds in Hot Sauce
Alexanders Pancakes
A grand Sallet of Alexander-buds
(see also yesterday's recipe for Alexanders flowers and pork stir-fry on this blog)

8. Dandelion (Common)

Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) plant with flower buds
Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) plant with flower buds
Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale [syn T. vulgare]) is a common garden weed that is generally overlooked by foragers, however, the young leaves can make a tasty addition to any salad.

Dandelion is a member of the Compositae family of flowering plants and it has one of the most extensive collection of common names of any plant, probably due to its extensive historic use as both an edible and a medicinal plant.

Typically, the common dandelion is a perennial growing between 15 and 25cm in height in when in flower. The flowers themselves are bright golden yellow and can be up to 5cm in diameter. Flowers are borne on long stalks and the plants are in flower from spring right through to autumn. The flower petals, like the root and the leaves are edible and are commonly made into dandelion wine. When damaged, the flower stems, leaf stems and roots of dandelions exude a white latex.

The leaves, root, flower petals and flower buds are all edible.

Recipes for Dandelion:
Reconstructed Ancient Hedgerow Salad
Easter Ledge Pudding
Dandelion Soup
Saddle of Wild Rabbit with Dandelions
Dandelion and Orange Curry
Dandelion Roots with Soy Sauce
Dandelion Salad with Bacon
Dandelion Ravioli
Dandelion Pizza

9. Ground Elder

Ground Elder (Aegopodium podagraria) plants
Ground Elder (Aegopodium podagraria) plants
Ground Elder (Aegopodium podagraria) 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.

It was introduced into Britain 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 grow in any soil.

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.

It is still grown in Sweden as a potherb.

Recipes for Ground Elder:
Ground Elder Omelette
Ground Elder Soup
Steamed Ground Elder
Korean-style Wild Spring Greens
Ground Elder with Cheese Soufflé

10. Stinging Nettles

Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica) plants
 Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica) plants
Stinging Nettles (Urtica dioica) is an herbaceous flowering plant in the Urticaceae (nettle) family. they grow to some 1.5m tall in summer, when they flower, before dying down to ground-cover in winter. Their soft green leaves are broadly spear-shaped and have a strongly-serrated margin. The male and female flowers are borne on separate plants. It is the young leaves of the common nettle, Urtica dioica that are the most palatable.

Everyone recognises the stinging nettle (generally referred to just as 'nettles') and many of us have been stung by this plant. Nettles are covered with tiny, nearly invisible stinging hairs that contain histamine and formic acid that produce an intense, stinging pain, followed by redness and skin irritation.

It should be noted that old nettle plants should never be eaten uncooked as, if eaten raw, they can produce kidney damage and the symptoms of poisoning. Thorough cooking, however, renders even old nettle leaves safe for human consumption. Nettle leaves are rich in vitamins, plant proteins and minerals and, because of this, some farmers encourage the growth of nettles in some regions of their fields for inclusion in hay and silage.

Recipes for Nettles:
Nettle Soup
Nettle Aloo
Nettle and Smoked Fish Stew
Simple Nettle Purée
Nettle Tagliatelle
Beef and Nettle Greens in Peanut Sauce
St Columba's Broth
Nettle and Spinach Cake

11. Wild Carrots

Wild Carrot (Daucus carota) large plant
Wild Carrot (Daucus carota), large single plant
The Wild Carrot, Daucus carota is a species of flowering shrub in the Apiaceae (carrot) family that's native to temperate Europe, but which has been naturalized in North America and Australia.

As the name suggests, the wild carrot is closely related to our modern cultivated carrots. Indeed, the cultivated carrot was developed from a subspecies of wild carrot, Daucus carota subsp sativus
As a member o the carrot family, it has a long, slender taproot and fine, lacy, leaves. When the roots are dug up and snapped in two, they smell distinctly and strongly of carrot. Formally, the plant is described as: An erect, biennial herb; leaves basal and alternate, two-pinnately divided with narrow segments; flowers small, white, in a terminal, umbrella-shaped cluster;  20 florets, often with red spot in middle; seed small, dry, ribbed, with bristly hairs.

Unlike the cultivated carrot, wild carrots produce lots of xylem in the root and they soon become tough and woody. As a result, only young wild carrots are of any great use in cookery. It should also be noted that the leaves of wild carrot contain furocoumarins that may cause allergic contact dermatitis from the leaves, especially when wet. Later exposure to the sun may cause mild photodermatitis. When cooked, however, the wild carrot greens are safe to eat (the same is true of cultivated carrots) and they make a palatable addition to stir-fries.

In common parlance, the wild carrot is often called 'wild carrot' during it's first year, when the roots are edible, but is called 'Queen Anne's Lace' in its second year, where the flowers are edible.

Wild Carrot Recipes:
Queen Anne's Lace Jelly
Vegan Wild Carrot Cake
Stir-fried Wild Carrot with Mint
Wild Carrot Fritters
Angelica and Wild Carrot Soup
Welsh Wild Carrot Pudding
Wild Carrot Flower Fritters

12. Bedstraw

Bedstraw (Galium spp) close-up of growing plant tips
Bedstraw (Galium spp), close-up of growing plant tips
Bedstraw, Galium sp represents the members of a large genus of annual and perennial herbaceous plants in the family Rubiaceae (madder and coffee family) are variously known as bedstraw, 'sticky willy' (most species), goosegrass, catchweed (G aparine), cleavers (G tricornutum, G aparine), ladys bedstraw (G verum), northern bedstraw (G boreale) and woodruff (G odoratum). Anyone who's been walking in rough woodland will instantly recogize the bedstraw plant as the tendrils that clamber up banks and hedgerows. The stem of the plant is covered in barbs that hook onto clothing. The leaves are formed from five lobes and project laterally from the stems.

Interestingly the plants are edible and, if young, can be finely chopped for inclusion into salads. Young stems and leaves can be cooked as a leafy green or used as the base for soups and stews (older stems become stringy). The next time you're grubbing this weed from your garden, why not try eating it rather than throwing it on your compost heap?

Bedstraw Recipes:
Goosegrass and Chickweed Kedgeree
Spicy Chicken and Goosegrass
Cleavers and Red Lentil Wot
Goosegrass Polenta with Almond Crust

13. Pennywort

Pennywort (Umbilicus rupestris), young plants
Pennywort (Umbilicus rupestris) young plants
Pennywort, Umbilicus rupestris, (also known as Navelwort) is a perennial succulent flowering plant in the Crassulaceae (stonecrop) family. The leaves are round and have an indentation in the middle (hence the name 'navelwort') and is found growing on walls and in damp rocky crevices.

The leaves are very succulent and tender and have a pleasant flavour. They are a very useful salad vegetable, but should only be picked when green and where they grow in profusion.

Pennywort Recipes:
Grey Mullet with Wild Sea Beet
Braised Bean Curd
Goat's Cheese with Beetroot and Wild Herbs

14. Common Wintercress

Common Wintercress (Barbarea vulgaris) single plant
Common Wintercress (Barbarea vulgaris), single plant
Common Wintercress, Barbarea vulgaris, is a biennial herb of the Brassicaceae (mustard) family that's native to Europe. The plant grows to about 30cm in height (but can be taller) and bears basal rosettes of shiny, dark green leaves, and pinnately divided leaves on the stem. The yellow flowers are borne in dense terminal clusters above the foliage in spring.

It tends to grow in damp places such as hedges, stream banks and waysides and comes into flower from May to August. In the past, in England at least, it was cultivated as an early salad vegetable. It makes a wonderful salad green when young and the greens are also an excellent vegetable if treated kindly. Lightly steam or gently sweat in butter until just wilted. The unopened inflorescences (flower spikes) can also be picked and steamed like broccoli.

Common Wintercress Recipes:
Winter Salad
Boiled Wintercress Greens
Stir-fried Wintercress Greens
Pickled Wintercress Salad

15. Primroses

Primroses (Primula vulgaris), single plant in flower
Primroses (Primula vulgaris), single plant in flower
Primrose, Primula vulgaris is a flowering perennial herb native to western and southern Europe which is a member of the Primulaceae (primrose) family. It tends to be one of the earliest of the spring flowers and cascades of the sweetly-scented pale yellow flowers (with their darker yellow centres) are common on countryside verges and in woodlands. The plants are monoecious (ie flowers are male or female) and heterostylous (ie flowers can also have one or two forms).

The primrose is a common sight in the spring-time hedgerow and the flowers of this plant are slightly sweet and excellent to eat. They make a colourful addition to any salad, can be used to decorate ice-cream in a dessert and can be candied by preserving in sugar for later use to decorate cakes. Please note, however, that the picking of primroses or the removal of primrose plants from the wild without the permission of the owner of the land on which they are growing is now illegal in the UK (Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, Section 13, part 1b). Moreover, the primrose has become increasingly rare in some regions of the country, so please do not collect even from hedgerows.

However, as you can grow it in your own garden you can still taste this plant. The flowers and leaves are edible.

It should be noted that, in common with other members of the Primulaceae some people may be allergic to the stamens of this plant (though such cases are easily treated). Saponins may cause hypotension. Excessive/prolonged use may interfere with medication for hypertension (high blood pressure).

Primrose Recipes:
Primrose Vinegar
A Spring Tart
Candied Primrose Flowers
Wild Greens Pasta Primavera
Sea Spaghetti and Wild Greens Pasta Primavera
Primrose Greens
Primrose Ice Cream

That's a grand total of 15 edible plants spotted on quite a short walk... that is not a bad haul of wild edibles. I would have expected to have seen chickweed, but did not. I did see a few trees that would bear edible components: elder and hazel most notable amongst them but they were not photographed.

I also saw some young hawthorn trees. Now, the young leaves of hawthorn are edible and good in spring salads, but the tree was buried in a hedge and I could not get a good photograph.

The other plant that I noticed was a gooseberry plant that was growing beneath an abandoned garage. In effect this was a garden plant that had gone wild. Were it bearing fruit it would also have made it onto my list.

Raspberry and Hazelnut Gateau

This cake is called a gateau to distinguish it from the modern cakes leavened with baking powder. In fact, this cake uses the 18th century of leavening by using beaten eggs (air is incorporated into the eggs and this expands as the eggs cook, acting as a raising agent). The use of eggs for leavening (particularly beaten egg whites) originated in Italy but came to Britain via France, hence the French name for this cake style.

In essence, when you cook this cake you are re-creating something from 200 years ago, though the recipe is most certainly a modern one.

Raspberry and Hazelnut Gateau

Serves: 8–10
Raspberry and Hazelnut Gateau classic layer cake leavened with beaten eggs that's sandwiched with a cream and raspberry mix and decorated with fresh raspberries


75g (3 oz) fine cake flour (00 grade if possible)
3 medium eggs
75g (3 oz) caster sugar
50g (2 oz) roasted hazelnuts, chopped
For the Filling:
140ml (1/2 cup + 1 tbsp) double cream, whipped
225g (8 oz) fresh raspberries
icing sugar, for dusting


Sift the flour into a small bowl and set aside.

Combine the eggs and sugar in a large bowl and whisk until the mixture is pale, light and creamy and the whisk leaves a trail (about 10 minutes).

Using a large metal spoon gently and gradually fold the flour into the mixture until evenly mixed. Gradually add the hazelnuts, folding in lightly.

Pour the resultant batter into a greased and lined 18cm diameter cake tin. Level the surface then transfer to an oven pre-heated to 180ºC (350ºF, Gas Mark 4) and bake for 25 minutes or until well risen, golden brown in colour and firm to the touch.

Allow to cool in the tin for 5 minutes then turn out onto a wire rack and allow to cool completely before removing the baking parchment.

Once cooled, split the cake in half horizontally. Now fold the raspberries into the cream (reserve a few for decoration). Spread this raspberry cream onto the top of the base half of the cake then sandwich the two cake halves together.

Top with the reserved raspberries, dust with a little icing sugar and serve.

Hot Apple Pizza Recipe

Today I have a rather unusual dessert recipe for you. This is a vegetarian dessert that can be made ahead and which is great for serving outdoors for barbecues and other events. Kids are also guaranteed to love this dessert!

Just to show that pizzas do not always have to be savoury, here is a classic vegetarian dessert pizza recipe. This is perfect served with yoghurt or cream and makes an excellent alternative dessert for a barbecue.

Hot Apple Pizza

Serves: 4–6


Hot Apple Pizza: Classic vegetarian dessert pizza topped with sliced apples, raisins and hazelnuts

For the Base:

15g (1/2 oz) fresh yeast (or 1 sachet active, dried, yeast)
50ml (1/5 cup)
75g (3 oz) strong wholemeal bread flour
50g (2 oz) strong white flour
15g (1/2 oz) butter or margarine
1/2 tbsp concentrated apple juice

For the Topping:

2 dessert apples (red-skinned ones if possible)
25g (1 oz) raisins
25g (1 oz) hazelnuts
1 tbsp concentrated apple juice
15g (1/2 oz) butter or margarine


Begin with the base. Cream together the yeast and the water until smooth, add 1 tsp flour and set aside in a warm place for about 15 minutes or until the mixture is frothy.

In a bowl, mix together the flours and the cinnamon. Add the butter and rub into the flour mix with your fingertips until the mixture resembles crumbs. Add the yeast mixture and the concentrated apple juice then mix to a stiff dough (add more water as needed).
Knead well to combine then turn the dough onto a floured work surface.

Roll the dough into a circle about 23cm (9 in) in diameter. Cover with clingfilm (plastic wrap) and set aside to rise for about 15 minutes.

In the meantime, slice the apples evenly into thin wedges and arrange these over the pizza base. Sprinkle over the raisins and hazelnuts then drizzle the concentrated apple juice over the top. Dot with the butter then transfer to a large baking tray or pizza dish.

Place in the centre of an oven pre-heated to 200ºC (400ºF, Gas Mark 6) and bake for about 18 minutes, or until the base is golden and crispy and the apples are nicely browned and soft.

Serve warm, accompanied by yoghurt, ice cream or cream.

Plums, mangos, pears and papaya also work well in place or in addition to the apples.

Potato and Chickpea Salad

I've added a few recipes that are suitable for a barbecue over the past few days and I've added even more recipes for seasonal foods.

Here is a recipe that is a combination of the two, new season potatoes served as a potato salad that would be great as an accompaniment to barbecued meats or fish, but which also works as an accompaniment to the Sunday roast.

The new season's new potatoes have arrived, and to celebrate here is a North African inspired potato salad.

Potato and Chickpea Salad

Serves: 4–6
Potato and Chickpea Salad: Classic salad of new potatoes and chickpeas in a lightly-spiced mint base


500g (1 lb) small new potatoes
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 tsp cumin seeds
500g (1 lb) plum tomatoes, blanched and peeled
400g (14 oz) tin of chickpeas, drained
2 tbsp fresh mint, coarsely chopped, to garnish
salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste


Either scrub or peel the potatoes then slice in half lengthways (unless very small). Bring a pan of unsalted water to a boil, add the potatoes and cook for about 10 minutes or until tender. Drain in a colander once cooked.

In the meantime, heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and cook for about 8 minutes, or until soft and coloured a light golden brown. Stir in the garlic and cumin seeds and cook for about 4 minutes more. Cut the tomatoes into eighths and stir into the pan. Cook for a few minutes, or until the tomatoes are just beginning to soften.

Add the drained chickpeas and the potatoes. Continue cooking for a few minutes until warmed through. Season with salt and black pepper then stir in the mint.

Serve hot or cold.

Friday 26 April 2013

Alexanders Flowers and Pork Stir-fry

I'm staying at a friend's place at the moment, which is by the sea. I was walking through the park the other day and noticed some alexanders plants just coming into flower.

I have not had much chance to cook with alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) though I have worked on a few recipes. I know that the flower heads are edible, so I thought that here was a chance to adapt a stir-fry recipe I have for common hogweed flower buds to use alexanders. There were also dandelion flower buds next to the  alexanders, so I brought a few of those as well.

Alexanders plant (Smyrnium olusatrum) with a close-up of alexanders flowers.
These are exactly the plants I gathered this morning to cook the dish below.
Alexanders were introduced into northern Europe by the Romans who would cook and use them much as we would celery today (indeed, if you see a translation of an ancient Roman recipe and they call for 'celery', the original recipe would invariably have called for alexanders. The plant likes sandy soil and is quite salt tolerant and today it's most commonly found at or near the British coastline.

For the wild forager, alexanders are a very versatile plant, in that the stems can be cooked like asparagus, the roots can be treated like any other root vegetables and the leaves can be used as a stock vegetable and are particularly useful in soups. The flower buds can also be steamed and eaten in place of broccoli. The stems, roots, flowers and flower buds are also great in stir-fries.

The recipe presented here is quite simple and very easy to make, but it's delicious. It's a traditional Chinese pork belly stir-fry adapted for use with alexanders flowers. In this recipe I have only used young and small alexanders flowers that have just emerged from the bud (ie the flowers have not yet opened).

Alexanders Flowers and Pork Stir-fry

Serves: 4
Stir fry of pork and baby sweetcorn with wild alexanders flowers and wild dandelion flower buds


4 slices of pork belly, cut into 1cm (1/2 in) slices
1 onion, sliced into strips
6 baby sweetcorn, halved
1 bak choi, quartered
12 small alexanders flowers
8 dandelion flower buds
1 tsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp fish sauce (nam pla)
groundnut oil for frying
salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste


Heat the oil in a wok. When almost smoking add the pork and fry for a few minutes, or until nicely browned all over. Add the sesame seeds and the onion and fry for about 4 minutes or until the onion is soft.

Alexanders flowers and dandelion flower buds ready to be cooked in the stir-fry
Alexanders flowers and dandelion flower buds picked and ready
to be cooked in the stir-fry.
Slice the leaves of the bok choi into strips. Quarter the stems. Add the bok choi stems and baby sweetcorn to the pan. Stir fry for a few minutes then add the soy sauce, chilli flakes and red wine vinegar. Sir fry for a few minutes more then add the fish sauce and the bok choy greens.

Continue stir-frying until the grens have just wilted then add the alexanders flowers and the dandelion flower buds. Continue stir-frying for 2 minutes more then serve immediately on a bed of rice.

Having made this recipe today I had a thought. I do not know this area very well, but on my walk this morning I saw a few wild plants. Tomorrow I am going to make a 20 minute walk and during that time I am going to survey all the wild edible plants that I see. I would hope to find at least 10 and tomorrow I will present pictures of all the plants I've seen along with a little information about them, the parts that are edible and links to a few recipes showing how they can be prepared and cooked.

So, tomorrow one of this blogs will be a little different from usual. But I will still present a number of my usual recipes.

This recipe is brought to you in association with the Celtnet Guide to Wild Foods.

Update! I have been on the promised walk and the plants, images and links to recipes are now live on this blog. I saw 15 edible plants in all. Please see the edible plants I saw on my walk page for more information.
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