Sweet, crunchy and good for you. This dandelion root caramel brittle recipe is laced with the detoxifying roots of dandelions and flavoured with homemade dandelion coffee. You’ll also need to look at my recipe for making good roasted dandelion coffee. Alternatively, you can buy dried dandelion…
Author: Rachel Lambert
Nori doesn’t just come in sealed packets, shipped across the world in the form of nori sheets. Nori (Porphyra) can also be picked fresh in Winter on Cornish coasts and from European waters. No plastic, no air miles, just fresh nori goodness. Freshly picked nori…
I have a confession: a sweet and wild one. I can’t help myself, there’s something about the combination of foraging and sweetness that is irresistible to me. Give me any wild food and I automatically look at how I can make it into a dessert or sweet treat. Call it a specialism, a strength, or obsession if you will. But this is an area of foraging that I love getting my teeth into.
The benefits of pleasure
I’m a great believer in the health benefits of pleasure; eating food that we enjoy can help relax the organs and get those beneficial digestive juices going. Foraging in itself can be satisfying and rewarding. Combined with creating a tasty meal or sweet treat can release positive neurochemicals around the body that boost the immune system, calm the nervous system and help counter stress.
We are built for a healthy amount of pleasure and our bodies respond positively to it.
A word on sugar
My childhood was punctuated with home cooking, sugar and wild adventures. Home-made cordials, cakes and treats were a daily affair, thus my ‘natural’ sweet tooth was shaped. Since then, white sugar has had a lot of bad press, yet unrefined, from light to dark brown, retain a lot more of their natural nutrients. These are the natural sweeteners I now choose to create with, often reducing the sugar content and upping the minerals along the way,
Each season I peruse the abundant weeds and forgotten plants growing locally and start experimenting. Infusing, simmering, drying, sieving, straining, blending. I get to know each of these wild foods and how to bring out the best of their flavour for desserts. I love the alchemy of the whole process and how I can create endless results from one plant. This is true, seasonal eating, albeit combined with a few kitchen ingredients and loving attention.
The perfect wild pudding
There are infinite possibilities of foraged ingredients in desserts. From jams and jellies, ice creams and sorbets, tarts and cheesecakes, cordials and syrups, cakes and biscuits, chocolates, sweets and fruit leathers, to cocktails and boozy desserts. I love creating around easily-foraged plants for both city and country dwellers and many of the plants i favour are available across Europe, North America and Australasia.
Sharing the sweet wilds
Some desserts are worth keeping to oneself, yet most of us know the pleasure of sharing good food with others. That’s why I’ve started the #sweetwilds and now have a blog section dedicated to Sweet Wilds too. I won’t be sharing everything at once – that would be too indulgent, wouldn’t it! However I will be sharing over the coming months and years, including my lessons from disasters and sublime successes. Remember that I share tasters on all my foraging courses too.
All photos are by Rachel Lambert and are of real, wild desserts and sweet treats she has created, cooked, eaten and shared (mostly).
When I was a student I discovered wild garlic. Vast green and white carpets of wild garlic in between the trees of the forest. Gathering armfuls for cooking with go-to student pasta was fun and exhilarating, and cheap. We also skip-dived and gathered waste food…
Ever thought of using your weeds to made a tasty coffee-substitute?
The History of Dandelions
Like many common weeds, dandelions are often vastly under-estimated, under-used and misunderstood. Despite being cultivated in parts of Britain, France and North America for over 150 years (1), they are still often considered just a ‘weed‘ that needs eradicating. Similarly, coffee-substitutes are easily linked to events like the Second World War, when people resorted to roasting grains, acorns, cleaver seeds and dandelions roots instead of or to bulk up rationed coffee. Though in the 1900s it was also sold as an inexpensive coffee.
Dandelion roots can be used to create a caffeine-free coffee substitute, but dandelion coffee is also a drink in its own right. Made from roasting and grinding the roots, it gives off a pleasant aroma and has a slightly bitter after-taste, reminiscent of coffee or dark chocolate. Here I share step-by-step how to make homemade dandelion coffee.
1. Identify Dandelion Roots
How well do you know your dandelion roots? This might sound obvious to you, though I often see dandelions being misidentified. To complicate things (but only slightly), there are around 250 different types of dandelion. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) has toothed leaves, a hollow, branch-less stem with a milky sap and yellow flowers. Thankfully, this is also the most common dandelion.
2. When and How to Dig Up Dandelion Roots
The tooth-shaped leaves of spring and summer mark where I needed to dig. The roots of dandelions are long and thin and can be up to 25 cm in depth, not that I’m measuring. It is easy to snap them near the top if you don’t carefully dig around the root, and even then, I normally have a few that mostly remain in the ground. So take your time. The slightly older ones are said to be the best, 1 or 2 years of age are a good size and not too bitter. If you’re digging on your own patch you might get to know your dandelions this intimately.
I find flower beds and vegetable patches the easiest to dig from, as the soil tends to be looser there. I’ve also made the mistake of accepting the offer of digging up a lot of dandelion roots from a friend’s grass lawn. Yes, I did rid them of their dandelion roots, but I also left them with a lot of muddy holes. I wasn’t invited back. In the UK you need permission from the landowner to dig up roots, though there’s always people who’ll happily let you do their weeding for you.
Autumn and Winter is the perfect time for digging up the roots. In the colder, darker months, the plant’s energy is concentrated in the roots, making them sweeter and more nutritious. I like to time my digging with the waning moon too, when the pull towards the earth and those roots is strongest.
3. Preparing the Roots for Making Coffee
The roots need to washed well, then pat them dry and leave them in a warm place for 2-3 days to dry further. This will reduce the amount of time they need in the oven and concentrate the flavours. During this drying process the weight of the roots will halve. Next, finely chop the roots and preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C and dry roast the roots for 30-40 minutes (turning halfway through). The roots are ready when they are dark brown. Leave to cool and store in a clean jar. Grind for drinks and other recipes as needed.
Roasted Dandelion Root Coffee Recipe
Makes 50 g (7-8 tbsp)
280 g freshly dug up dandelion roots (tops removed)
Dig up the roots, wash well and leave to dry in a well-ventilated area for 2-3 days (this will reduce their weight by about half). Chop small and place on a large baking tray. Preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C and dry roast the roots for 30-40 minutes (turning halfway through). The roots are ready when they are dark brown. Leave to cool and store in a clean jar. Grind for drinks and other recipes as needed.
To make 1 mug of roasted dandelion coffee, grind 1 and 1/2 tbsp roots and place in a small pan with 350 ml water. Bring to a simmer and allow to gently bubble for 10 minutes. Strain and drink (or flavour with milk and sweetener and drink).
I teach about seasonal, edible weeds on my monthly foraging courses, with lots of tips for recipes, identification and hands on learning. Follow me on instagram or facebook to see regular posts and information, or sign up to the newsletter, oh and do tag me if you try any making this, I’d love to hear from you! @rachellambertwildfoodforaging
References and Credits
- Irving, M. (2009) The Forager Handbook – A guide to the edible plants of Britain
Top photo by: Jamie Mills, the rest by Rachel Lambert (copyright).
Schnapps is a flavoured and distilled alcoholic drink, the flavour is often fruit, the alcohol often brandy. I came across a hawthorn schnapps recipe a couple of years ago, I can’t quite remember where. I’m often looking for different recipes for the plants that I…
Can you see the mistake? There actually aren’t any winkles (Littorina littorea) on my dinner plate, these are mostly topshells with a hidden whelk or two. Topshells and whelks are also edible. Winkles, also known as common perwinkles have been eaten for thousands of years by humans. They’re an abundant univalve (they have no hinge like mussels, clams or oysters) that live on the foreshore. They are usually the shell fish living highest up on the shore, so are often the easiest to forage all year round, regardless whether it’s a big tide or not.
Topshells are known to live in the intertidal zone (the area between the high and low tide), though they too are found in shallow pools on the foreshore. The easiest way to tell a topshell is by their mother-of-pearl lining – turn it over and you’ll see their jewel-like rim. Many topshells also have a zig-zag pattern on them, as in the image below.
Winkles, Common Periwinkles, edible Winkle
Winkles are simpler. Their colouring is plain, often looking black when wet and these are the traditional sea snail that is associated as food. They have a simple white lining and are known by any of the names above. Traditions aside, all sea snails can be eaten it’s just that winkles are thought to have the best flavour. It just depends on which you’d like to eat, where you are and what’s available – I was looking for winkles one day and could only find topshells, so my dinner menu was decided upon. It’s generally easier to find them on rocky shores rather than sandy beaches.
How to prepare and eat winkles or topshells
Winkles or topshells can be a simple snack that you can linger on. Easy to pick and cook, though they require a little attention to eat. It’s a good habit to pay attention when eating – use it as a mindful exercise if you like.
Unlike bivalves, these univalves aren’t filter feeders, so are generally safer to eat. They live off a diet of seaweeds and you’ll expect to find them on beaches with lots of wrack seaweeds growing – I digress. It’s still preferable to purge them though; rinse them in fresh water a couple of times and leave them to soak for 3-4 hours and no more than 12 hours. Ideally in salted water – 35 g sea salt to 1 litre of water, 7 g sea salt to 200 ml of water, ecetera.
Topshells and winkles only need to be cooked for 4-5 minutes, then eaten with a pin. Yes, a pin! The flesh is sealed in with a small disc which you can flick out with the pin then hook out the flesh. Easy! It just takes time, and is worth lingering on (see the flesh in the image below) – slow, local food at its best.
Winkle, Perwinkle or Topshell Recipe
You can just simmer the shells then dip the cooked flesh in garlic butter, or here I’ve simmered them in white wine with some seasoning. It was delicious and lots of sauce to soak up with chunks of bread afterwards. Here’s my easy recipe.
- Onions or shallots
- White wine
- Rock Samphire, or other wild herbs such as sorrel
- Sea salt and pepper
- Pinch of ground seaweed (I used bladder wrack)
- Sea snails of your choice (purged)
Chop and fry the onion over a medium heat until translucent. Add the wine and bring to a simmer, add the chopped herbs and seasoning, then the sea snails. There should be enough wine to cover the snails once they’re added. Simmer for 4-5 minutes then take off the heat and eat, with a pin and chunks of fresh bread.
I am available to lead private forays where you can choose the content – such as shellfish. I’ve led a couple of shellfish based private forays this year for those wanting a little more of a meaty cook up. Wracks, the diet of these sea snails, are some of the seaweeds that I teach on my seaweed foraging courses too.
It’s been two and a half decades since I started a serious (and fun) relationship with foraging. And it’s been well over a decade since I’ve been teaching foraging (I’m writing this in 2019). Like any relationship, there’s ups and downs, boredom, frustration, elation, new…