I like to experiment. It’s not that I don’t repeat tried and tested recipes that I love. But sometimes I like to experiment and try something a little bit different. I have a couple of recipes for seaweed hummus and seaweed dips (including Broad Bean […]
Author: Rachel Lambert
It’s Elderflower (Sambucus nigra) season, and the time for celebrations and desserts! I share more on Elderflowers, including how and when to pick the best Elderflowers and a recipe for Elderflower cordial and sorbet in my blog. Elderflower cordial is a great way to capture […]
I’ve never really got on with making alcohol. As much as I like processes, (I tend to think that people are either predominantly process or goal orientated), whether it is wine or beer, I seem to lack the knack of transforming weeds into a fermented intoxicating liquor. Perhaps I am just not dedicated enough to making and drinking alcohol. Give me the task of making a dessert, or creating a sweet cocktail and I’m all over it, with pleasing results. Ah, I suppose I can’t be great at everything.
Where I fail, thank goodness others succeed at making wild drinkable goodies. I’ve benefited from a few too, I remember about 20 years ago, my boyfriend at the time making the first batch of nettle beer I experienced and loving the result. Actually, I was lucky to get even a sip as he fell head over heals for this spring tonic. Light, refreshing and mildly alcoholic, it disappeared in a matter of days… Making Nettle beer is easier, quicker and less technical than making making other beer and wines, and having had some success myself, I wanted to share the delights of brewing these greens so you too can enjoy this spring drink. Nettle beer has been made for hundreds of years and is traditionally drunk in spring when the nettles are at their best. Have a go yourself;
Nettle Beer Recipe
Light, refreshing and mildly alcoholic, don’t expect this spring tonic to hang around for long. You will need a few days patience while it ferments though, just a few days…
- 3 litres water
- 400 g nettle tops
- 12 g cream of tartar
- 350 g unrefined sugar
- juice of 2 lemons
- 1 tsp yeast
Pour the water into a large pan and bring to the boil, add the nettle tops, lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Strain off the liquid into a large bowl, or saucepan and discard the cooked nettles. Stir in the sugar, lemon juice and cream of tartar and leave to cool. When the liquid is luke warm, add the yeast, cover with a muslin cloth or similar and leave to ferment for 5 days.
Siphon the beer into sterilised flip top bottles and drink soon, or keep in a dark, cool place. Nettle beer has a reputation of exploding (as it keeps on fermenting), so flip top bottles will at least save you from shattering glass. Otherwise, just drink soon.
I like cake. I like to make cakes with different wild ingredients in them, it’s started to become natural to me. I’ve made my Nettle and Honey Cake many times, and recently discovered it goes really well with gorse flower syrup, the recipe for both […]
Hogweed shoots are normally used as a type of so-called poorman’s asparagus, cooked on their own, or used in dhal. I also enjoy them in lightly spiced Thai stir fries and recently discovered the joys of eating them in farinata – a lovely subtle addition. I’ve been foraging hogweed shoots (Heracleum sphondylium) for years, I find them superior to asparagus and a delightful way to broaden my experience of spring. I’ve written a very thorough blog before on their identification and use as a ‘superior asparagus’.
At some point, most of the wild foods I eat are incorporated into some kind of dessert. Call it an inevitable result of having a sweet tooth. Partly I’m just intrigued, though sometimes it feels inspired!
I had an idea of a Pear and Hogweed Cake and had to give it a go, to see whether my idea would stand up to the taste test of reality. Hogweed shoots have an unusual aromatic taste, quite subtle when cooked and I just wondered…
Recently I even tried to make a vegan, gluten-free version of this cake and it came out trumps. So here’s the full of everything (butter, eggs and wheat version), and I’ll share the other one soon. The recipe below has been tweaked to include a hogweed seed sugar as well. A teaspoon of the seeds are ground with the sugar to make a lovely aromatic topping. Once baked it makes the top slightly crisp too.
Pear and Hogweed Shoot Cake
A beautifully moist cake with an intriguing filling. Perhaps you won’t notice the unusual perfume of the hogweed shoots – some do, some don’t.
100 g butter
90 g unrefined sugar, plus 1 level tbsp
2 large eggs
1 tbsp baking powder
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
100 g whole-wheat flour
30 g hogweed shoots (mainly shoots rather than leaves)
5-6 tbsp apple juice
1 tsp dried hogweed seeds (optional)
200-230 g pears
Preheat the oven to 200°C and grease a 20 cm diameter cake tin. Beat the butter and sugar together until pale, almost white. Add the eggs, one at a time and beat in well before sieving in the baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and whole-wheat flour.
Chop the hogweed shoots into 2 cm lengths and simmer in 3 tablespoons of apple juice for 2 minutes and put aside. If using, use a spice grinder to blend the dried hogweed seeds with the tablespoon of sugar and sprinkle the mixture over the base of the cake tin. Slice the pears to about ½-1 cm in thickness and layer these across the base of the cake tin. Next sprinkle on the semi cooked hogweed shoots. Measure out the remaining juice that the shoots simmered in and add this, one-tablespoon at a time, to the cake mixture, making it up to 3 tablespoons with extra juice. Pour and smooth the cake mixture roughly over the pears and shoots and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean when pierced into the centre of the cake. When cooked, turn out onto a wire rack, with the bottom-side facing upwards and leave to cool. Serve alone, with crème fraiche or clotted cream.
Can you see those bright iridescent tips of the Bushy Rainbow Wrack seaweed below?
Maybe you’ve seen this seaweed in a rock pool in Cornwall and couldn’t believe your eyes?! This photo was taken by a friend of mine who was stunned by this shining seaweed. So far, I haven’t had a camera with me (rare, I know, in today’s world) when I’ve found myself staring, in a mini state of ecstasy, into a rock pool at this seaweed.
Seaweeds are awesome, I never tire or bore of them. They confuse me (they are both simple and complex), amaze me, feed me and allow me to breathe (quite literally as seaweeds produce oxygen). Aah, seaweeds.
Why does the Bushy Rainbow Wrack shine?
One of my seaweed tutors told me that seaweeds are all about sex. I know what she means; seaweeds are hell-bent on reproduction and survival, sometimes having multiple ways of reproducing themselves. Another of their survival tactics is making sure they get enough light in order to photosynthesis.
That’s the practical reason that the Bushy Rainbow Wrack seaweed has iridescent tips; to control light. Seaweeds have a lot to contend with, and previously I’ve written about how and why seaweeds can survive the snow and frost. Their environment is constantly changing in terms of temperature, light, speed and water. Think about it for a moment – a hot sunny day, those seaweeds could be almost cooking in rock pools, and hours later they are submerged in sea water with reduced access to light and dealing with anything from calm, lapping waves to gale force storms. Adaption is the name of the game in order for seaweeds to thrive
It seems that the Bushy Rainbow Wrack seaweed’s ability to attract and dispel light helps protect it when underwater or when over-exposed to light. With it’s crystal structure it reflects sunlight to give the appearance of glowing, and will actually increase or decrease it’s seeming glow depending on how much light there is. Wow. There is so much about seaweeds we still don’t know.
So, perhaps you’re wondering whether the Bushy Rainbow Wrack is edible?
A reasonable question to ask a forager. The answer is yes, and, there are nutritional and health benefits too, but not necessarily for humans. If you want a tasty, nutritious seaweed I would teach you other ones first.
I offer thorough courses in seaweed foraging throughout the year which are constantly being updated as my knowledge grows and is integrated into my foraging practice. You are welcome to join a seaweed foraging course and come and explore the wonderful, edible world of seaweeds, to walk, look, nibble and learn with me.
Bushy Rainbow Wrack Cystoseira tamariscifolia
Science Advances, April 2018
Thank you also to Barry and Sue Petitt for the extra photos.