Alexander seeds are one of my secrets. Okay, so perhaps a secret I've shared with a few people. Even so, it's a lesser known wild spice that goes unnoticed by the majority of folk. I call it a secret because even if you bite into it raw, the chances are you won't want to taste it again. Unless, that is, it's incorporated into a delicious recipe.
Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) are prolific here in Cornwall, originally from the Mediterranean, they can now be found on the south coast of the UK from Wales to Norfolk, as well as throughout Europe. I love them, they are so versatile, so abundant, though vastly misunderstood. I've written many blogs about Alexanders if you'd like to find out more. I also have a song to help you remember their qualities that I share on the Singing Forager Experience, where you can just listen, hum, or join in.
Highly rated by the Romans (who brought Alexanders over, also know as Black Lovage. Horse Parsley, Alisanders) you can eat every part of it, if you just knew how...
Alisander or Alexander-seeded bread
I've been making Alexander-seeded bread for years. I first created it in collaboration with the head chef at a gourmet foraging and dining break at Hell Bay, Isles of Scilly. Lovely fresh, handmade bread to dip into fine olive oil before a series of 5 wild courses were served. I've also foraged it and made it with students at Rick Stein Cookery School, which was a good few years ago now.
Alexander-seeded bread is so good, I keep making it; flecks of bitter spice through dough work perfectly and the seeds make a nice cobbled effect too. In the past those seeds have been used in soup, stocks and to flavour rice, though I've used them in many other dishes, including sweet treats. They contain an essential oil, cuminal, which is reminiscent of cumin and myrrh, or think black pepper with its heat and a little added bitterness. I like to enjoy alexander-seed bread with Rock Samphire Salsa Verde, or with wild seaweed dips or just on its own with olive oil.
Alexander-seeded Bread Recipe
A simple, lightly spiced bread which is perfect with savoury accompaniments - it has never been refused by guests attending a foraging course.
- 1 heaped tbsp alexander seeds
- 500 g white or wholemeal flour (or half and half)
- Pinch of sea salt
- 1 tsp quick yeast
- 1 tsp sugar or honey
- 400 ml warm water
- 15 ml olive oil (optional)
Roughly grind or chop (you want some texture, not a powder) the alexander seeds in a seed grinder or pestle and mortar. You may find them easier to grind if you dry roast them first (140°C for 10-20 minutes), making sure they don't burn. Mix the flour, ground seeds and salt in a large bowl. Dissolve the yeast and honey in the warm water and stir into the mix. Combine well and knead the dough for 10 minutes, or until it starts to bounce back. Cover and leave in a warm place until it doubles in size.
When well risen, oil a bread tin, punch the dough a couple of times then place in the oiled tin, cover and allow to rise to double the size again. Heat the oven to 200°C and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until hollow-sounding when tapped. Remove from the oven and leave to sit for 10 minutes before attempting to take the loaf out of the tin. Allow to cool on a wire rack before slicing.
I share some tips on bread, picnics and wild bread in my seaweed bread blog and teach Alexanders - how to identify and use them on my foraging courses throughout the year. As well as on my Singing Forager course.
I'm back on the Isles of Scilly, having survived the boat crossing once again (thank goodness my strategy is still working) and am now above board again and enjoying these beautiful islands again. It's Walk Scilly Festival time.
Having led an enthusiastic group of Scilly walkers (not to be taken literally, in the funny sense of the word), I deliver the group to my collaborator for this event; Euan Rodger, the owner and chef at Tanglewood Kitchen (at the back of the Post Office). I love working with Euan - he pre-prepares delicious dishes such as a rich, creamy sauce, and quickly cooks up fish while salivating foragers watch. I deliver a basket of wild ingredients that we've collected on the walk and Euan improvises (okay, we have a vague plan beforehand) and voila. On this autumnal gathering, the basket contains wild fennel seeds, alexander seeds and yarrow leaves to finish off his dish. Wooden forks are handed round and well all dive in. Not a morsel is left, and I think that says more than words.