A couple of months ago I lost my sense of smell completely. My world changed and everything tasted of cardboard. Fortunately it was only a temporary loss due to a virus, though it was a fascinating and slightly scary experience. I've always known how important my senses are to me; foraging engages my vision, touch, smell, taste and intuition. To be without two of these (smell and taste are so dependant on each other) was odd and left me functioning in a very different way. I'm the kind of person who always stops to smell flowers - I find it a life affirming way to engage with the world.
Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is one of my summer scents; scattered along the coast path and beaches in selected places in Cornwall and commonly on the Isles of Scilly. When the sand is hot and the air is warm it is a lovely whiff of refreshing aniseed to breathe in. It's scent also makes it easy to identify.
Indigenous to the Mediterranean, it is well known and used to aid digestion and has naturalised in many places across the world. It's been used in fish and seafood dishes, and I like to use it in bread and desserts. I think it is perfect as a dessert - an after dinner digestive which is full of soothing flavour.
In my first book - Wild Food Foraging in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly - I shared a recipe for fennel sorbet and fennel flower-head fritters, though you can use the same recipe for fennel ice lollies (images above). I also have a great Wild Fennel Bunyols recipe, which was inspired by my Catalonian friend, Marta and are perfect for Autumn or cooler days.
The sorbet and ice lollies are so full of flavour and they use the foliage of fennel - the leaves and young stems which are often over-looked. I highly recommend experimenting with these parts too.
The evenings are getting cooler and it is time for bigger, fatter, more filling food, I reckon. Being by the coast I'm lucky enough to find wild fennel, and from late summer on wards I can forage a few seeds for flavouring desserts, stews and breads.
I first tasted these sweet fried dough balls, when my Catalonian friend, Marta, made them. They are a speciality from her home town and she was staying with me at the time. Luckily for me, I walked in at the end of her cooking frenzy and got to sample these warm before they were whisked away to a dinner party. She was just debating whether to use some more fennel oil, as flavouring, when I suggested grinding some of the wild fennel seeds I'd collected, and using these, combined with icing sugar, instead.
Wild fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) adds a wonderful light, aniseed-like flavour, and picking your own seeds ensures you capture that wonderful fresh taste, cultivated in fresh coastal air and sunlight.
Back to the recipe... they worked a treat, and I've been badgering her ever since for the recipe. Here it is, with a few wild twists added.
Wild Fennel Seed Bunyols
Deep fried, airy buns with a sweet fennel dusting, for me, this is a mid-Winter treat, or on cooler evenings when I feel the need for extra calories. A dear Catalonian friend gave this recipe to me; I’ve adapted it a little bit.
Ingredients (Makes approx 35)
250 ml boiling water
125 g butter
180 g plain flour (could have 20% wholemeal)
4-5 eggs, beaten
500 ml sunflower oil
1 heaped tbsp unrefined sugar
1 heaped tsp fennel seeds
In a medium saucepan, add the water and simmer over a medium heat. Cut the butter into chunks and gently add into the water, leaving to melt before whisking for 2 minutes. Lower the heat a little and quickly sieve in the flour and mix well. Keep mixing for a few minutes over the heat until the mixture goes a little golden. Turn off the heat and little by little add the egg mixture, about 1 egg at a time. Using a wooden spoon, beat each egg in, until well absorbed. The mixture is ready when it becomes less slippery and more elastic when the spoon is dragged from the mixture upwards. This may not use all the egg.
Prepare a large tray with absorbable kitchen paper/towel, or use a large cooling rack. In another medium sized saucepan, heat the oil over a medium to high heat. You can check the oil is hot enough by dropping a little of the batter in the oil, if it floats to the top, it is ready. When the oil is ready, using 2 teaspoons, drop a large teaspoon size ball of the bunyol mixture into the oil and allow to fry. You can probably cook about 4 balls of mixture at a time. When the bunyols are golden brown on one side, turn over and brown all over, remove with a slotted spoon onto the kitchen paper or cooling rack. Repeat with all the mixture and leave the bunyols to cool. To make the sweet fennel dusting, grind the sugar and fennel seeds together and when the bunyols are cool, sprinkle with the sugar powder and have a little on the side for extra dipping.