Rachel Lambert: forager, author, guide
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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 is here; Spring recipe - Nettle and Honey Cake with Gorse Flower Syrup.

I've also made this Pear and Hogweed Cake a few times, though I think this might be my favourite version. It's vegan and gluten-free, uses brown sugar and is almost melt in the mouth. If you'd prefer the full of everything - butter, eggs and wheat flour - you can view it here; Hogweed shoots in a cake!

Heracleum sphondylium

Pear and Hogweed Shoot Cake

Ingredients

75 ml sunflower oil
90 g unrefined sugar, plus 1 level tbsp
3 tbsp apple juice
4 tbsp aqua faba (chickpea water)
1 tsp dried hogweed seeds (optional)
30 g hogweed shoots (mainly shoots rather than leaves, finely chopped)
200-230 g pears
100 g gluten-free flour
1 tbsp baking powder
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda

Preheat the oven to 200°C and grease a 20 cm diameter cake tin. In a large bowl, beat the oil, apple juice and sugar together. In a food processor add the aqua faba (water left over from a can of chickpeas) and whisk for 5 minutes or until it makes soft peaks (like egg whites).

Heracleum sphondylium

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 hogweed shoots. Blend the dry ingredients together (flour, baking powder and bicarbonate of soda) and add into the oil and sugar mix. 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. Slice and enjoy warm or cold. Keeps well for a few days in the fridge.

Heracleum sphondylium

Hogweed shoots (Heracleum sphondylium) are part of the Umbellifer/Umbellifrae/Apiaceae/Carrot family and needs to be identified correctly. Read more about hogweed here; Common Hogweed. This cake was made for a wild food foraging course, where I always make wild tasters to suit different diets as much as possible.

Autumn is full of potential pleasures, warming foods, sweet dishes and a bounty of autumnal fruits to enjoy. Personally, I take particular interest in creating desserts with wild ingredients, so when Sara from Cotna Barton suggested we made a wild apple meringue pie on our Forage, Cook and Dine event last month, I jumped at the chance to include another wild ingredient in there.

If you've been on a wild food walk with me or another forager, you may well of tasted this amazingly strong flavoured seed; Common Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium). Common as muck (as the expression goes!), it is often mistaken for being poisonous because if the sap gets on your skin and reacts with sunlight you can come up in horrible blisters that can scar. However, several parts of the plant can be used as a food, & these seeds are excellent as a flavouring. Correct identification is essential of this plant though, especially as it is related to several poisonous species such as Hemlock.

  

So what's the taste? Well, taste is a very personal experience, though some of the descriptions I've heard is; orange peel, aromatic, soapy, turkish delight, spicey...

Some people like it, some people don't. Unfortunately, Sara, our cook for this event is not a fan of the flavour, so including it in this recipe took a little persuading. Luckily, I was convinced it would work, so into the ingredients list it went. One of the secrets with this seed is to grind it - it really helps to release the flavour and breakdown the papery texture of the seed pod.

Well, before I go onto sharing the recipe, let me tell you that the dessert was a success, 9 hungry foragers, cooks and diners polished the whole dish off, and Sara's plate was clean too - she liked it! It just goes to show that some wild ingredients are really worth persevering with, until you find the right combination of how to use them.

Wild Apple Curd and Hogweed Seed Meringue Pie

Ingredients

For the Curd

  • 500 g cooking apples
  • finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 100 ml lemon juice
  • 500 g unrefined caster sugar
  • 4-5 large eggs
  • 150 g shortcrust pastry baked in a flan case (prepared before hand)

For the Meringue

  • 4 egg whites
  • 200 g unrefined caster sugar
  • handful of hogweed seeds

Chop the apples into a pan with 100 ml water and the lemon zest. Cook gently until soft and fluffy, then rub through a sieve. Put the butter, sugar and apple puree into a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. As soon as the butter is melted and the mixture is hot and glossy, pour in the eggs and whisk with a balloon whisk.

If the mixture splits, take the pan off the heat and whisk vigorously until smooth, before returning to the heat. Stir the mixture over a gentle heat until thick and creamy, scraping down the sides of the bowl every few minutes. This should take about 10 mins. Pour immediately into the pastry base.

For the meringue, use a food blender to blend the sugar and seeds until the majority of the seeds break down and an aromatic smell is released. Discard the seeds which stay whole. Put aside. Whisk the egg whites in a large bowl until they form soft peaks, then add the sugar a spoonful at a time. Pile onto the tart and bake at gas mark 4 for approximately 20 mins, until the meringue is crisp and slightly coloured.

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