Rachel Lambert: forager, author, guide
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Using all parts of the sloes for this decadent, homemade chocolate cake

A decadent, sloe gin-soaked chocolate cake with sloes laced through the cake in three different ways. This recipe was requested on several of my foraging courses (I do go on about lots of my favourite wild recipes) so here it is!

You'll first need to make your sloe gin (recipe in my Wild Food Foraging book) and let it infuse for at least 3 months.

A slice a sloe gin-soaked chocolate cake

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Sloe biscuits freshly baked

These are scrummy, gooey, sweet, sticky and crunchy clusters of sloes and nuts! What's more, they're made using the leftover fruits from making sloe syrup.

Here cooked sloes are incorporated seamlessly into these rustic, vegan fruit and nut clusters. They're definitely a favourite !

First make the sloe syrup (which you can use for my Sloe Treacle Tart or for drinks and desserts). Strain and remove the stones from the cooked sloes and follow the recipe below!

Sloe biscuit recipe

How to make Sticky Sloe and Nut Clusters

Makes 36

Ingredients
  • 140 g Demerara or soft brown sugar
  • 40 ml (3 dessertspoons) rapeseed oil
  • 1 tsp water
  • 200 g sticky sloes (stones already removed)*
  • 70 g plain flour
  • 1 heaped tsp corn flour
  • 150 g nuts (roughly chopped)

Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C. Line one large baking tray (30 x 40 cm) or 2 smaller ones with baking paper or silicon sheets. In a medium bowl, combine the oil and sugar, add in the water and sticky sloes, stir, then the flours and the nuts. Stir well to create an even mixture. Make the clusters by distributing heaped teaspoons of the mixture evenly across the baking trays, with enough space between them before placing in the oven.

Bake for approximately 12 minutes each, or until the clusters are bubbling and dark brown at the edges. Remove from the oven immediately and leave for 5 minutes before gently removing from the tray and onto a cooling rack. Repeat with all the baking trays. Store in an airtight container and enjoy within the week.

*Use the sloes from making sloe syrup and take your time to remove and discard the stones. I take up 20-30 minutes to get 200 g of sticky sloes.

Sloe biscuits freshly baked
Bottle of homemade sloe syrup

This thick syrup is reminiscent of tart plums, with a background of dry sloes and the strong flavour of dark sugar. It's gorgeous drizzled over porridge. Though I love it the most in my Sloe Treacle Tart recipe - where that dryness disappears completely!

Don’t forget to keep the leftover sloes aside though for Sloe Fruit and Nut Clusters - a delicious way to use these fruits (see below).

Sloe Syrup Recipe

Makes about 600 ml

Ingredients
  • 750 g sloes (picked after the first frost or frozen then defrosted)
  • 325 ml water
  • 600 g dark sugar

Put all the ingredients in a medium pan,. Bring to the boil, and lower the heat a little, until still bubbling but not a rolling boil. Leave the lid off and allow to cook for a further 45 minutes. Take off the heat and let cool slowly in the pan. Once cool, you’ll have a thick, sticky syrup. Strain through a colander or sieve, pressing the fruits slightly to extract the last of the syrup. Store in a sterilised bottle.

The remaining fruits can be de-stoned and kept for Sloe Fruit and Nut Clusters (creates about 200 g of sticky sloes or 300 g if you’re really thorough and have lots of time). 

Bottle of homemade sloe syrup

For more sloe recipes do browse my autumn blog. I'd also love you to join me on a foraging course where I can share so much more with you about the wonderful wild food surrounding us!

It is Spring and the gorgeous white blossoms of Blackthorn have appeared. These early Spring flowers are a welcomed sight and appear before the leaves.

As the saying goes; you can eat anything once! Here I explore the edibility of blackthorn flowers (Prunus spinosa), their flavour and potential benefits, plus a step-by-step recipe.


I was once asked what this flower was by a woman who'd been eating them and enjoying their almond flavour. My reply: They are blackthorn flowers, and that flavour will be the cyanide.

Knowing the plant family, and recognising this as a relative to the plum tree is not enough to assert its edibility. Nor is the fact that the berries (sloes) can be used as food and to flavour drinks later in the year. In fact, the seeds, leaves and bark of sloes and black cherries also contain a compound that can be converted by the human body into cyanide when digested.

White blossoms flowering in spring

Blackthorn flowers have been used as an edible, sugar-coated cake decoration and I've been known to nibble one on a walk. My wild foodie colleague Mark Williams uses them to flavour his Sloe Gin, creating a a double-layered sloe gin cocktail.

white blossoms in spring

Degrees of toxicity

There are many plants and foods we eat regularly that potentially contain toxins. For example; rice (arsenic), potatoes (solanine) and sorrel (oxalic acid).

What matters here is the amount. You'd need to eat more that 25 apple cores (with the seeds) in one sitting to be of risk of cyanide poisoning, apparently. And some say as many as 5000 seeds to be fatal. You know the saying; an apple a day keeps the doctor away. Keeping things in moderation is good.

white blossoms in spring

Why eat blackthorn flowers?

Because of the cyanide content, blackthorn flowers have a lovely almondy scent which intensifies when infused. This can be used in small amounts as a flavouring. Below is a recipe for blackthorn flower syrup that I would only consider using as a wild alternative to shop-bought almond essence. Yes, literally no more than a teaspoon as flavouring (see recipe below). The flowers have been used as a laxative and the fruits are nutrient-rich food, including vitamin C and magnesium

It is not advised to eat blackthorn fruits (sloes) or flowers if pregnant or if living with a specific health condition. Always consult a medical herbalist or healthcare adviser first.

white flowers in spring

Blackthorn Flower Syrup Recipe

This recipe creates an intense almond-scented syrup, with a bitter after-taste. I quite like the combination of sweet and bitter. It is to be used as a concentrate, you could make a diluted version instead, if you prefer.

Ingredients

  • 30 g blackthorn flowers
  • 120 ml (8 tbsp) boiling water
  • 100 g unrefined caster sugar

Place the flowers in a mug or heat-proof bowl. Pour the boiling water over and leave to steep for at least 2-4 hours. Strain through a tea strainer and place the liquid in a small saucepan with the sugar. Stir over a low heat until the sugar is dissolved (do not boil) and store in a sterilised bottle or jar. Use sparingly to flavour desserts or drinks.

You may also want to view my posts on Sloe Treacle Tart and 10 Sloe Recipes. I'd love to hear from you if you try any of these recipes, do tag me if you try this #sweetwilds

Bottle of sloe syrup

I love sloes. I love their flavour, colour and goodness. I love that they're so common and easy to find. I'm not so keen on their thorns. Sloes are the fruits of the blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) and have been used for thousands of years by humans as food. But what did they do with them?

We know about the traditions of sloe jelly and sloe gin, though I very much doubt that our ancestors just used these fruits to flavour drinks. Piles of sloe stones at archaeological sites imply more of a foodie use. One of the things I love about having a full-time business revolving around wild food, is that I can put lots of time aside for foraging. Time to read (about foraging) and experiment with processes, recipes, seasons and picking sites. Over the years I've acquired over ten sloe fruit recipes from friends, colleagues, books and my own experimentation.

Straining sloes to extract the syrup and discard the stones

Exploring Sloes for Food and Drink

In my first book Wild Food Foraging in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly I share a couple of classic recipes with sloes - sloe gin and sloe gin chocolates. A couple of winters ago I shared my proud, new creation for a Sloe Treacle Tart, you can find the recipe here. I've even written a song about sloes which I share on the Singing Foraging Experience. Here's a taster of it - the Sloes Song.

Bottles of sloe gin

I've used sloes for sweet and savour dishes. Lapping up their vitamin C and antioxidants as if winter's going to last for months (which it often feels like it does if you live in rural areas). So what are these ten or more recipes? Well, I save these recipes, tips for participants on my foraging courses. On a course there's plenty of time to share, including wild tasters. And each course is followed up for an email of recipes and useful links. Meanwhile here's a few tasty shots from my exploratory time in my kitchen with sloes. You can find out more about my foraging courses here.

10 Sloe Fruit Recipes

  1. Sloe Jelly
  2. Sloe Gin (in my foraging book)
  3. Sloe Vodka (in my foraging book)
  4. Sloe Liqueur Chocolates (in my foraging book)
  5. Sticky Sloes (left-overs from making sloe syrup)
  6. Sticky Sloe and Nut Clusters
  7. Sloe Syrup
  8. Sloe Treacle Tart
  9. Ginned-up sloe puree
  10. Sloe Gin Chocolate Cake (recipe to come for members)

Coo-ee, here's a little insight into one of the songs I'll be sharing in The Singing Forager Experience - where we'll be learning about the seasonal plants through songs, facts, stories, touch, sight and taste. Not that I recommend tasting sloes raw, though that could be the words for another song...

As autumn has begun to take hold, I found myself writing words about Sloes/Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa) and finding a basic tune to hum it to. Sharing this with the infamous, though highly talented Hazel Thompson (performer, singer-songwriter and choir leader) the song developed. As we sang and sang it, joined by friends and colleagues, the harmonies and rhythm both morphed and solidified. We're rather proud of the result.

The Singing Forager Experience is for anyone who enjoys listening to songs, tapping their feet or singing. Offered as an extra layer to a 'normal' foraging course, it seems to quicken the learning process about the plants, with a bit of fun thrown in. I'm neither a professional singer, nor a musician, though I do enjoy singing together and that is basically what this experience is about.

Feel uplifted by songs

As the light fades and the cold seeps in, we'll be singing to keep our spirits strong, to lift our hearts, to smile more, make mistakes, forget the words, maybe create new words and come together. Each singing forager experience will introduce 6-8 songs about the seasonal plants available in the area we'll be walking through. The autumn experience will also culminate around a warming fire; a perfect and traditional way of sharing songs.

How these songs came about

Sometimes when I'm in nature I sing. It just happens. Other times I concentrate on the plants and inquire into their qualities; picking them with care, questions and interest. Over the years I have got to know a wide (and wild) range of plants through their colour, shape, texture, smell and taste. I have read about them, picked them and watched them through the seasons and different landscapes. I have carried them to my kitchen and explored through freezing, chopping, cooking and infusing,  - this hands on part of my research is my favourite.

Initially I started a collaboration with singer songwriter Kelsey Michael, and was inspired to write songs about the plants I knew. Creating songs about plants seemed to make sense; after all, songs were one of the ways we shared knowledge, anecdotes and cultural traditions in the past. Somehow the sloes song has an old, melodic feel to it, yet I've only just created it in 2019! Here's to bringing together old and new traditions and celebrating plants through songs.

Finally, having already credited Hazel for her input, it's worth mentioning that we were both attending a song writing course with Stephen Taberner where we met and created this tune. Inspired by Stephen, each other and the natural environment of Cae Mabon in North Wales where we all met - I offer you the Sloes Song.

Follow #singingforager to hear or find out more.

A bowl of frozen wild rowan berries

The first frost is a significant marker in the colder months of the year. Whether you look forward to it or dread it, it has an important function for wild fruits, us and the rest of the natural world.

Previously I've written about how frost and snow effects seaweeds in; Can seaweeds survive the frost and snow?

Bowl of frozen rosehip fruits

Cornish Frost - Myth or Reality?

Here in West Cornwall and by the coast, I never know whether the first frost will arrive at all. Where the warm currents and breezes from the sea can help keep the temperature more ambient. Exposed to the prevailing Southwesterly winds that blow in from the Atlantic means that Cornwall is considered the mildest and warmest place in the UK.

Here we can sometimes sit on the beach on Christmas Day, and sometimes the frost, never, ever arrives. It is true that the closer to the ocean you get, the milder the winters and the cooler the summers are.

Prnus spinosa, blackthorn fruits

What does the frost do to wild fruits and is there an alternative?

The frost has the effect of both breaking the skins of the fruits and sweetening them. A welcomed impact for desserts, flavoured gin, jams, jellies and much more. Of course, living in the modern age means you don't have to wait for the first frost.

Why? Because we have freezers. It is true, popping the fruits in the freezer is not as romantic as getting up at dawn to collect glistening fruits breaking their frost virginity. Though it is more convenient.

Freezers also mean that you can attend to your fruits - whatever you want to create with them - when you have ample time to enjoy the process.

rubus fruticosus

Frost is beneficial to both the texture and sweetness of wild autumnal fruits. I have plenty of recipes for wild berries in my autumn blog. I also run hands on, practical foraging courses in autumn and all year round.

Homemade sloe tart

A dark, rich, and wonderfully fruity treacle tart. Hearty for the colder months with a beautifully crumbly, oatmeal pastry. I love this one as an afternoon snack or as a warm, filling dessert served with cream.

This recipe was inspired by Swedish and German friends of mine making sloe syrup. I tried it myself, tweaking the recipe with dark muscovado sugar and WOW - it reminded me of treacle tart! 

And so the experimenting began. I'm really pleased with the results of this tart. I've made it many times and this is my winning combination. 

Bottle of homemade sloe syrup

Traditionally, treacle tart is made with golden syrup (refined sugar), so I thought I'd try something different. With a bottle of freshly made sloe syrup, I got started, combining oats, fresh bread crumbs (from lovely local bread) and the sloe syrup.

The result was delicious, like a fruity version of a syrup tart, though more wholesome. Just as satisfying, and perfect for afternoon cake-hour, and very fitting for more substantial wintery desserts. Here's the recipe, though you'll first have to make the sloe syrup.

Sloe Treacle Tart recipe

A dark, rich, and wonderfully fruity treacle tart. Hearty for the colder months with a beautifully crumbly, oatmeal pastry. I love this one as an afternoon snack.

Serves 8 - 10

Ingredients

  • 90 g plain flour                      
  • 90 g wholemeal flour
  • 50 g oatmeal                          
  • 125 g butter               
  • 2-3 tbsp ice-cold water
  • 75 g fresh breadcrumbs (fresh bread, grated or food processed)      
  • 75 g oats                                
  • 400 ml sloe syrup, plus 2 tbsp 
  • 2 free-range eggs

Method:

In a large bowl mix the flours, sugar and oatmeal, and cut the butter into cubes before tossing into the bowl. Rub the flours, oatmeal and butter together using your fingertips or use a food processor, until thoroughly combined and it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add a little of the water and form into a ball of dough, adding a little more if needed. Wrap in cling film or place in a bowl tightly covered with waxed food wrap and place in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180°C/fan 160°C and grease a 23 cm flan tin. Take the dough out of the fridge and roll out on a lightly floured surface, large enough to fill the tin and line the sides. Mine often falls apart at this stage, don’t worry, just press it back together. Carefully lift the unbaked pastry in the tin, gently pressing into the corners and slicing off any excess pastry. Pop back in the fridge to firm up for 10 minutes or more, then line with baking beans, or equivalent and place straight in a hot oven for 15 minutes.

 

While the pastry is baking, in a small saucepan reheat the syrup to a little warmer than blood temperature and stir in the oats and breadcrumbs. After 15 minutes remove the tin from the oven and reduce the heat to 150°C/fan 130°C. Whisk the eggs and pour into the heated syrup mix, stirring until combined well. Remove the paper and baking beans and pour the filling into the pastry base. Bake for 35 minutes or until set. Take out the oven and spoon over the 2 tablespoons of sloe syrup for a sticking top and leave to cool on a cooling rack. Serve warm or cold, lasts well in the fridge for up to a week.

Homemade sloe tart

Sloes are one of the fruits I teach about on my autumn foraging courses. For my best wild food recipes, why not check out my membership options and travel with me through the seasons.

Everyone has there own traditions for Christmas Day. For me, I'm satisfied  if I'm in good company, have a dip in the sea & there's a healthy amount of indulgence.

Down here in Cornwall I've plenty of people to share these common themes with; least of all bracing the elements & stripping off on the beach for that ceremonial plunge - nothing like it for feeling alive & building up an appetite! So on the morn of the 25th, Sennen beach (just a mile from Lands End) was pretty packed with rosy faces & cold toes as we raced towards those rolling waves to start the day splashing about, all with good company, of course.

The rest of the essentials for the day already prepared, there was little left to do except dry off, drink hot tea & eat. As a lover of good food, I enjoy the simplicity of a good roast with lots of colourful veg to accompany it. I could tell you a good story of a wild meal, but in all honesty, for this day I'm on holiday, want to think as little as possible about food & just allow it to happen.

However, I had put my creativity together in the form of gifts & brought out some wild ingredients to invent new chocolate recipes. For weeks I'd been thinking about combinations that would excite & please. Who in my family likes richness, who needs to watch there blood sugar levels & who prefers a savoury twist. Of course, its impossible to please everyone, though the fun for me is in the creating & the making.

I created 8 recipes in all, some wild, some not, some rich & dark (I'm a Green & Black's fan myself) & some with raw cacao & agave syrup (far richer in minerals & with less of a caffeine hit - though still chocolate!). Cinnamon, fruit, Cornish sea salt, nuts & vanilla all featured & for the wild ones; laced with sloe vodka of course, & a white chocolate with dried blackberries in (good for children if you want to reduce the risk of too much hyperactivity).

The verdict? Well the large box of chocolates is being taken to family tomorrow & I'll see which ones disappear first & let you know! Its a time a year for many things & for me, there's definitely a place for good, indulgent chocolate, especially handmade. Wishing you all a joyous festive season & here's a couple of recipes to be going on with.  x

    

White Chocolate with dehydrated wild blackberries - goes like raisins, though with more seeds/texture!

    

Last year's sloes had been soaking in vodka for 12 months, de-stone & chop them, add a couple of tablespoons of the sloe vodka & stir into the melted chocolate. And one image of the final box of chocs! Most of them I've tasted, of course, so I'm quite confident about the results!

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