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.
It always feels odd arranging to meet a stranger in a car park. Though that is where I met photographer Rick Davy at the start of my working day. I was on a mission to collect a specific green, and I said to Rick that if he wanted to join me, that's where I would be. Rick, thankfully, was more generous with his words and company than I was. He happily tagged along as I picked my greens and returned to my kitchen to process them.
Rick had got in touch about a personal photography project called A Day in the Life of A and I had agreed to be one of his subjects. Rick also photographed Fiona Were, a fantastic chef that I sometime collaborate with for gourmet foraging events.
Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) is the green I had sought permission to harvest from local National Trust land (about five large stems). I had a lot of washing, chopping and cooking to get on with. First I separated the leaves and stems, then I began to crystallise the young stems to incorporate into sweet filo tarts. I can't remember if I offered one to Rick to taste, I have a feeling he left before they were baked.
(Image: Making sweet filo tarts with crystallised Alexander pieces)
I have to admit of feeling envious of good photographers - they make it look so easy. I love drooling over a good photograph; the visual pleasures of colour, composition and story. Rick Davy's photographs do that for me, and I am thankful for his sharp eye and generosity with this project.
(Image: Crystallised Alexander pieces)
Rick also joined me on another early morning foray - this time to pick Gorse flowers. Last winter I went crazy about these flowers. I even made a little video about Foraging Gorse in Winter - such was my love affair with them. In my first foraging book I share a Gorse Flower Rice Pudding recipe, and I've made so much more with them since then. That day I was trying to perfect Gorse flower truffles, and also wanted to dry some flowers for future syrups and cocktails. La, la, laaaa, the joys of foraging for gorgeous drinks and food.
Those days that I shared partly with Rick are the good days - the outdoor days. As a forager I manage to get outdoors everyday, into nature. The rest of my time is spent cooking, preparing, writing, doing administration and contemplating new ideas and adventures. If you want to see Rick's photos, read the story and see more of his work, visit www.adayinthelifeofa.co.uk