This melt-in-the-mouth ice cream really captures the coconut-scent that fills the air around wild gorse bushes on a warm, sunny day. That's why this recipe is so good! Oooh, I can almost taste it as I write this.
I've experimented a lot with gorse (Ulex galli and Ulex europeaus) over the years and here I share with you my best recipe yet. Here I also share my top tips on how to bring out that gorse-scent in foods and drinks - which is not as easy as it sounds!
Plus, a few ideas for using any left-over flowers, including how to make gorse sugar and what to use it with.
Gorse is one of my favourite flowers to use as it is so abundant and in many areas is considered an invasive. And that bright yellow colour is great too!
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As August has been unfolding I have been sneaking up to the moors and delighting in the tinges of purple, pinks and yellow as the heath-land takes on its late-summer coat. Bell heather (Erica cinerea) is the first to appear with her larger purple bell-shaped flowers. Followed by heather, also known as Ling (Calluna vulgaris) with its smaller, pinkish flowers. Bright yellow Gorse flowers (Ulex europaeus and Ulex gallii), one of my favourite moorland plants, are scattered throughout.
When the air is warm and the wind is blowing the right way, I love breathing in these subtle scents, of which heather also have a reputation for inducing sleep. Being softer than the prickly gorse bushes, I can say from experience that heather makes a great springy bed to take a nap on, and so hardy that it just bounces back afterwards. I wonder how many weary travellers have used heather in this way, as a single plant can be up to 50 years old.
I, almost, find it enough to gaze at this undulating landscape of colour, smell it and doze on it. However my foraging memories usually drive me to gather a few sprigs for my kitchen creations too. Previously I've worked with a cook at a National Trust property who made heather syrup to drizzle over mini steamed puddings - delicious. Though I also simply like tea.
Apparently 'moorland tea' was one of the poet Robert Burns' favoured tea. His version was heather tops (ling) combined with the dried leaves of bilberry, blackberry, thyme and wild strawberry. It sounds like a perfect heath-land combination and I'm sure Robert Burns knew a fair few things about tea. Yet, how one likes a brew is such a personal thing. For me, my go-to combination is bell heather and gorse. Perhaps because I know these two so well, or perhaps because I haven't tasted Robert's 5-herb cuppa. I've made a mental note to try and recreate his moorland tea blend, though meanwhile bell heather and gorse are so easy to spot that I find myself returning to my own mix.
When and where and how to pick
Heather and gorse can be found in heath-lands, moors, bogs and mountain slopes across Europe and North America. The presence of heather usually indicates poor soil, as it prefers mildly acidic soils and thrives best when it has good exposure to sunlight. Over the last 200 years the amount of moorland in the UK has reduced by over 80%, hence more recent efforts to preserve and protect these areas and the plants and wildlife that rely on it.
I love sitting by heather and watching the bees feed and taking my time to pick a few flower heads from each bush, ensuring my foraging efforts are practically invisible. Gorse is always in flower somewhere (as in the UK we have 2 varieties that also hybridise) and heather flowers from July through September.
My moorland tea mix and how to make it
A blend of fresh gorse flowers and bell heather flowers can be used to make a herbal tea, though I prefer to dry them. That way, I can make tea when I want it and use it through autumn and winter. Today's a perfect herbal tea day - rainy and cool outside and ideal for hot, soothing drinks.
I dry the flowers on tea towels in a warm place. It should take two days maximum. Then I place in clean, sterilised jars and use a teaspoon or two of each herb for a cup of tea. It is good with a spoon of honey in too. As I sip my homemade moorland tea, I'm temporarily transported to the moors where I see, smell and nap on these late summer bushes and am flooded with good memories again.
Five years ago I wrote a blog about my Nettle and Honey Cake - it went down a treat. Named as; 'probably the best cake I've ever had' by one enthusiastic forager, I was super pleased the result.
Every so often I like to repeat recipes so I can enjoy the flavours again and see if they need tweaking. Over the last few years I've also found that nettles combines well with ginger and with lemon and, although this cake contains neither, its texture is reminiscent of a lovely moist ginger cake.
Last week, however, I made a new discovery; nettle cake (urtica dioica) and gorse (ulex gallii, ulex europaeus) flower syrup! It's a wild and divine combination which I just had to share with you.
A Spring Dessert: Nettle and Honey Cake with Gorse Flower Syrup
An almost toffee flavoured, moist, not too sweet cake, with a sweet hit of moorland gorse flavours drizzled over it. Somehow, this whole combination reminds me of green tea, perhaps it is the lovingly received health benefits of these local, wild ingredients, or just the natural flavours of green nettles and infused gorse.
- 50-75 g nettle tops
- 250 g clear honey
- 100 g dark muscovado sugar
- 225 g butter
- 3 large eggs beaten
- 300 g white flour
- 4 tsp baking powder
For the syrup
- 50 g fresh gorse flowers
- 225 g unrefined sugar
- 300 ml water
Place the gorse flowers in a medium saucepan with the water and sugar and bring to the boil. Immediately take off the heat, cover with a lid and leave overnight (or for as many hours as you can). The next day bring the liquid to the boil again and simmer for 10 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve or muslin cloth and store in sterilised bottles in the fridge or freeze in ice cube containers and defrost as needed. Will last a month or so if not frozen.
Line a 20 cm square or round cake tin and pre-heat the oven to 150°C. Steam the nettles for 5 minutes and put aside to cool. Place the honey, sugar and butter in a small saucepan over a low heat and stir until melted and combined. Once the nettles are cooled, blend with the eggs to make a smooth, green pulp. Sieve the flour and baking powder into a large bowl and gradually beat in the melted sugar and butter mix. It will resemble a lovely toffee colour.
Pour in the pureed nettles and blended eggs and beat together.
It makes a wonderful green, raw cake mixture colour! Pour into the cake tin and bake for an hour, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean, or the cake springs back when touched. Allow to cool for a few minutes before removing from the tin onto a cooling rack, and cool completely before slicing. Serve with gorse flower syrup.
Gorse Flower Fudge
Oh my god, I had such hopes with this recipe, I really thought I’d clinched it first time (which happens occasionally, though is definitely not a given). Heating it slowly, the smell of the gorse flowers was divine and the flavour of properly made fudge, just blissful.
I went out early in the morning to pick those coconut smelling gorse flowers and couldn’t stop thinking of the smell of condensed milk and how the flavours would match. When I searched for condensed milk though, I couldn’t find one that wasn’t Nestle brand (I’m still not happy about their ethics around supplying milk formula in developing countries, as well as other things), so I decided to settle for a more traditional recipe instead. Double cream, butter and sugar it was.
Of course, I’m still learning, and I forgot that as the temperature of the sugar rose higher, the sugar flavours got stronger, and the scented gorse flowers sunk below the brown sugar, cream and butter, never to be smelt again. I even tried a second time using half unrefined caster sugar instead (you may know that I don’t use refined sugars, at all, in cooking), though still the gorse was lost.
However, if you like fudge (and I discovered that many of my friends do), this is an awesome sweet treat. So I decided to share it anyway, plus some tips of how not to cook with gorse (all discovered through experience and in hindsight).
Tips for Making Homemade Fudge
Fudge is both easy and measured in terms of time, temperature and effort – go easy on yourself, especially if it doesn’t work first time. Mine didn’t work first time, it’s usually to do with temperature or not stirring it long enough, though sometimes it just isn’t clear why. Mine didn’t set properly so instead I put the batch in the fridge, and when it was cold, cut it into squares and re-rolled them in my fingers into oblong(ish) shapes. They were a kind of delicious toffee fudge.
The second batch didn’t set either, so I flattened the cooled mixture and sealed it in a bag and froze (there’s only so much fudge you can eat at once!) The mixture can be semi-defrosted and cut into squares.
Tips for Cooking with Gorse
- Don’t use any strong flavours that might mask the subtle gorse scent (or just go with this ever so subtle flavouring)
- It’s all about infusing and leaving for as long as you can for the flavour to come out
- Infuse into milk, cream or water by bringing to an almost boil, turning off the heat and covering overnight
- Lemon and orange go nicely with gorse, as does coconut (though not all together), it depends what flavour you want
Gorse Flower Fudge
More accurately, a wonderful creamy, buttery tasty fudge recipe which you don’t need to add gorse flowers to (keep them for another recipe), though you can if you want!
350ml double cream
30g gorse petals (outer sepals and stems removed already)
600g light brown sugar
150g golden syrup
pinch of sea salt
Line a 20cm x 20cm tin with greaseproof paper. Place the cream and gorse flowers in a medium to large heavy bottomed saucepan and slowly bring to a simmer, add the butter and stir. The mixture should be turning a lovely pale yellow colour. Once the butter has melted, stir in the sugar, syrup and pinch of salt. Place a sugar thermometer in the pan and leave to reach 116°C, watching carefully though do not touch. Take off the heat, leave to cool to 100°C before stirring energetically for 10 minutes or until the glossy mixture dulls and stiffens. Pour the mixture into the lined tin and leave to cool for a couple of hours. Cut into squares, keep in an air-tight container, or in the fridge.
Part of the fun of foraging for me is coming home with a wonderful choice of unusual ingredients to cook and create with, or drying them to use another day. In my kitchen pretty much anything goes, of course there have been disasters along the way, though I've also had some pretty successful surprises.
Foraging also gives me the benefits of broadening my nutrition through a wide range of foods. It's impossible for me to know everything that my body needs (or would take a lot of expensive analysis), though I do know that by including different seasonal plants and seaweeds I'm more likely to be feeding myself micro-nutrients that would be easy to miss.
For example, we all know that life provides a myriad of stresses and that good nutrition helps to counter the effects of and helps to reduce stress. Though did you know that in particular, seaweed provides up to 56 different essential minerals and trace elements for the human body. Wow.
I first came across sargassum seaweed (also known as wireweed and used to be known as japweed) in Sonia Surey-Gent and Gordon Morris' book: Seaweed A User's Guide; an unassuming and valuable book. Here, sargassum muticum is given high acclaim;
'Sargassum... eaten as a powder with a drink of water, provides all the nutrients needed by the body, with hardly any calories.'
Hmm, all the nutrients needed by the body... sometimes I need a strong reminder to use seaweed. Feeling in the mood to make bread I decided to grab some dried gorse flowers, and the dried and ground sargassum that had been hanging around the kitchen waiting (too long) to be used.
This is what I came up with, complete with a sprinkling of nutrients, made with love and enjoyed with organic chicken soup after a cold and beautiful evening round the fire with friends.
Gorse Flower and Sargassum Seaweed Focaccia
A slightly sweet and nutty bread, with all the lovely texture that focaccia normally has, perfect with cheese and salad, with soup, or drizzle with gorse flower syrup if you fancy something even sweeter.
300ml warm water
100ml gorse flower syrup
1 dessert spoon dried yeast
500g organic strong white bread flour
handful of dried gorse flowers (2x handful of fresh is fine)
1 tsp dried and ground sargassum seaweed
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (plus extra for drizzling)
1 heaped tsp sea salt
Pour the water and syrup into a jug and stir in the dried yeast. In a large mixing bowl, add the flour, flowers, seaweed, oil and salt, mix in half the water and with clean hands, combine and knead for 5 minutes, gradually adding the rest of the water. Now for the fun part - stretch and pull the dough for at least another 5 minutes before placing on an oiled surface and kneading for a further 5 minutes. Your dough is now ready to rest (and maybe you too), so pop it back in the mixing bowl, cover and leave to rise in a warm place for an hour or until it has doubled in size. Preheat the oven the 220°C and flatten the dough into a large, oiled tin and leave to rise for another 1/2 an hour, and prod your fingers into the dough at evenly spaced intervals to give the traditional focaccia topping effect.
Scatter the top with extra gorse flowers (if you have), a little olive oil and bake for 20 minutes or until golden onto and hollow sounding when tapped. Remove from the oven and leave to stand for 10 minutes before using a fish slice, or similar to remove from the tin and leave to cool on a cooling rack. Slice into squares and eat fresh. Lasts well for 2 or 3 days.
Rachel's Seaweed book talks you through identification, sustainable processing and drying of sargassum muticum seaweed.
I'm often asked what my favourite time to forage is, well spring is fantastic, though honestly, winter is becoming an increasingly wonderful time to forage. The quiet, the abundance of plants and the unexpected joys of finding food (not in the supermarket) this time of year.
On January 2nd myself and a small group of friends went foraging, our task; to simply enjoy the outdoors and gather a few ingredients for supper, which we'd then share together, and that's exactly what we did. A big thank you to Sara Pozzoli for joining us and filming us. Here's the menu;
Winter Foraging Menu
Spelt Bread with Alexander Seeds
Salsa Verde with Rock Samphire, Pepper Dulse and Three-Cornered Leek
Alexanders, Sea Spinach, Gorse Flower and Coconut Curry
Yoghurt Dressing with Three-Cornered Leek, Black Mustard and Wild Chervil
Chocolate and Haw Berry Jam Cheesecake
Inspired by a winter sun rise and these wonderful bright yellow flowers, here's a little video about foraging gorse flowers (ulex gallii and ulex europaeus) and making the most of the winter light.
It's deep December and I'm standing outside. Actually, there's 8 of us standing outside and waiting for the one that's gone astray. Once we're all congregated, we begin. There's something innately quiet about walking in Winter, as if all around us is sleeping, and in some ways it is. We walk together through this slumbering landscape, initially unaware of the life around us.
What can you forage in winter?
From as early as November, my forager eyes start to spot edible greens that are normally associated with spring. Alexanders, Nettle Tops, Three-Cornered Leek (locally known as Wild Garlic), Wild Cress and Mustard, Pennywort, Wild chervil, Gorse flowers and even Daisy leaves and flowers for salads and cooked dishes.
Although the nutrition of plants can be significantly increased in Spring, goodness can still be enjoyed from these plants through the winter months. In Cornwall, where we may lack in terms of nuts and berries (there are only a few forests & woodlands here) it is more than made up with coastal plants and, due to the mild climate, a great choice of edible greens right through winter. While other areas of the UK are below frost or snow, there are milder areas of Cornwall that offer valuable forage-ables.
The benefits of foraging in winter
What's more, foraging feeds the soul not just in winter, though every time of year. According to the National Wildlife Federation's article; It's all in the dirt, the reason for this includes good bacteria in the soil that releases seretonin - the feel good hormone. This makes me feel even better about my muddy boots and dirty fingernails too!
In some ways, there's more to see in winter, without the distraction of hoards of people, beautiful, bright flowers, and sunsets to melt into. Instead, the offerings maybe more subtle - beige stems, low growing greens, and flowerless stems, though don't be tempted to dismiss these edible due to their humble winter personas.
Common Hogweed seed (Heracleum Spondylium), for example (below), may look like a dead seed-head, though within it lies delicious aromatic flavours for curries and many sweet dishes.
If you need it, use foraging as an excuse to get you outside, for that dose of daylight, fresh air and nature fix. Watching wintering birds, or rolling white horses of the waves, and returning with a handful of winter greens, it's hard for the soul not to be lifted, even if just a little. And if you're still not convinced and only yearning for the bright yellow sun of summer, then perhaps gorse is the only cure for you. Up on the moorlands of Cornwall, somewhere, you will always find the bright yellow flowers of gorse; an uplifting flower. According to Bach Flower Remedies gorse can offer you hope, when all hope is lost. I promise, summer will return.