Song, verse, sound and rhyme have been used by humans for thousands of years to communicate, respond and express. Sound is an integral part of our daily landscape. It has been used functionally (to explain things) as well as for fun and as an essential part of celebrations across the world. Rachel Lambert is a foraging teacher who has sung all her life. She sings on her own on the moor, with friends, with family, to mourn and to celebrate life. Since childhood she has learnt songs and made up songs, feeling happy to hit the right or wrong note and just enjoy singing!
Why wild singing
There is much scientific evidence to suggest that singing is good for the brain, heart, gets creative juices running, sends feel good endorphins round the body and can help counter anxiety and loneliness. Coupled with the great outdoors, which can legitimately claim similar health and well-being benefits, wild singing is a pretty good boost for the body and soul.
The benefits of using song to learn about plants
Singing about plants and nature is also part of our historical tapestry. When Rachel Lambert (Wild Walks South West) has researched past uses of plants she’s often come across poems and songs. Songs tell of plant uses, claims of curing ills, bringing love and of old traditions. Rachel has taken this idea and created new songs to tell of plant qualities she often shares with participants on her foraging courses. Songs can be a great way to remember things, as well as just enjoying the moment.
If you'd like to see snippets of other songs, or read more about this experience, you may want to view my other Wild Singing blogs. I run The Singing Forager Experience for anyone who'd like to listen to, hum along or join in. Dates for these are here; The Singing Forager Experience and details of how to book is here.
Follow the #singingforager to find out or hear more.
It's raining and cold and I've just put the heating back on. Time for comfort food, something that will warm me from the inside out. Rice pudding has childhood memories for me, to be honest not brilliant ones. A blob of jam on top of sweet ambrosia rice wasn't hugely exciting to me.
But wild rice pudding, I've had a lot of fun making wild rice puddings over the years. This gorse flower rice pudding is easy to make, and utilises both fresh flowers (in the baked pudding) and dried or semi-dried flowers for the syrup. You can read the full recipe in my Wild Food Foraging book. It doesn't use much sugar either. Hurray!
I teach gorse flowers on many of my spring, summer and winter foraging courses here in Cornwall. Why not sign up to the newsletter to get regular updates on courses and pop-up events and wild food recipes, or check out the membership options for exclusive, monthly and seasonal recipes.
I warn you, this might be a blog with questions.
I did wonder what to make the title, it could have been; what's yellow, subtle with a crisp outer and soft centre? Though it sounded too much like a chocolate advert. Here's the answer, a recipe, and a few other questions.
Gorse Flower and Coconut Macaroons
I first made these macaroons a few years ago for a journalist's break in Lamorna Cove, I'd trialled them a few times and loved the play on coconut with the association of gorse flowers - you know, that lovely coconut aroma when you pass a gorse bush on a sunny spring day. Revisiting them more recently I decided to tweak the recipe and replace the golden syrup in favour of using my own, wild, homemade gorse syrup. The result was even better and blending fresh flowers into the mix added wonderfully to the colour too.
These Gorse Flower and Coconut Macaroons are light and moist with a slightly crispy outer, coloured and scented with gorse flowers. Well to be honest, the colour is bright and the scent subtle with just a sniff of moorland gorse flowers, though friends decided the recipe was too good to exclude.
Which asks the question; what's important? Using wild food for the nutrition, the flavour or the fun and the experiment of it all? I'll let you answer that for yourself, though for me, we enjoyed the macaroons, a lot. And maybe, just maybe knowing they were handmade, and incorporated something wild and fresh increased that pleasure and their goodness. After all, my understanding is that relaxing pleasures can also increase the body's ability to absorb nutrients well - making it a win-win situation.
Back to the recipe.
Coconut macaroons are so much easier to make than the French macarons, which I've never tried to make as I'd heard too many stories and rumours about the failure to success ratio. You can't go wrong with these, just gather some gorse flowers at any time of year, a few extra ingredients and set to. Oh, and they're gluten-free too.
Gorse Flower and Coconut Macaroons
250 ml gorse flower syrup
50 g unrefined sugar
A little coconut oil (for greasing)
4 egg whites
¼ tsp cream of tartar
½ tsp baking powder
25 g fresh gorse flowers
30 g ground almonds
250 g desiccated coconut
Place the syrup in a small pan with the sugar, bring to the boil and simmer for 40 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced to 180ml and thickened a little, it will thicken more as it cools. Pour into a jug or food processor and blend in the fresh flowers and leave to cool. Grease a baking tray and pre-heat the oven at 150°C. In a spotlessly clean bowl, whisk the egg whites with the cream of tartar until they begin to stiffen then add the baking powder.
In a second bowl combine the ground almonds and coconut, and then pour in the flower syrup. Fold in the egg whites until the mixture is even and using one tablespoon per macaroon, spoon onto a greased baking tray. The macaroons should be in slightly loose rounds. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden and crispy around the edges and remove from the tray while still warm. Keeps well in an air-tight container.
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
I've always considered myself an artist rather than a scientist, and heaven help me if I had to make cakes for a living; I'm far too much of a slow, pondering and inventive cook to make any money from it.
I do have some successes though, and some happy accidents along the way. I also love to share what I learn, how to do it (and how not to). On that note... I set out to create a gorse infused cream and this happened.
And it was rather good, so I thought I'd share the process (and I'll share the final recipe another time too). If you've ever whisked cream too much, butter is what happens - it's science, though what you do with it decides whether it is art or not.
How to Make Gorse Flower Butter
Perfect for lathering on fish dishes, on hot toast, or mix with icing sugar and use as a filling or topping on cakes.
75g fresh gorse flowers
200ml double cream
Place the gorse flowers in a small saucepan and pour over the cream. Stir and bring to a slow simmer over a low heat, take off the heat, cover and leaving to cool completely before straining through a fine sieve or muslin cloth.
When the cream is cooled, using an electric whisk, beat the cream until it starts to clot and continue until the cream starts to separate (into buttermilk and butter). You can strain off the buttermilk and use in cakes or bread (that's another one for me to try).
And that's it. You have made gorse flavoured butter. If you want to make it into butter icing, weigh the butter and mix the same amount in weight of sieved icing sugar, blend well and smother the tops or middle of cakes.