I've just returned home from a winter foraging course where we covered 10 wilds that you can pick here in Cornwall through winter. I love foraging in the cooler months and there's a great choice of wild pickings too. I've written about and sung the praises of winter foraging before in; Why Cornwall is excellent for foraging even in winter.
On the foraging course we shared the joys of being outside in nature, as well as some great tastes and a hot flask of Alexander Soup. I always make wild tasters for courses and soup felt fitting for December, as did using some of the abundant growing Alexanders (Smyrynium olusatrum).
All the soup was appreciatively devoured, though luckily I'd kept a portion at home to have for a late lunch. You can read and see lots more - including recipes - about Alexanders in the Alexanders section of my blog.
Meanwhile, lets get to it. Here's this delicious recipe which is so easy to make, good for you and seasonal here in Cornwall.
Winter Alexanders Soup (vegan)
Serves 4, generously
- 200g alexanders leaves (large stalks removed)
- 1 tbsp coconut oil
- 1 medium onion
- 150g pots, diced (scrubbed, though not peeled)
- 200g creamed coconut
- 1250ml boiling water
- 3 tsp powdered vegetable stock
- salt and pepper
Finely chop the finer Alexander stems and put aside. In a medium saucepan, heat the oil over a medium heat, chop the onion and add to the sizzling oil, stir and cook until translucent. Lower the heat, add the potatoes and Alexander stems and sweat for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, measure out 1.25 litres of boiling water, roughly chop the cream coconut and place in a large, heat-proof bowl, pour the boiling water over the coconut, and stir until dissolved. Season with stock and salt and pepper. Chop the Alexander leaves and add to the pot, cook for 7-10 minutes, or until tender. Blend and serve, or pour into a hot flask and take to the beach for a hearty lunch.
The Romans valued the plant Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) highly and brought it over with them to the British Isles almost 2,000 years ago to use as a pot herb.
It was used widely before celery came into fashion (has celery really been in fashion?!). Celery has been mentioned as early as 1700s as a food and was used both as a cleanser and winter vegetable when greens were minimal.
So why do so many people say 'urgh' when they taste Alexanders?
It's all about how and when.
Every single part of Alexanders is edible - the root, stem, leaves, flowers and seeds (though personally I'm not keen on the flowers). That's not the case with every plant. However, you need to know for absolute certain that you have the right plant. This is essential, as Alexanders is a member of the Carrot family (Apiaceae, Umbelliferae) of which there are many wonderful edibles, and some DEADLY POISONOUS plants. As you can imagine, getting this right, is, essential, as I said.
That aside, the qualities of Alexanders are, I believe, worth searching out, especially in spring. Personally, these are a green I also forage through winter, yet they are definitely superior when they've been cultivated in the warmer soil and lighter days that March and April offer.
My Tips for using Alexanders;
- Use only the mininal amount of leaves raw, otherwise cook them
- Start by using small amounts of this plant - as your taste buds mature you can use more
- Use in a bland base and balance the right flavours for broths, as in my Alexander soup recipe. Add to milk, cream, coconut or potato for frittatas, muffins, and even Alexanders infused into rum.
- Each part of the plant has different uses; leaves as a vegetable, young stems for candy and larger ones for stock, seeds as a spice
- The large stems are the sweetest, though can become very fibrous (this can be avoided by boiling them for flavour and discarding the fibre).
Oh, and if you'd like more tips on Alexanders, I can show you, for real, on my Spring wild food foraging courses