The start to 2021 hasn’t exactly been the best, so we hope this box gives you a bit of a lift. As foragers, the recent snowfall has certainly tested our resourcefulness but we have still sent out some absolute corkers this month. Fresh coastal vegetables are a great winter edible, and we’ve also included a wild alternative to coffee and a premium guest product from the team at Buck & Birch.
We were very excited when we first tried this and are thrilled to be able to include such a fantastic product in our box this month. Buck and Birch have teamed up with Napiers the Herbalists to create this delicious drink that is PACKED with health-boosting ingredients.
We could waffle on further, but they put it far better than we ever could:
“A concentrated elderberry, bramble and rosehip syrup providing a good source of Vitamin C, enhanced with sustainably harvested herbs and spices. Each 5 ml serving contains 100mg of vitamin C. Vitamin C contributes to the normal function of the immune system. Flavoured with herbs and spices including Japanese knotweed, Inula, Orange, Ginger, Liquorice, Nigella and Cinnamon.”
In the age that we live in, it is a great comfort to know that something so delicious is doing our immune systems such a favour too. Aside from the medicinal properties, its really delicious! You can enjoy it neat as you would any fruit juice, however poured over ice with a little splash of soda water and a sprig of garden mint transforms this into a sophisticated fire-side mocktail to rival any other.
If you give the menu of any up-market restaurant a quick read, you will probably come across a fish dish served ambiguously with ‘sea vegetables’. We reckon that’s a bit of a cop-out - you wouldn’t get away with referring to ‘land vegetables’ - especially as there is so much wild food to get hold of along the coastline, so chances are that sea purslane will have made it into those posh fish dishes. For good reason too! It has a unique crunch unlike most coastal plants, yet still delivers on that distinct salty flavour you would expect from something that spends its days getting battered by the sea.
Enjoy nibbling on it fresh from the bag, as a robust garnish for seafood, or flash-fried in hot oil for a banging side dish. Better yet, whip up a quick pickle that you can serve wherever you might want a tangy, salty addition… bit of sugar, bit of vinegar, maybe some thinly sliced shallots and carrots… whack in some raw sea purslane and you’re done! We’ve also enjoyed it as part of a simple sauce stirred into spaghetti: olive oil, black pepper, finely sliced garlic, chilli and a big handful of raw sea purslane leaves - a perfect example of how wild food can transform ordinary meals into something amazing!
Just remember that however you serve it, please discard the tough stalks before preparing. If you have any green seeds, these are perfectly good to eat.
Birch trees offer us so much throughout the year, but it is the catkin that we are exploring this month. Catkins are how the trees reproduce (a bit like flowers, a bit like seeds, well worth researching if you are interested in the botany side of things) and are pretty much the only thing found growing on our native deciduous trees in deepest, darkest Winter. Birch trees are renowned for their caramel-tasting elements, and the catkins are no different. Yes, there is an overriding bitterness - a quick nibble of a raw one will confirm that for you - but with a bit of manipulation, that bitterness can really enhance your home cooking. Before we give you some cooking tips, it might interest you to know that birch catkins are reputedly packed with nutritional value and health-boosting qualities, so there you go.
Cooking-wise, look no further than a hot frying pan. Get some butter melted or oil heated and chuck the catkins in for barely 10 seconds or so to allow them to crisp up (you have to get them out of the hot pan quickly before they burn). A quick taste of these at this stage will give you that woody, bitter, caramel flavour that we are after. After that, the options are wide open for you - sprinkle over hearty dishes where a crunch would be welcome. Want to go really wild? Try chucking your sea purslane into the pan at the same time for a salty, crunchy side dish!
Alternatively, if you are someone with a bit more patience when it comes to these things, get yourself a small-ish jar (mustard size or similar), drop in the catkins and top up with a couple of servings of vodka. Leave it somewhere cool and dry for 6 months and you will be left with a gorgeous caramel-coloured spirit that will add a woodland twist to any drink that calls for vodka. If you like your drinks a bit sweeter, add a little sugar at the end of the infusion period to enjoy it more like you would a fruit liqueur.
We have heard many tales of unsuccessful acorn coffee attempts over the years, yet it always tends to come down to two things: either the coffee was roasted for too long, or the acorns were not leached (soaked in water to remove tannins) for long enough. Either way, the result will be a horrible, bitter concoction that would be enough to put off any future experiments with acorns. We are therefore quite proud that we’ve managed to perfect our method to produce a well-toasted, warm, mellow coffee alternative that might just be our best caffeine-free drink.
There is enough acorn coffee in your box this month for one large cafetiere, however if you like it slightly weaker then you can always use less. Use nearly-boiling water and leave for at least 5 minutes, with 10 minutes being about right. Then pour into your favourite mug and treat it as you would a standard filter coffee with your usual milk and sugar requirements.
Yes: Jelly Ears. Yummy, right? These admittedly weird-looking mushrooms are bang on in season now and can be found growing all over dead and dying elder trees in parks, hedges and woodlands. Learn to identify elder trees and you will soon find huge clusters of one of the easiest mushrooms to identify as a beginner.
They are clearly named for how they look and feel, and are actually something you might have eaten before as they feature very frequently in oriental soups and broths. They don’t taste of much on their own, but their ability to dehydrate and rehydrate is something we have taken advantage of here, by rehydrating them in our own salt and vinegar blend (lacto-fermented wild garlic brine and wild mirabelle plum-infused apple cider vinegar, since you asked) before dehydrating them again to give them a satisfying crunch whilst retaining their newly adopted flavours. The result is what must be one of the healthiest crisps ever produced, with no frying or oils in sight! A lot of love has gone into this product, and we really hope you are blown away by a unique product we are really quite proud of.
Enjoy these as you would any salty pub snack.