Eccentric, rural, British communities love a friendly competition - from primitive football matches to who has the longest carrot - and with this forgotten native vegetable, you could soon have your entry ready for one of the annual Easter Ledge Pudding competitions that takes place in communities across The North. Bistort Easter Ledge Pudding comes in many guises, as most regional specialities tend to, and is definitely overdue a review in terms of its culinary prowess. Rich, filling and prone to a bit of recipe improvisation - this is the stuff of real comfort food and deserves to be tried at least the once. Made up primarily of pearl barley and vegetables such as bistort, you can think of this wartime classic as a bit like black pudding without all the pig blood. With the big, bold flavours available to us in the wild, this is a forager's dream meal base, as the framework is simple, yet the options for flare are many. You can see how we got on making it over an open fire by visiting Forage Box TV and clicking on the video.
Bistort is smooth, glossy-green cousin to the more familiar dock leaf, distinguished at this time of year by its 'cleaner' appearance and a distinct, white central vein in the middle of the leaf. Later in the year, its presence is more obvious, when beautiful pink flowers rise up from the cluttered undergrowth, although by this point the leaves are passed their best. It loves a good verge and can be found on roadsides, riverbanks and forest edges alike. For our readers down south, this may be one to savour as we tend to only find it in The North. It has a slightly green, zesty flavour, with all the pleasant bitterness and bite you would expect from a spring green, and goes marvellously in any hearty dish yet can be enjoyed raw too.
Attendees of our foraging workshops always leave with a smile on their face and with one wild edible that stands out as their biggest surprise of the day. More often than not, it will be the discovery of this fiery plant that puts a spring in their step. Neither a member of the garlic nor the mustard family, this plant has evolved to produce both flavours on account of the vast majority of animals not liking the taste of either, but unfortunately that does not include good old Homo sapiens. Fast-forward a few millennia and we are throwing both garlic and mustard into so much of what we consume that this plant must be high up the shopping list of anyone who likes their flavours bold. As with so much green growth, it goes remarkably well in a salad, but we find it best enjoyed wherever fresh herbs would do the heavy-lifting: we're talking about roasts, stews, dumplings, frittatas and anything else where a bit of freshly chopped herbs tossed in at the end of the cooking process elevates the dish to something far better.
Garlic Mustard is found all over the country in a variety of habitats and is actually a fairly common sight once you get your eye in. At this time of the year, look out for its distinct heart-shaped leaves on a upright stem along paths, field edges, woodland clearings and council-managed verges (before the indiscriminate strimmers have their way!) and you will have access to an abundance of this incredible plant that is sure to become a staple in your everyday cooking. Although the leaves, seeds and flowers can be picked throughout the year, it is the freshest green growth that offers the most balanced flavour, with later growth tending to take on an overly-astringent flavour profile not unlike paracetamol.
With the ornamental cherry trees taking all the blossom plaudits at the moment, spare a thought for the humble blackthorn tree, which decorated our native hedgerows and woodlands only a month or so ago without any sense of showing off. As one of the first flowers to emerge in Spring, it delicately sparkles in the hedges as its small flowers tentatively open up and fill the air with a lovely, nutty aroma. A quick nibble of one of its flowers will not disappoint either, and a surprising nuttiness akin to an almond sits on the tongue for some time. We've captured this unusual floral flavour in a simple syrup, which preserves the uniqueness of the plant, without requiring too much manipulation to incorporate into a dish or drink. Try it in a cocktail where a simple syrup may be required, perhaps opting for something where amaretto may play a big part to really bring out that nutty flavour. Either that or drizzled liberally over your first big ice-cream of the year.
Worried that picking flowers may reduce the number of sloes available in autumn? Don't worry, the indiscriminate practice of hedge-flailing later this season will rip out any remaining hedgerow flowers so your blackthorn patch won't have any sloes growing on it anyway. Top tip: beat the farmers to the hedge trim and get yourself some guilt- free flower foraging in now before finding yourself a proper wild patch for the big sloe harvest in Autumn!
Forage Box superfans will remember the Fresh Alexanders we sent out a couple of months back and may recall the uniquely aromatic flavour it brought to their dish of choice. We are taking this coastal plant to another level with these dried seeds, which have the undoubted flavour of spicy pepper, not unlike the Szechaun variety you find in exotic spice markets. How great is it, therefore, that we have this growing abundantly right here in the UK? Zero air miles, low-impact produce that is available nationwide. It's just about the end of fresh Alexanders season now, but soon the flowers will turn to seeds and the spice harvest can resume. The little black seeds will soon appear along the coast in preparation for further colonising our countryside next year. Please be aware that the umbels of these black seeds are perilously similar in appearance to those of the deadly Hemlock Water Dropwort and can be found in the same habitat - if you plan on finding it for yourself, never munch on a hunch.
You can use this native spice to tart up any plain cut of meat (bacon actually works surprisingly well) but we reckon the best thing to do is be bold - top up your pepper grinder with these beauties and transform your meals into something special every time you add a bit of seasoning.
Dandelions and Nettles are ferociously abundant British superfoods under used in our diet. We've used dandelion root foraged from a pesticide free farm, Vallis Veg in Frome which has then been nail-brushed clean, soaked and dehydrated (so as to remove the excessive bitterness) and prepared with carrot, onions and fennel. This deliciously surprising chutney contains no added sugar -being sweetened naturally with a blend of dried fruits only. There is no added sugar and all non foraged ingredients are certified organic. The undertones behind the typical sweet and sour chutney blend are hints of mint and fennel which lovingly carry the hint of the bitter root. It's a Dandy!