Well Autumn is well and truly here! It has been a very wet month and the temperatures have dropped significantly, bringing summer harvests to an end and triggering rapid ripening of fruit and nuts, along with the odd flush of fungi. We’ve been busy picking wild apples ready to turn into some very special Christmas cider and preserving as many other wild edibles as we can, ready for the colder months ahead. This month, however, we’ve sent out some of the best the UK coastline has to offer, one of our favourite mushrooms and about the most unique syrup we could come up with!
Please remember to follow whatever government restrictions are in your local area and that if you do manage to get outdoors, please be respectful of nature ensuring that you leave no trace. Here at Forage Box, we take sustainability very seriously and ensure nature is always completely respected whenever we manage to get out into it.
Cited as the ancestor to modern day beetroot, spinach and chard (among others) , this maritime perennial is a superb wild alternative to its farmed descendants. It is a great one to start out with if you are new to wild food or not a particularly confident cook, and holds its own however you choose to cook it. Succulent, crunchy and sweet, it is best used wherever spinach would be: wilted, steamed, creamy, saucy, raw… the possibilities are endless.
Luckily for foragers, this coastal vegetable is very common and grows nearly all year round. It can be found high up the beach, well away from the splashing waves, and colonises whole coastlines if left to do its thing. A small handful can be collected in seconds so there really is no excuse not to be completely familiar with this understated wild species next time you head to the beach.
We have to confess that the addition of this fresh mushroom to your Forage Box this month was only made possible after we stumbled upon an ancient oak woodland that was abundant with the stuff! It is an absolute pleasure for us to be able to include it though, and is quite possibly the tastiest wild mushroom out there (let’s pretend that truffles aren’t part of that competition for now!)
The name ‘Hen Of The Woods’ comes from the slightly feathery display this mushroom has which, combined with the sizes some of these beasts can get to, makes them unmistakable as a species and a really good beginners mushroom. It does have a habit of collecting woodland debris - twigs, leaves, the odd woodlouse - so you may wish to brush/wipe/rinse your mushrooms before using. Do use them as fresh as possible though as they will turn mushy before you know it.
We find these mushrooms are best taking the spotlight in your meal and should be cooked in the simplest way possible. Instead of letting them get lost in a big stew or a heavy sauce, try gently sautéing in oil or butter with just a simple seasoning. Add a dash of cream, a sprig of thyme or even a pinch of Parmesan for another dimension to what should be a cracking lunch.
As with all wild mushrooms, these need to be cooked before consuming.
Not many would think of sand dunes and coastal car parks as being a haven for so-called ‘superfoods’, but you will probably find the incredible Sea Buckthorn growing very happily in these environments (although councils now use these tough shrubs to cover roundabouts and verges so you might be closer to a patch than you think). The berries are bright orange and always abundant, yet they are very delicate, full of juice and are guarded by vicious thorns and therefore seldom get picked by the casual forager. We reckon it is worth it though! Packed with vitamins and minerals, and with a mouth-puckering acidity that sees it compared to grapefruit, this fruit deserves far more credit than it currently gets. You can drink this juice smugly then, knowing you are only one of a few who have experienced its amazing citrus flavours and taken on the big hit of health-boosting goodness!
This juice will arrive to you super fresh - in fact, it will only be pressed and bottled on the day we send it out. This helps to preserve the nutrients and means the taste has not started to deteriorate, like so many bottled juices do. Drink it instead of your morning glass of grapefruit juice, or try it with a splash of sparkling wine for a Sea Bucks Fizz.
Technically, the teas we send out aren’t teas at all. Due to not being the actual tea plant, they would fall under the category of infusions or the unappetising-sounding ‘tisanes’. They aren’t really anything like your standard builders brew, loved by so many for its tannins, slight bitterness and woody undertones. This Oak Leaf Tea is different though. We reckon it’s about as close as you might get to regular black tea and even prefer it with a dash of milk too. We made it by picking the freshest green growth way back in early Spring, smashing it into bits to break down the fibres and letting it oxidise before finally drying it out (this is actually how regular tea is made too). Ok, so it might not be an exact match to the hot beverages drank by monkeys and proud northern counties, but it has a pleasant, earthy warmth to it and is a pretty decent, caffeine-free, wild alternative. Plus oak leaves reportedly have all sorts of health benefits going for them, so its win-win. The bag you have in your Forage Box is enough for at least two teapots and best used in similar proportions to standard loose-leaf tea.
Oak is a common native tree found across the country and is easily identified. Please be considerate when harvesting foliage and pick sparingly.
We had some great feedback about the Spruce Tip Sugar sent out back in August, and we got the impression that the Forage Box community was surprised at how delicious a member of the pine family could be. It could be a further surprise then, that we have something very different in flavour to offer up from a similar tree: Scots Pine. Or its pollen, to be specific. Harvesting this was done back in Spring, when a very small window of around a week sees pine trees start to shed their pollen. We then created a simple syrup using this harvested pollen to preserve it for future use. In fact it’s a good job we did because the day after we finished harvesting - using big buckets and lots of branch shaking, since you asked - the winds really picked up and all the pollen on all the pine trees had been blown away.
This syrup has a sherbet quality to it and it best used in desserts, where simple sweetness needs to be at the forefront of the dish. Think of fruit tarts, meringue nests or a sticky sponge. Or get creative with cocktails and substitute in this unique ingredient wherever a simple sugar syrup is required.
Please note: Although considered a nutritious foodstuff, pine pollen is known to have testosterone-boosting qualities and should not be consumed in large amounts, particularly by those who are pregnant. Similarly, it is best avoided by those with severe pollen allergies. If in doubt, professional medical advice should always be sought. Forage Box does not encourage the use of any of its products as an alternative to scientifically proven medicine.