Edible coastal species are often given alternative names to appeal to our inner chef and this is no different - the intention being to increase their usage in cooking, which is kind of our modus operandi here at Forage Box. Also known (rather questionably) as 'salty fingers' or 'sea beans', these are not actually native plants but have found their way here on various warm currents from more tropical lands and aren't really a maritime version of any of the suffixed names mentioned. They are an unusual plant in how they appear but do everything you'd want them to do on your plate: they look great, taste fantastic and have a very satisfying crunch.
Try not to worry too much about their name as any choice from the three mentioned can be misleading. Enjoy them raw as a quirky garnish or try them lightly steamed alongside fish or asian flavours.
Horseradish is one of those flavours everyone is familiar with. It pops up in crisp flavours, jars of condiments and even the odd Bloody Mary. It is so rare that the fresh root makes its way into our shopping baskets, which we think is a real shame. Why? Well, it’s a fiery edible that is far superior in its fresh form than pureed in a jar. In fact, just a pinch of the fresh stuff will have tears streaming from your eyes and steam coming out your nose.
Best used sparingly, horseradish root is great where mustard does the heavy lifting. Where you might have mustard in a sandwich, with a roast dinner or perhaps stirred into some mash potato, substitute in a little grated horseradish and you wont regret it. If you keep your horseradish in the fridge, it should last a while so you can enjoy that bold wasabi-like hit for some time. We suggest treating it like you would a block of parmesan - used as a topping every so often to give your meal a bit of an edge. We absolutely cannot recommend grating onto a spaghetti bolognese though.
To the untrained eye, horseradish growing in the wild will look a lot like dock leaves. There are differences in the way the leaves look - horseradish is generally larger, glossier and altogether a bit more succulent-looking - but the real test is in the taste. The good news is that dock leaves are also edible so a little nibble of a stem will help you identify the plant immediately. If you aren’t brave enough to eat a wild plant without knowing it (sensible!) then a quick smell will also do the trick.
Let's just get it out there right now so we can all have a chuckle and move on: the berries from hawthorn are known as haws. There, we said it. Let's explore them a bit more.
Haws (stop it now) are a red berry and as we all know from childhood, you should never eat red berries. Right? Not quite. There are a few red berries that will send you to hospital, but red berries are so common in our diets that they could do with a bit of a review. Strawberries, rasperries, lingonberries, cranberries, tayberries, wineberries, rowanberries... the list of amazing edible red berries goes on and on. Great news for foragers then, as hawthorn is by far the most common hedgerow tree in the UK and it is often found laden with these delicious berries.
In terms of flavour, we are very much talking about apples and pears here, but there is something a bit more autumnal and almost spicy about haws when used in certain ways. We've exhibited them in a simple ketchup using apple cider vinegar and sugar, keeping it light on the additional spices to really let the haws do the talking. Unlike more familiar ketchups, this is more runny (no bottle whacking here) but far tangier than what you might have come to expect from a red ketchup. Use sparingly alongside cold meats or cheese and you'll soon be convinced that these red berries are well worth your time.
We love a good wild mushroom and these this month sees some absolute stunners feature. Winter chanterelles and hedgehog fungus are two species that, if you're lucky enough to know a patch, hang on to that knowledge because they really are gourmet fungi. Enjoyed for their texture and flavour, these feature heavily in french cuisine and could do with sneaking into yours from now on.
As with all wild flavours, we recommend not letting them get lost in something, avoiding stews and curries wherever possible. Instead, try a few sprigs of thyme, a little hard cheese and maybe a poached egg and you cannot go wrong!
Sloe gin is such a staple of the casual forager's repertoire that it hardly seems worthwhile waxing lyrical here. That said, alcohol (and therefore gin) is a great vessel for flavour and can show off ingredients that are tricky to get to grips with. You can also get the same elevated taste from sugar and a simple syrup such as this takes what is quite an unremarkable stone fruit when eaten directly from the hedgerow (you actually won't do that twice as they are unpalatable and dry) but with a bit of botanical extraction - in this case via heat and sugar - you can create something that unlocks those hidden flavours and brings something new to the breakfast table.
This sloe syrup is perfect on ice-cream, yoghurt and any other rich dairy products. For those who enjoy a bit more pizzazz in the kitchen, try it drizzled on some pumpkin pie ('tis the season, after all) or swizzled into a cocktail in place of your plain Jane simple syrup for a wild twist to a classic.